Hood Ornaments as Art

Cadillac Hood Ornament

The hood ornament from a vintage Cadillac

Late 1950s Chrysler Imperial Hood Ornamentation

Hood ornamentation from a rusting late 1950s Chrysler Imperial

As I wandered around Old Car City, I was struck by the variety of hood ornaments from vintage cars. Today’s cars seem to have at most a badge on the front grill. Designers of vintage automobiles wanted to make a statement with the front grill and hood ornament of their creations. They really did seem consumed with creating works of art.

I was struck by the simple yet flowing design of the Cadillac hood ornament. It is a rocket-like figure yet it has a human face. The fins of the rocket could be the wings of an angel or a man taking flight. That is somewhat a depiction of the era this car was built in. Handcrafted works or art once built by craftsmen were giving way to the mass-manufactured powerful vehicles of the late twentieth century. Vehicles of this era were still built as functional tools but also strived to be artistic statements. As the utilitarian vehicles of the late 1960s and later appeared, automobiles as works of art became less and less common. Muscle cars may have become predominant, but they were prized for their performance much more than their lines. The few that bridged the gap between performance and art have become classics.

The ornament for the Chrysler Imperial struck me as photogenic for completely different reasons. It is ostentatious and bold – one could say imperial. The juxtaposition of the classic eagle symbol with the peeling paint, pitted chrome, and rusting metal seems appropriate. It truly is a symbol of a bygone era. Hopefully, this image captures some sense of that dichotomy.


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