DeAnn Owens
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A Brief History of the Hood Ornament

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A turquoise 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, much like one of the two seen in the film "Capote"
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
Photo: Sicnag via CC

Modern vehicles offer a range of exterior designs, but overall they are all moving art forms. Years ago, though, vehicles sported even more ornamentation and high design with the added touch of hood ornaments.

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“Hood ornaments used to be all the rage, replacing hood-mounted thermometers of the late 1890s. Manufacturers offered a range of them on all their different models; designed in-house or often by big-name artists and sculptors of the era,” according to writer Roger Biermann.

Hood ornaments acted like a “mascot” for the vehicle. They came from the factory or were sold as an accessory, according to Automotive Historian and Researcher Robert Tate. They were originally positioned on the radiator caps. After a time, they moved to the hood of the vehicle and became even more ornate.

“The Mascot designs were very stylish with figures such as winged goddesses and graceful birds along with human and animal figures which became the most popular subjects that most consumers had admired and thoroughly enjoyed,” reports Tate.

One such iconic hood ornament from the past was artfully displayed on the 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air. Referencing the art deco style synonymous with the time period, the jet had a hawk-inspired head and an elongated tail perfectly centered on the hood of the Bel Air and earned the nickname “hood bird.”

“The 1950s were glory days for aviation, with the space race heating up and aviation technology moving forward in leaps and bounds. Chevrolet gave a classy nod to aviation excellence by equipping the Chevy Bel Air with an aviation-inspired hood ornament in the form of a jet,” according to Biermann.

Chevrolet’s iconic bowtie can be considered to be a modern take on the classic hood ornament.

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Although you could add a hood ornament to your car, they aren’t the norm today due to fuel economy, safety, and aerodynamic concerns.