More than just a badge
by Jacques Gordon
The hood ornament pictured here has been sitting on a shelf in a friend’s garage for years. He thinks it was with the tools and other stuff that came from his late father’s garage, but we’ve both been playing with old cars for years and it might be from one of them. Our first guess was mid-50s Oldsmobile, but a quick web search shows that the same jet-plane theme was used on many other cars from the same era.
It’s hard to pin down their exact origin, but hood ornaments were created in the Brass Era when the exposed radiator cap usually incorporated a thermometer-like temperature gauge visible from the driver’s seat (some had just a cap with a tea kettle whistle). At the time, most cars were owned by rich men, so hood ornaments were often custom-made and intended to imply wealth and elegance. By the time the temperature gauge moved to the dashboard, hood ornaments had become original equipment on many cars and were usually an identifying feature of the marque.
When car production resumed after WWII, hood ornaments were original equipment on just about every new car and truck. In place of the elegant style and stately sophistication of the 1930s, these new hood ornaments were meant to evoke the cutting-edge technology of the car that followed them through the air. Oldsmobile began using the rocket/jet-plane motif when they introduced the Rocket 88 over-head-valve V-8 engine in 1949. I can’t say for sure, but I believe they were the first jet planes on the hood of a car. It only took a year or two for other GM brands to pick up the same theme, and by 1955 most other manufacturers had followed suit on at least some of their models.
By then some American-car hood ornaments had become almost cartoonish in their oversized proportions, so they were balanced by a variety of fins, strakes, fake grille openings and other add-on features all over the car. That’s where I think this particular piece fits in. It weighs over half-a-pound, but it’s only as big as your hand, about half the size of a typical jet-plane hood ornament. It looks like those on the front fenders of a 1957 Oldsmobile (the ’56 and ’58 models don’t have them), but it’s not exactly the same. It has vertical tail fins, a clearly defined cockpit canopy and cones on the front of the jet engines. These details seem unique to this particular piece, which is why we’re having so much trouble identifying it.
So if you think you can help, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I can identify this thing for sure, I’ll let you all know. If you have an interesting hood ornament yourself, send some pictures and I’ll share them here.
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