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What is a Car Hood Ornament?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A car hood ornament, also known as a car mascot, is an upright decorative device located on the hood of a car. Historically, many car manufacturers installed hood ornaments on their products, but today such ornamentation is largely associated with luxury cars, with other brands preferring badges rather than upright ornaments. The 1920s through the 1960s were golden years for the car hood ornament, and a number of lovely examples can be seen on vehicles from this period.

Each manufacturer had its own car hood ornament design, and some went through several iterations. The hood ornament was often supposed to suggest power and energy, as in the leaping jaguar seen on vehicles made by Jaguar, and the archer positioned on the hood of cars made by Pierce-Arrow. Other hood ornaments more closely resembled the figureheads seen on ships, consisting of elegant women wearing minimal drapery.

Originally, the car hood ornament was developed as a practicality, to cover up the access point for the radiator in the front or center of the hood. Over time, cars were reconfigured, and this point of access was no longer necessary, but the car hood ornament remained, usually bedecked in chrome so that it would stand out against the base paint of the car.

Hood ornaments began to be phased out for several reasons. They posed a safety concern, as they could seriously injure pedestrians in car-pedestrian collisions, and they were also a source of frustration for some car owners, as they were easy targets for theft. Collectors of car hood ornaments might wrench hood ornaments they liked from vehicles, and some people stole replacements for missing ornaments, or “borrowed” hood ornaments associated with luxury brands for their own cars.

People can also opt to make their own car hood ornaments, choosing whimsical or sentimental objects to affix to their hoods. In the American West, a set of cattle horns is a particularly popular form of home-made car hood ornament.

Several luxury brands continue to produce car hood ornaments for some of the models they make. To address safety concerns, many hood ornaments retract or flip backward if they are subjected to a sudden impact, so that they will not hurt pedestrians, and car manufacturers have also designed creative methods to thwart thieves, such as retracting ornaments. For people who like to collect hood ornaments, many companies sell replacements, and some collectors sell refurbished ornaments they have collected from junkyards.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By cinder — On Feb 08, 2010

Sometime in the mid to late 80's one of the Beastie Boys started wearing a chain with a hood ornament on it, I can't remember what car it was from though. Not long after fans and wanna-be's started stealing hood ornaments! Most of the stolen hood ornaments mentioned in this article more than likely ended up around some kids neck and not in a "collection". It was cool and trendy and utterly ridiculous.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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