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The Stories Behind 20 Famous Car Logos

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getty images

Before brand management and public relations and marketing and advertising firms dominated the process of creating company logos, there were family crests and city flags and mistresses to draw inspiration from. Here’s a look at the history of some of the world’s most iconic car logos. 

1. Toyota 

No, that’s not a weird cowboy hat on the front of that Camry. In 1989, to mark the company’s 50th anniversary, Toyota redesigned its logo, incorporating three overlapping ovals, with the inner two forming a stylized T and a steering wheel, as well as representing how the “customers' expectations [horizontal] and car manufacturer's ideal [vertical] . . . are firmly interlocked to form the letter T," according to the company. The outermost oval represents the world embracing Toyota. 

There is also a hidden meaning inside the logo. Popular theories say that owing to the company’s founding as an industrial loom maker (Toyoda Automatic Loom Works), the inner oval is actually a needle, leaving space for an invisible thread to pass through. The internet is also full of claims that you can spell out Toyota using just the logo.

2. Cadillac 

The American luxury takes its name from French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit, and the company crest is based on the Cadillac family coat of arms (which the explorer may have invented himself). The symbols included three colored bands (representing boldness, virtue and valor), a crown, a wreath, and several small Merganser ducks. Earlier versions of the Cadillac logo included the ducks, which have since been removed.

3. Audi 

Like many automobile manufacturers, Audi consolidated multiple companies into a single business during the 20th century. An early logo shows the four original company names (Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer) each within their own ring. The text disappeared, but the interlocking rings have remained. 

4. BMW 

Contrary to Jamal Wallace’s sardonic explanation in the film Finding Forrester, the blue and white roundel does not represent a plane's white propellers against a blue sky in a nod to Bavarian Motor Works’ roots in constructing aircraft engines in the early 20th century. That myth originated with a 1929 magazine advertisement, BMW spokesman Tom Plucinsky told The New York Times in 2010. The real story is less exciting—the blue and white are merely an ode to the Bavarian flag.  

5. Subaru 

In Japanese, subaru is the name of the Pleiades star cluster M45 in the Taurus constellation, one of the nearest star clusters visible to the naked eye. Officially, the first president of the company felt it was a beautiful Japanese word, but it might also be related to the six companies that merged in 1953 to form Fuji Heavy Industries, the parent company of Subaru.

6. Chevrolet 

Accounts differ on what inspired Chevrolet and General Motors co-founder William C. Durant to help him create the car company’s famous bowtie logo. Some say Durant had a dream stirred by a wallpaper design from a French hotel; or, according to his daughter, it was a random design he sketched on a tablecloth. Other origin stories say it was "borrowed" from a newspaper advertisement seen by Durant and his wife, Catherine, on vacation in Hot Springs, Virginia in 1912, or was modeled on the flag of Switzerland, in honor of the birthplace of his partner, Swiss race car driver Louis Chevrolet. 

7. Mercedes-Benz 

Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft trademarked a pair of star logos in 1909 for its German automobiles, one with three points and one with four, but the four-pointed star was never utilized. The iconic three-pointed star was inspired by a symbol Gottleib Daimler would use, and represented the hopes of Mercedes-Benz, renamed after a 1926 merger, to establish motorized domination in three places: The sea, air and land. Kind of like Navy SEALs.

8. Saab 

The mythical red griffin crowned in gold represents the Swedish province of Scania, or Skane, the original location of Swedish car and truck manufacturer AB Skania-Vabis, which merged with Saab Automobile in 1969. The griffin symbol was not used on Saab vehicles until 1984. After GM bought Saab in 2000, they redesigned the logo, and under some form of agreement both companies used the griffin, even though the trademark stayed with Scania. After Saab’s bankruptcy and eventual purchase by National Electric Vehicle Sweden, Scania decided to not let the new Saab use the logo. As a result, Saabs today have a simple text logo.

9. Volvo 

The ancient symbol for the Roman god Mars has long been associated with weapons and warfare, and is also the alchemist symbol for iron. The Swedish company, known for its safe, sturdy vehicles, adopted the iron badge when it began manufacturing cars in the 1920s. 

10. Maserati 

The Italian company was headed by three brothers, but it was a fourth Maserati brother, artist Mario, who created the company logo. He designed a trident based on the statue of the Roman god Neptune in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, and added red and blue to acknowledge that city.

11. Porsche 

The Porsche logo combines elements from two coats of arms: the Free State of Württemberg in western Germany, and its former capital, Stuttgart. 

12. Buick 

The Detroit-based company’s first real logo borrowed heavily from the ancestral homeland of founder David Dunbar Buick, incorporating elements like a Scottish coat of arms, including a large crest, gold cross, and deer head. In 1959 the red, white and blue tri-shield emerged, representing the LeSabre, Invicta, and Electra models that made up the day’s Buick lineup. 

13. Ferrari 

Italian racecar driver Enzo Ferrari was asked to paint a prancing horse (cavallino rampante) on his vehicles to honor fighter pilot and World War I hero Count Francesco Barraca, who painted a similar horse on his plane. Ferrari founded the Scuderia Ferrari racing team in 1929 and kept the horse emblem, adding bright yellow to the background for his home city of Modena.   

14. Mitsubishi 

Mitsu means three in Japanese, while hishi, or bishi, refers to the diamond- or rhombus-shaped water chestnut plant. The Mitsubishi logo references the family crest of founder Yatoro Iwasaki and the logo of his first employer, the Yamanouchi, or Tosa Clan. 

