By Joe Bruzek on July 12, 2009
Unruly teens have often found solace in ripping hood ornaments off their high-school principals’ sedans. Lucky for principals now, hood-mounted crosshairs, half-naked flying ladies and big, leaping cat or ram heads carving through the wind are practically nonexistent these days. Only a few luxury automakers still use classic hood ornaments.
Hood ornaments of all shapes and sizes used to grace foreign and domestic cars in order to instantly give recognition and status to the car underneath. A combination of new car design aesthetics and European pedestrian safety regulations — to prevent hood ornament versus pedestrian contact — led to the demise of the classic upright hood ornament. Although, if you’re going to be hit by a car, you likely have more to worry about than an automaker’s emblem imprinted in your forehead.
Mercedes-Benz is one of the few makes to still widely use a traditional ornament on its sedans, displaying its classic “Star” emblem on many new sedans, including the newly redesigned 2010 E-Class. For Mercedes, it’s a matter of tradition that keeps the emblem mounted vertically on the hood, says spokesman Robert Moran. Other Benz models that still use the classic emblem include the 2009 C- and S-Class. The Benz models do use an emblem overseas and still pass all European safety regulations; theirs is designed to collapse upon contact.
Lincoln and Rolls-Royce also have models with an upright emblem, although the Lincoln Town Car is as much of a relic as the hood ornament itself, and the 2009.5 Rolls-Royce Phantom costs $450,000. You don’t get just any hood ornament with an almost half-million dollar Rolls — oh no, you get its “Spirit of Ecstasy” statue that retracts into the hood to hide from little Johnny after he gets out of detention.
Upright ornaments may be an outdated element of car design, but they did have an advantage other than looking pretty: Parking perfectly was as easy as looking down the hood and lining up any protruding metal with the curb — take that, electronic parking assist.
Road Test Editor Joe Bruzek covers Cars.com’s short-and long-term fleet of test cars and drives a 1998 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Email Joe