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By Ben Selby
Have you ever looked at an Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, or Audi and thought, why does it have four rings, a prancing horse, or a green serpent on their emblem? Well, wonder no further. Here are the backstories of these three and seven other illustrious car makers emblems.
This is pretty well known one. However, if you are unfamiliar with why Ferrari has a rampant black stallion on its emblem, here is the gravy on the meat. Before he founded the company which produced some of the most coveted cars ever, Enzo Ferrari’s greatest ambition was to be a racing driver. He had talent too, winning a number of events in his native Italy throughout the 1920s.
After winning the Targa Florio, Enzo was approached by the parents of a highly decorated WW1 fighter ace named Francesco Baracca. They told Enzo that Baracca was famous for painting the symbol of a prancing horse on his bi-planes, and they gave Enzo permission to use this striking symbol on his racing cars as a good luck charm.
Enzo agreed, and when he took over Alfa Romeo’s racing team in 1929, all Alfa’s run by Scuderia Ferrari would feature this symbol. Ferrari added the yellow shield, representing his home town of Modena, the Italian flag, the letters S F which stood for Scuderia Ferrari, and the Prancing Horse became part of motoring history.
Audi was the brainchild of German mechanical engineer August Horch. In 1909, after splitting from the board of directors of his company, August Horch & Cie, he founded his own car company. He wanted to name it after himself, but this posed a problem. There already was a car company called Horch. So, he named his car company after the Latin translation of his surname which was, you guessed it, Audi.
Fast forward to 1932, Audi merged with three other German brands all based in the Saxony region of Germany. The other players were Horch, DKW and Wanderer. Each brand was represented by one ring. Each ring was linked together resulting in the logo you see today.
The partnership continued after WW2, but the logo was officially recognised as Audi’s after the gradual demise of DKW, Horch and Wanderer. Audi’s four rings are now the most recognisable in the world, after the Olympics of course.
If you know British Sports Cars, you know of Lotus. Founder Colin Chapman was all about one thing, simple engineering, and making his cars as light as possible. It was this recipe that created a brand and race team which turned Formula One on its head.
Colin Chapman founded Lotus in 1948 by creating his own lightweight special sports cars for competition and later, private owners. The company was named after the Lotus flower, itself also graceful and lightweight.
The emblem consisted of Lotus in capital lettering inside a triangular contour, signifying an abstract representation of a Lotus flower.
Above it was the letters A C B C. These were the initials of Chapman’s full name, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman. Lotus was Colin Chapman’s baby, so it be only natural his namesake was all over it.
Contrary to popular belief, the BMW logo does not represent a spinning propellor. Yes, BMW’s history is full of aircraft development and manufacturer, but what this emblem actually means is something quite different.
The BMW logo was designed in 1927. For those who don’t know, BMW stands for Bayersiche Motoren Werke AG. Try and say that fast ten times.
The myth that it represented BMW’s plight into aircraft development can be traced to BMW’s use of the logo on an aircraft magazine in 1929. People naturally made the connection between the brand and its product and assumed it was a propeller.
The real meaning goes a lot deeper. It is a combination of a throwback to BMW’s origins as part of the Rapp Motorenwerke in Bavaria, and the blue and white colours of the Bavarian region. The emblem changed over the years but still retained the essential look. Lets hope BMW don’t change it like their new grills.
The famous Chevy bowtie is one of the most iconic symbols in American car culture. However, how it came to represented the Chevrolet division of General Motors is actually one of great mystery. There are a number of accounts as to how GM founder William C Durant chose this bowtie symbol for Chevrolet.
The first is that Durant was on holiday in France. It is said that he visited in 1908 and upon walking through the lobby of a hotel, he noticed a wallpaper design which sparked his interest. It is said he tore a piece off, taken by its bowtie shape. He then turned to a friend and announced this would be the symbol for his new car company.
However, members of Durant’s family tell a different story. His daughter Margery claimed her father was doodling potential emblems, when he happened to create a bowtie symbol with slants at each end.
We may never know the full story of how Durant created the Chevy badge, but we sure are glad for the cars and engines which it adorns.
Ferruccio Lamborghini was always about making a statement. A talented mechanic and entrepreneur, he served in the Italian Army in WW2 as a mechanic, fixing Italian, and later British and American trucks and machinery. When the war ended, he set up business modifying Morris truck engines for use in tractors.
What resulted was a colossal tractor building empire, and Lamborghini became one of the wealthiest men in Italy. He also loved cars, but when he complained to Ferrari’s use of a tractor clutch on the latest car he brought from them, Enzo told him to get stuffed and stop complaining about his cars.
