The hidden meanings behind car logos
Do you know why there’s a snake eating a man on the Alfa Romeo badge, or what the big difference is between Mercedes and Mitsubishi? We decode some iconic car logos
Vehicle manufacturers have always needed a way to instantly differentiate their products from rivals. While some simply settle for writing their brand names, the majority of manufacturers opt for a logo – often with a meaning behind them which isn’t entirely obvious.
We’ve rounded up ten manufacturers with a subtext behind their logo here.
BMW’s logo is commonly said to represent a spinning aircraft propeller, but this likely dates back to a 1929 TV ad showing a plane with the logo superimposed on it. The truth is much simpler – the blue and white represent the colours of the Bavarian Free State. At the time it was illegal to use national symbols in a commercial trademark, so the order was reversed.
Mitsubishi’s deceptively simple three-pointed emblem is actually the combination of two family crests – Yamauchi and Iwasaki. The name also derives from these – Mitsu, which means three, represents the three oak leaves of the Yamauchi family crest, while bishi means water chestnut, as well as rhombus. The overall shape of the logo is also reminiscent of the founder’s first employer – the three-leaf crest of the Tosa clan.
The double-sided Alfa emblem features a red cross on its left side, as the symbol of Milan, and on the right, a snake ‘eating’ a man. This is the symbol of the Visconti family, and dates back to the crusades, when Otone Visconti fought a noble Saracen knight. Beating the knight, he took the symbols from his shield. Alfa Romeo says that the symbol actually shows a man being reborn and renewed from the mouth of the snake, but the flailing arms say otherwise to us.
The original ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ is thought to be actress Eleanor Thornton, who modelled for a sculpture called ‘The Whisperer’. When Lord Montagu of Beaulieu requested a custom logo for his Rolls-Royce, this was the inspiration – and it was such a hit that Rolls-Royce commissioned it for all of its cars.
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