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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.

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between a Street, a Road, and an Avenue?
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Depending on where you live, your address will end in a different designation. You might live on 10th Street, or Meadow Lane, or Red Fox Road. Maybe those throughways intersect a road with a name like Washington Avenue or Park Place. Why the difference? There’s actually a method to the road-naming madness that goes beyond just the whims of urban designers.

Just like there are defined factors that distinguish a highway from a regular city street, there are characteristics that make streets, roads, and avenues distinct from one another. The difference between names like C Street and Avenue B comes down to variables like the size of the path, what surrounds it, and how it intersects with other roads.

A plain old “road,” for instance, is a general term for any throughway that connects two points. Like a square is also a rectangle, streets and avenues are types of roads.

“Streets” are public roads that have buildings on both sides. They’re often perpendicular to “avenues,” which historically were grander and wider. These days, the difference tends to be directional.

In Denver, for instance, naming conventions dictate that Streets run north-south and avenues run east-west. In Manhattan, it’s the opposite, with “Avenues” running north-south and streets running east-west. This isn’t always the case, though: in Washington, D.C., avenues run diagonal to the street grid.

Oddly enough, avenues and streets can be combined, too. In a naming convention particular to Tucson, Arizona, some roads are “Stravenues,” which run diagonal to the normal north-south/east-west grid. (The U.S. Postal Service recognizes these by the abbreviation “Stra.”)

There are many other kinds of street names, of course. "Boulevards," designed to funnel high-speed traffic away from residential and commercial streets, are even grander than avenues, with trees on either side and a sizable median. Then there are the smaller roads, with names that might feel familiar to anyone who’s driven around a suburban housing tract. A “Way” is a smaller side street that splits off from a road. A “Place” has a dead end, as does a “court,” which usually ends in a cul-de-sac. A “Lane” is narrow, and is usually located in a more remote, rural place. A "Drive" tends to wind around a natural landmark, like a mountain or a lake.

To get a better sense of the visual differences, a video from Vox handily illustrates these principles:

Now, you can look at an address and know plenty about the street without even seeing it. 

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Montgomery County Planning Commission, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
This Gas Station Chain Serves Some of the Best Fried Chicken in the Country
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Montgomery County Planning Commission, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Sometimes finding a truly unforgettable meal means venturing outside your comfort zone. That’s the case at the Royal Farms gas station chain in the mid-Atlantic U.S., where restaurant-quality chicken, biscuits, and potato wedges are served at the same venue where drivers fill up their tanks.

As CBS Baltimore reports, Royal Farms was recently named a gas station restaurant worth a detour by Food & Wine magazine. With locations in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, the chain is best known for its "fresh, never frozen" pressure-cooked chicken that’s hand-breaded in a signature spice blend. Another popular menu item is the "western fries"—potato wedges that have been breaded and fried.

As the manager of one Royal Farms in Maryland told CBS Baltimore, his counter sees around 2000 customers for lunch every day. The store is one of at least 178 that have opened in the U.S. since the chain was founded in 1959. More locations, including gas stations in New Jersey, are coming soon.

Royal Farms joins Indian cuisine, barbecue, and Spanish wine and tapas on Food & Wine's list of top gas station eats. For more unexpected places serving noteworthy grub, including a post office, a Honda dealership, and a laundromat, check out our list of the strangest restaurant spots in America.

[h/t CBS Baltimore]


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