This ignited a fiery Italian rivalry, with Ferruccio announcing to Enzo, “I will show you how to make a sports car.” In 1963, Automobilli Lamborghini was founded. Ferruccio’s zodiac sign was Taurus the Bull, so he decided he would use a raging bull as the symbol for his supercar business. Hence forth most Lamborghinis, like the Miura, Espada, Islero and Murcielago would have connections to this level of prime beef.
The modern world owes a lot to Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. In 1886, their first Daimler-Benz Patent Motorwagen drove for the first time, giving us a horseless carriage, we now know as the car. After this initial success, both Daimler and Benz established their own branches of their new motoring enterprise. Daimler was chair of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft or DMG, and Karl Benz founded Benz & Cie.
Chief engineer of DMG, Wilhelm Maybach, took over the company in 1900 following Gottlieb’s death. His replacement would be Spanish engineer and racing enthusiast Emil Jellinek. His daughter was named ‘Mercedes’ which in Spanish means ‘grace.’ Karl Benz and Maybach asked Mercedes permission to use her name as their new brand which would come to be known as, Mercedes Benz.
As for the three-pointed star Mercedes in synonymous with, this came from a postcard sent by Gottlieb Daimler in 1873 to his wife. On the postcard came a three-pointed star marking the spot for his new home. There was added text from Daimler saying the star would shine brightly over his new business, giving his family prosperity. DMG patented this design, and the rest, as they say is history.
Many car companies are usually founded by one person with the drive and ambition to forge their idea of what the ultimate car should be. With Maserati, it was not one, not two, but five brothers born to Rodolfo Maserati and his wife Carolina. The five brothers, Alfieri, Ettore, Ernesto, Bindo and Mario, founded Officine Alfieri Maserati in Bologna on December 1st 1914.
All the brothers, except Mario, were obsessed with all things mechanical and engineering. Mario was interested more in design and aesthetics rather than getting his hands dirty. So, in 1920 he took it upon himself to find inspiration for a logo for the Maserati company.
His search led him to the Piazza Maggiore in the centre of Bologna. In this piazza stood a statue of Neptune holding onto his trident. Neptune, the Roman version of the Greek God Poseidon, was ruler of the sea. His trident symbolized strength and courage. The brothers agreed, and the symbol of the trident became inseparable from Maserati.
When you think of in house tuning companies, many names spring to mind. Well in the same way Mercedes has AMG, Fiat as Abarth. Abarth was founded by part Italian, part Austrian engineer Carlo Abarth in 1949. Aside from a keen interest in running and tuning motorcycles, Abarth and driver friend Guido Scagliarini, built a sterling reputation for tuning Fiats and turning them into race winning cars. Abarth also made his own race cars which turned a wheel in anger in events like the Targa Florio.
Much like Ferruccio Lamborghini, Carlo Abarth chose his Zodiac sign as the symbol for his car company as he was born in November, making him a Scorpio. Legend has it another reason he chose the scorpion because it was so ugly that he didn’t think anyone else would patent its use before he did. Set against a shield, the Abarth logo features yellow and red with that scorpion emblem. These became the racing colours of Abarth.
The badge underwent a few stylistic changes over the years and still features on the current tuned Abarth 595 500s of today. It is also in my opinion, one of the coolest automotive emblems ever.
Ferrari is Maranello, Maserati is Bologna, Lamborghini is Sant Agata, and Fiat is Turin. For Alfa Romeo, Milan is home.
Back in 1910, Alfa, or Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, was a relative newcomer in Italian car makers. Since the company began in Milan, it felt right to create a symbol which represented the city itself. When Nicola Romeo took over in 1915, the company, now called Alfa Romeo, had a symbol which did just that.
There are two aspects to the Alfa Romeo emblem, the serpent and the red cross, each one a traditional symbol of Milan. The serpent is the family symbol of the Milanese Visconti family which dates back to late 11th century Milan.
If you look closely, you will see the serpent is wearing a crown, symbolising the Viscontis gaining Dukedom in the early 15th century. You will also see what looks like a serpent’s tongue, but is in reality a head and a pair of flailing arms.
This is the serpent eating a man thought to be a Moor or Saracen. It is likely this man was defeated during the height of the crusades in the region of that time. The crusade aspects also brings us to the red cross on the badge. This represents the St George Cross used by Milanese Crusaders during this time period.
Now that is a bit of a history lesson.