Why Cars Don't Have Hood Ornaments Anymore

There’s one common thread that connects every Rolls-Royce made since 1911. It’s the Spirit of Ecstasy, the hood ornament that adorns every Rolls-Royce model to come off the assembly line. A graceful figure with arms outstretched like wings, the Spirit is a kind of calling card. The message: luxury lies within. Today, the Rolls-Royce is an exception because most vehicles are lacking any sort of hood ornament or decoration. So where did they all go? The earliest models of automobiles from 1905 to the early 1930s had a prominent radiator cap on the front. These caps were equipped with MotoMeters, which told drivers if their radiator was getting too hot. To offset the somewhat unpleasant aesthetic of the cap, automakers disguised them with what they dubbed car mascots, which were meant to be attractive hood accessories made of brass or bronze with a chrome-plated finish. The trend persisted even as radiator caps moved under the hood. Carmakers took inspiration from mythological figures, animals, and their own logos to create the ornaments. The Spirit of Ecstasy was a familiar sight; so was Jaguar’s Leaper cat, Bugatti’s dancing elephant, and the flying B on a Bentley. Mercedes-Benz mounted their own logo — a three-pointed star. However, practicality was conspiring against the ornaments, and soon cars evolved and highways spread across the country, causing aerodynamics to become a concern. If a car struck a pedestrian, that person might incur more injury as a result of a foreign object set to impale them. Hood ornaments began disappearing and never really regained popularity. That Mercedes-Benz star is now part of the grille, and only a few models — like the Rolls — maintain their luxury status without compromising safety by having the ornament retract into the hood when the engine is turned off.