Our favorite hood ornaments from the ’40s and ’50s
A few weeks ago we shared some of our favorite prewar hood ornaments. That list was dominated by graceful animals and varied takes on the human form, courtesy of mostly luxury and European brands. Now let’s take a look at some slightly more modern versions that will turn our attention Stateside, and to the Big Three.
As U.S. carmakers emerged from WWII, they began looking to the sky to find inspiration for their cars. Their hood ornaments followed suit. Some brands kept a single theme, while others bounced around between popular trends and objects that maintained historical ties to the marque. Either way, car fans were able to enjoy some great industrial craftsmanship and sculpture out of it. Here is just a sampling of our favorites.
Chevy hood birds and bullets
Chevrolet used stylized birds for several years before the iconic ’57 Chevy ditched them for partially recessed bullets. We love the chrome birds, but it was a worthy trade. The one on the left is from ’54, while the one in the middle is a ’56.
Ford’s mid-market brand took a slightly different approach with this smooth, streamlined … bird? Plane? Whatever it is, it looks cool.
Few car brands embraced the forward-looking jet age design language better than Oldsmobile. Its ever-evolving hood ornaments of the ’50s played up the marketing surrounding its OHV Rocket V-8 powerplant. With rocket fins and swept wings like early ’50s fighter jets, these sculptures made a bold statement. The above emblems are from 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956, in that order.
The founders of Plymouth Colony arrived in America aboard the Mayflower, so Plymouth capped the leading edge of its hoods with various representations of that storied ship. The 1950 version, shown on the left, used a more stylized version that turned the ships three masts and sails into a row of fins. The 1953 version, on the right, is more representative of the majority of Plymouth ornament that depicted a classic ship.
Desoto’s de Soto
Chrysler’s DeSoto brand was named after Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and used many styles of hood ornament through the ‘40s and ‘50s, but only the 1950 models received a bust of the man himself, complete with an armored breastplate and conquistador’s helmet, or morrión.
Pontiac’s chieftain hood ornament, which we highlighted in our previous article, evolved to match the jet age trends of the ’50s and slowly adopted wings. By 1956, it was all wing! Shown above are 1953, 1954, 1955, and 1956.
There was already quite a bit of chrome on the ’57 and ’58 Cadillac, so there wasn’t much need for an ostentatious sculpture on the hood. Instead, Cadillac chose twin fins that walk the line between understated and bold.
Some of the earlier caprine Dodge ornaments were more upright and intricate, we prefer these streamlined versions with sleek horns.
Buick’s gun sight
During WWII, Buick produced tank destroyers and engines for several aircraft, including the B-24 Liberator. Fittingly, after the War, Buick used a series of reticle-shaped hood ornament through the ’50s, giving drivers something to help point their long, eight-cylinder cruisers down the road.