Reading your grill

Reading your grill

Geoff Manaugh on a little-known fact about a popular automobile ornament:

[T]he Pleiades are known in Japan as Subaru — which explains that carmaker’s astrally inflected logo. So, if you’re driving a Subaru, there’s a kind of futurist ethno-astronomical star chart emblazoned on the front grill of your car.

I’ve always thought of the hood ornament as a sort of figurehead adorning the front of a car. More traditionally:

A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration, often female or bestial, found at the prow of ships largely made between the 16th and 19th century. …. As with the stern ornamentation, the purpose of the figurehead was often to indicate the name of the ship in a non-literate society (albeit in a sometimes very convoluted manner); and always, in the case of naval ships, to demonstrate the wealth and might of the owner.

As it happens, the history of hood ornaments is far more pragmatic:

See also:
Rolls-Royce led the way in innovation in 1946 when it invented the concept of “badge engineering.” This was the practice of selling exactly the same car with with different emblems. [via]

The Boyce Motormeter Company was issued a patent in 1912 for radiator cap that incorporated thermometer that was visible to the driver with a sensor that measured the heat of the water vapor, rather than the water itself. This became useful gauge for the driver because many early engines did not have water pumps, but a circulation system based on the “thermo-syphon” principle as in the Ford Model T. Many automakers wanted their own emblems displayed on their vehicles’ hoods and Boyce Motormeter accommodated them with corporate logos or mascots, as well as numerous organizations that wanted custom cap emblems to identify their members. ….The radiator cap was transformed into an art form and became a way of individualizing the car, “representing a company’s vision of the automobile”, or “speaking volumes about the owner” of the vehicle.

There is a curious sort of hybrid model, however. The ethno-stuffed-animal-emblazoner version that is affixed to many a truck in the city. Often a shocking mascot to its driver, the stuffed toy is roped tight against a grill. Hard to read, but emblazoned all the same.