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Lost Art: The Hood Ornament

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img Rolls-Royce ::: Hood Ornament | Spirit of Ecstasy

SINCE we’re in the business of covering esoteric automotive details on this site, let’s talk about another detail that stands as a disappearing art: the hood ornament. If you find this article in a Google search some years from now, let it be known that in the year 2012 there remained but one mass-market car manufacturer that still sold cars with  freestanding ornaments mounted above the grille.

That carmaker is (was?) Mercedes-Benz. And of Mercedes’ current lineup, only two of the 13 model series available for sale in these United States feature the famed tri-star on top of the hood. To make matters worse, most Mercedes advertising shows cars only with big tri-stars set in horizonal,  coupe-style grilles.

Because a big ol’ tri-star on your C-Class can only mean one thing: more flash for your ca$h.

Alas, the future of the hood ornament looks grim. Jaguar stopped selling hood leapers on top of their sedans years ago in most of the world because the low prowling metal cats didn’t meet EU pedestrian crash protection standards. Stateside, they sold leapers on X-Type, S-Type, and XJ bonnets until about 2009, when a new sporty flair took hold of Ian Callum’s design department. Now all that remains a badged tattoo plastered on the XJ’s rump.

Great.

In the super-luxury segment, there are a few hold outs. Maybach features a double M ornament that in traditional Mercedes style (circa pre 1995) is mounted on the radiator shell (as God and Wilhelm Maybach intended).

Rolls-Royce, naturally, features the Spirit of Ecstasy who bows gracefully forward – though in recent years on two door Phantom models and the Ghost, she is smaller in size and canted just a little too far.

Bentley was wise to bring back its “Flying B”; an icon that had quietly disappeared from most Bentley saloons some time in the 1970s. Anyone who’s ever driven an Arnage could attest to missing the presence of something tall, proud, chrome and gleaming at the end of that long bonnet.

So, why should we care? Times change and with it automotive fashion. Ornaments are the automotive world’s last link to a bygone era of bespoke luxury. In the ’20s and ’30s, the ornament was not just a proud statement but a cap to the radiator. Consider the Bugatti Royale’s triumphal elephant or Packard’s “Goddess of Speed”. These were symbols of excellence that reminded you and the world that your chariot was special.

Hood ornaments provide a sense of occasion. It’s what gives a 2012 S-Class that much of an edge over a comparably equipped BMW 7-Series or Audi A8. Lose that tri-star and the big Benz will lose more than just a little piece of chrome, it will lose part of its soul.

There are countless reasons why people appreciate and grow attached to their cars more than they do, say, their toasters. Automotive art is a huge part of that equation. And there’s no clearer intersection of cars and art than the hood ornament.

Original Promo For Jaguar XJ220

Magnificent XJ220s on display. Just mind the turn-of-the-90s soundtrack…

This Week @ Coys: 1937 SS100 2.5 Liter

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: IMG via Coys ::: 1937 SS100 2 1/2 Liter

HERE’S an interesting bit of trivia: before there was Jaguar there was the Swallow Sidecar Company. Swallow Sidecars were in effect the really deluxe Caterhams or Morgans of their day (1930s). Like Caterhams, the SS roadsters were light (2600 pounds), relatively nimble handlers; ginger in their acceleration (o-62 mph in 13.5 seconds, slightly faster than a Hummer H1). Of course the oft used acronym “SS” as in “SS100″ gained unseemly connotations during the War, hence Sir William Lyons’ decision to rename the Coventry car maker “Jaguar” circa 1945. Posterity has since smiled on his choice, to be sure.

[Coys]

eBay Watch: Jaguar XJS V12 Convertible

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img via eBay ::: 1992 Jaguar XJS V12 Convertible

THERE doesn’t seem to be much middle ground in opinion on Jaguar’s long-toothed XJS. You either love it or hate it. Yours falls neatly into the former category.

Attention Grabber? Jaguar C-X16

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img Jaguar Cars ::: Jaguar C-X16

UNVEILED before the unveiling in Frankfurt, the world (or the portion that cares) has had a chance to gauge Jaguar’s new sub-XK hybrid C-X16 sports coupé par excellence. Jumping the P.R. gun as is car makers’ want these days, one wonders the need to rent auto show floorspace at all.

But that’s neither here nor there for this discussion.

Jaguar XJ220 Redux? Jaguar Plans To Build C-X75

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img Jaguar ::: Jaguar C-X75

DETERMINED to make the C-X75 “as striking on the road as it was in concept form,” Jaguar and its design director Ian Callum are set to transform what was originally a celebration of 75 years of Jaguar’s most feline car art into a limited production, £700,000 ($1.1 million) reality. History shows that they’ve been here before. Can Jaguar succeed this time round?

Awaiting Resurrection In San Marcos: Jaguar Mk II

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img ADLX ::: Jaguar Mk II

DRIVING through undulating countryside just north of San Diego on a flawless, cloudless, and otherwise mirthful day, yours happened upon this skeleton in some fellow traveler’s backyard. Sun bleached and sunken into the grass, a Jaguar Mk II sits -a nuclear shadow of its righteous former self. From Britain, a once peerless 60s sports saloon par excellence. No telling if the cat’s for sale, but, in an adjacent lot there’s a handwritten sign that reads: “Kittens $30. $35 for some.”

50 Years XKE: Richard and The Jaguar E-Type

IN 1970, aged 25, Richard Wolf bought himself an XKE convertible. In honor of the E-Type’s 50th anniversary, R.D. tells of the glory and the madness in owning the world’s sexiest roadster.

Thank Trigger: 1987 CAR Road Comparo 560SEL v 750iL v Turbo R v Sovereign

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img (1987) CAR Magazine via Flickr ::: Road Comparison Test Issue

THUMB through the pictoral mountain that is Flickr and you’ll find an account called “Trigger’s Vintage Road Tests!” It’s awesome. For one thing, “Trigger” posted a 1987 comparison issue from CAR that compared a quartet of 80s luxury rock stars – the BMW 750iL, Bentley Turbo R, Jaguar Sovereign, and Mercedes-Benz 560SEL. Girly squeal! He’s done us auto aficionados a great service. Here’s why:

Jaguar XJ Interior Needs A Rethink

by Gunnar Heinrich ::: img Jaguar Cars ::: Jaguar XJ Interior

JAGUAR has engineered a fairly remarkable about-face in fortunes since Tata Motors embraced the British icon in 2008. Given that Jaguar was derided as a firmly retro division of Ford’s Premiere Auto Group, bent on serving up lukewarm rehashes of 60s memorabilia, Jag’s now taken a leap – no puns – into the 21st century with truly avant-garde design. With mixed results. The new interior is an iffy case in point.