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Car logo origins: From the Ferrari horse to the Lamborghini bull

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 7/16/2015

Ever wonder why Chevrolet has a bowtie for its logo or Subaru has a group of stars? Find out the stories behind some of the most well-known logos in the world.

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Mercedes-Benz Logo Origin

The origins of some automotive logos begin even before the dawn of the automobile. The Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star is commonly known to symbolize the use of the company’s engines on land, sea and air. But the star first appeared on a personal note written in 1872 from company founder, Gottlieb Daimler, to his wife. Mr. Daimler used a three-pointed star to mark the location of his family’s new home in the town of Deutz, Germany. His sons adapted the emblem as the Mercedes-Benz logo from 1910 onwards.

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Ferrari Logo Origin

The Ferrari "Prancing Horse" made its first appearance on the warplane flown by Francesco Baracca, an Italian flying ace who died during World War I. In 1923, when he was still a race car driver, a young Enzo Ferrari met Baracca's parents following an automobile race. Both for good luck and out of respect for their son, they suggested Ferrari use their son's prancing horse badge on his race cars. Enzo added a yellow background -- it's the official color of his hometown in Modena, Italy -- and the horse's tail was redesigned to point upwards instead of down.

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BMW Logo Origin

Despite the popular myth, the BMW logo does not represent a stylized airplane propeller. The blue and white logo is borrowed from the Bavarian flag, nothing more. The misconception began in the 1920s, when an advertising agency used the BMW Roundel as the spinning propeller of an airplane -- before it built cars, BMW was busy piecing together aircraft engines. The ad must have been a good one because, for decades since, almost everyone assumes the design and colors of the BMW logo are rooted in aviation.

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Chevrolet Logo Origin

Did the Chevy "bowtie" emblem originate in a wallpaper pattern? Louis Chevrolet himself said the emblem was inspired by wallpaper in his hotel room during a visit to Paris in 1908. His wife, on the other hand, had a different story to tell. Mr. Chevrolet's wife later said her husband had spotted the design in an advertisement in a Sunday supplement. Apparently the 'borrowed' design had legs, because the Chevrolet logo is one of the world's most iconic. 

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Chrysler Logo Origin

Changing times can also bring big changes in a logo. For more than 80 years, Chrysler has used a wide range of badges featuring ribbon seals, or ribbon seals with wings. But in 1962, Chrysler Chairman Lynn Townsend wanted a more modern and less fussy corporate logo. According to Chrysler's archives, out of approximately 700 designs, Townsend selected the Pentastar. Many assumed the design symbolized the five divisions of the company (circa the early 1960s). It didn't, the design simply looked good.

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Volvo Logo Origin

Volvo also has Latin roots. Meaning "I roll," the name was taken from a brand of ball bearings before it was applied to the Swedish automaker in 1924. The Volvo logo is the Roman symbol for iron -- symbolizing a warrior's shield and spear. The diagonal streak across the grill was originally only a mounting point for the badge, but is now "almost as much a brand ID as our iron symbol," says Daniel Johnston, Product Communications Manager at Volvo Cars North America. 

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Toyota Logo Origin

Good luck -- and an easier to pronounce name -- played a role in the creation of the Toyota nameplate in 1936. In the book Toyota: A History of the First 50 Years, company founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, "ran a contest for suggestions for a new Toyoda logo. There were over 20,000 entries. The winning entry consisted of katakana characters in a design that imparted a sense of speed... 'Toyoda' became 'Toyota' because as a design it was esthetically superior and because the number of strokes needed to write it was eight, which in Japan is a felicitous number, suggestive of increasing prosperity."

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Maserati Logo Origin

The Maserati brothers took inspiration for their company’s trident logo from the statue of Neptune in the central square of Bologna, Italy, where Maserati was originally headquartered. The trident with Maserati script below was sketched by Mario, an artist, who also happened to be the only Maserati brother never actively involved in the design or engineering of cars.

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Subaru Logo Origin

Inspiration for the Subaru name literally came from the heavens -- or more precisely, the Japanese name of a star cluster in the Taurus constellation. Six of the stars are visible to the naked eye and -- in keeping with corporate identity -- this matches the six companies which combined to form Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru's parent company.

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Hyundai Logo Origin

The Hyundai name has an even simpler explanation. In Koren it means "modern," while the company's logo is a stylized "H" that also represents two people, the company and customer, shaking hands.

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Smart Logo Origin

The Smart name seems to speak for itself, no translation needed. It actually happens to be an acronym of Swatch (the Swiss watch company that was a partner during the early sages of the company), Mercedes (the brand's current custodian), and "Art." The company's logo signifies compact, with a "C," and forward thinking with an arrow emblem.

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Porsche Logo Origin

According to a spokesperson with Porsche Cars North America, Max Hoffman, an extremely influential automobile distributor, met with Ferry Porsche in a New York City restaurant in 1951. The discussion moved on to Hoffman’s belief that Porsche needed a powerful logo, something distinctive and elegant. A rough sketch was made then and there, on a dinner napkin. Yet the story from Porsche Germany differs from this colorful explanation. Max Hoffman did ask Ferry Porsche for a logo, but the emblem was designed by Porsche engineer Franz Xaver Reimspiess – and most definitely not sketched on a napkin somewhere in Manhattan. 

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Lamborghini Logo Origin

A tall tale never hurts, especially when it involves two companies known for building some of the most exotic cars in the world. Car enthusiasts love to stoke the rivalry between Lamborghini and Ferrari, even down to the minutiae of the Lamborghini logo. The design of the gold and black emblem was led by company founder Ferruccio Lamborghini, and the bull located in the center stands for his zodiacal sign (Taurus). Legend has it that Mr. Lamborghini purposefully copied the Ferrari shield, then inversed that company’s yellow and black color scheme to prod the ego of Enzo Ferrari.

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Rolls-Royce Logo Origin

Sir Henry Royce and Charles Stewart Rolls originally used red lettering for the emblem that combined the first initial of their last names. It’s widely believed the color was changed, from red to black, after the death of Charles Stewart Rolls in an aviation accident in 1910. It’s not true, however noble that might sound. Blacklettering was simply considered more fitting for a luxury car, and the timing of the change was a tragic coincidence. Rolls Royce’s second iconic emblem, the “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, is linked to a similarly tragic (but in this case, entirely true) tale. Designed by Charles Sykes in 1911, the model for the emblem was Miss Eleanor Thornton, the personal secretary of John Scott Montagu, the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu and friend of company co-founder Charles Stewart Rolls. In 1915, Miss Thornton died at sea while traveling to India. Yet for almost 100 years her likeness has graced every Spirit of Ecstasy. 

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