15. Peugeot 

Originally a French grain mill, Peugeot diversified into steel production, tool and bicycle making, and, by the late 1890s, automobile manufacturing. Brothers Jules and Emile commissioned a logo in the mid-19th century to be used on all its products. The lion emblem was first added to a car model in 1905, and has become increasingly stylized since then, with the more abstract lion first appearing in 1975.

16. Infiniti 

A luxury spinoff from Nissan, Infiniti debuted two models in 1989, and the Japanese brand furthered the “infinity” concept in its logo with two central lines in the center of a badge, symbolizing a road leading into a vast unknown landscape.

17. Rolls-Royce 

The “Spirit of Ecstasy” mascot that sits atop the front grille of the British luxury cars is thought to be taken from an earlier sculpture called “The Whisperer,” modeled on actress Eleanor Thornton. Sculptor Charles Sykes was commissioned to create a logo for Lord John Montagu’s Rolls-Royce, who supposedly urged Sykes to utilize Thornton as his muse. Later, Sykes was asked to create a mascot for all Rolls-Royces, and gave them a modified version of the one he made for Montagu. Accompanying Montagu, who was dispatched to India during World War I, Thornton—who may or may not have been in a relationship with the married Montagu—died in 1915 when the SS Persia was struck by a torpedo from a German U-Boat. The “Spirit of Ecstasy” would not become standard on Rolls-Royces until the 1920s.

18. Chrysler 

The classic Chrysler pentastar, created in 1962 by designer Robert Stanley, was phased out after the company was purchased by Fiat in 2014. The modern wing logo is based on the original Chrysler logo, which has been used at various times since the company’s inception in 1925 and references the Roman god Mercury. 

19. Alfa Romeo

Quite possibly the most mysterious car logo, the cross and man-eating snake can be traced to the Italian city of Milan and its former ruling family, the Viscontis. As Jalopnik reported, Otone Visconti, a Milanese Knight, fought in the First Crusades and may or may not have defeated a Saracen in battle and taken the symbol of a snake devouring a man from his vanquished foe’s shield. Alfa, for its part, claims that the snake isn’t eating the man, but that the man is instead coming out of the snake renewed.

20. Lamborghini 

Legend has it that as the company was being conceived, founder Ferrucio Lamborghini was on the Miura Ranch, where bullfighting bulls were bred. A noted bullfighting enthusiast, founder Ferrucio Lamborghini’s birthday also fell under the Taurus astrological sign.

All images courtesy of Getty Images.

The Best (and Worst) States for Summer Road Trips

As we shared recently, the great American road trip is making a comeback, but some parts of the country are more suitable for hitting the open road than others. If you're interested in taking a road trip this summer but are stuck on figuring out the destination, WalletHub has got you covered: The financial advisory website analyzed factors like road conditions, gas prices, and concentration of activities to give you this map of the best states to explore by car.

Wyoming—home to the iconic road trip destination Yellowstone National Park—ranked No. 1 overall with a total score of 58.75 out of 100. It's followed by North Carolina in the No. 2 slot, Minnesota at No. 3, and Texas at No. 4. Coming in the last four slots are the three smallest states in America—Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut—and Hawaii, a state that's obviously difficult to reach by car.

But you shouldn't only look at the overall score if you're planning a road trip route: Some states that did poorly in one category excelled in others. California for example, came in 12th place overall, and ranked first when it came to activities and 41st in cost. So if you have an unlimited budget and want to fit as many fun stops into your vacation as possible, taking a trip up the West Coast may be the way to go. On the other end of the spectrum, Mississippi is a good place to travel if you're conscious of spending, ranking second in costs, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of the quality of your trip, coming in 38th place for safety and 44th for activities.

Choosing the stops for your summer road trip is just the first step of the planning process. Once you have that covered, don't forget to pack these essentials.

The Best Way to Fight Sky-High Gas Prices This Summer

Thanks to crude oil prices and increasing demand, it's getting very expensive to operate a motor vehicle in the U.S. In Connecticut and New York, gas prices have hit over $3 a gallon. According to AAA, the national average—which fluctuates on a daily basis—is hovering around $2.90. As a result, motorists might spend up to $200 more fueling up in 2018.

Whether that will translate into fewer people taking road trips this summer remains to be seen. But you don't necessarily have to be at the total mercy of Big Oil every time you pull up to the pump. While credit card programs and other discount offers can shave pennies off a refuel, it's what you do once you leave the station that has the greatest impact on fuel economy.

Automotive expert Ron Montoya of Edmunds, an online automotive information hub, spoke with NBC News recently and suggested that drivers can anticipate significant savings based on one simple rule: drive less aggressively.

Depending on the model, cars tend to maximize fuel economy around 50 miles per hour (mph). When a car joins the racing flow of traffic on a highway, accelerating from 55 mph to 75 mph, fuel consumption speeds up right along with it, shaving up to 15 miles per gallon (mpg) off the vehicle's fuel efficiency. Even going 65 mph will eat up four to eight mpg more. Overall, the act of threading through traffic by speeding, braking, and rapidly accelerating is responsible for a 15 to 30 percent reduction in gas mileage. It's like paying 20 cents more per gallon for every 5 mph driven over a cruising speed of 50 mph.

In addition to maintaining a moderate speed, road trippers may also want to consider leaving cargo off the roof—it increases drag—and sticking with regular unleaded. Most cars don't need premium, even if it's "recommended" on car doors. Only use more expensive fuel if the manufacturer labels it "required."

As for those credit card deals? They vary by issuer, but paying cash usually results in a 10 to 15 cent savings per gallon because gas stations don't have to cover transaction fees. If you don't normally carry a lot of cash, consider paying with a debit card—but make sure the station will treat it as cash, not credit.

[h/t NBC News]


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