Chrome, Crystal and Brass – Monterey Mascots
Up until the late thirties, classic cars do not have hood ornaments. That’s partly because their “hoods” are usually huge panels connected with long piano hinges that fold upward to gain access to large complicated engines. You would have to mount a hood ornament on the top hinge, and then you couldn’t open the hood.
No. To lead the way forward and act as a statement of elegance, power, or just whimsy, many classic cars have mascots. They are mounted on top of the radiator cap, or on the top center of the radiator shell if the cap is concealed.
This year’s field of cars at Monterey was especially good for hunters of mascot images. Here are a few we encountered.
No, They’re not Wings
Probably the best-known of all radiator mascots is the Rolls-Royce “Flying Lady.” Also known as “Emily” or “Silver Lady,” her correct title is “Spirit of Ecstasy.” The original sculpture (there was a full size version, about four feet tall, at the Blackhawk Collection in Danville, California, the last time we were there) was sculpted by Charles Robinson Sykes, and modeled by Elanor Velasco Thornton.
Elanor (nicknamed “Thorn.”) was the secretary of John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu (after 1905 titled second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu), then Editor of The Car Illustrated. Although married to Lady Cecil Victoria Constance Kerr since 1889, John Walter fell in love with Elanor. As such things went in those days (See any episode of Downton Abbey.) there romance had to be clandestine. Nevertheless, in 1910 he commissioned Sykes to create a sculpture.
The first, showing her leaning forward in fluttering robes with one finger to her lips was titled “The Whisper,” a metaphoric reference to their secret love affair. That one went on Lord Montague’s own Silver Ghost.
When some owners chose “inappropriate” mascots for their Rolls, the managing director of Rolls-Royce, Claude Johnson, commissioned an “official” mascot, choosing the same sculptor and model, and the result was the familiar figure that some wags called “Ellie in her nightie.” So they’re not really “wings” but her robes.
There have been several versions of the famous Rolls-Royce Flying Lady mascot. Above, a fairly accurate rendering (The earliest versions have the sculptor’s name and the date on the base.) is shown as mounted on the radiator cap of the Antique Class winner, the 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Kellner Torpedo Phaeton, which also won the trophy for Most Elegant Open Car.
Below is a later “Kneeling” version, mounted atop the radiator of the 1952 Phantom IV Hooper Sedanca de Ville that won Class H2 for Post-war Rolls and Bentleys.
Lord Montagu’s affair with Elanor ended tragically. She was lost in 1915 when accompanying him to a post in India, and their ship was tropedoed off Crete. He survived the sinking after several days on a raft.
Birds always convey a sense of speed and grace, like this eagle on a 1928 Alvis 25.
The Hispano Suiza Stork
In addition its the association with flight (Stork migration distances are legendary.), the stork has an ancient and distinguished place in mythology, symbolizing fidelity and steadfastness, among other qualities. All of this no doubt contributed to its selection by prestigious car maker Hispano Suiza (a French manufacturer) as their mascot after World War I, where it was the squadron emblem of French ace Georges Guynemer.
There were two “Hisos” in the field at the Concours. The literature does not explain the unusual upturned beak on the example on the right.
Packards appear to have been popular cars on which to express individuality. As with the crane above.
Female figures with wings are a popular theme for mascots. This one is apparently carrying a spare wheel for the Packard she is leading.
Ah! An actual “Hood Ornament.” This winged female figure adorns the supercharged Auburn Speedster offered at RM Southeby’s. Identical relief figures in profile appear on its flanks.
Another interpretation of the flying lady, this one on a Cadillac. Another hood ornament.
Owners were free to select a different mascot for their cars. Some (like Rolls Royce) are rarely seen with mascots other than the official version. The usual mascot for a Duesenberg is a rather plain art deco interpretation of “flight” (two examples, one with color accents, above). Below is a different selection, a true “Flying Lady.”
An honored marque this year was duPont. Something about these cars seemed to encourage their owners to chose a variety of mascots for their radiator caps, like this winged Pegasus bust.
Artistry in Crystal
As stated above, duPonts were popular mounts for a variety of Mascots, among them the artistic glass creations of René Lalique. Lalique produced no fewer that thirty different styles of mascot, two of which appear on duPonts at the Concours.
Above: Three of the duPonts displayed, left to right, the 1929 Model G Convertible Coupe, 1931 Model H Sport Phaeton, and 1929 Model G 4-place Speedster, share the same design of Lalique Crystal Eagle’s Head. Below, the one mounted on the Petersen Museum’s 1929 Le Mans replica Speedster, unaccountably left out of the invitations to the Concours.
Above: The Lalique Crystal Chanteclair mascot adorned the 1928 Model G Merrimac Phaeton (below).
Back in the classic era, when a car’s manufacturer simply did not express the owner’s creativity sufficiently, what could one do? One did what car lovers still do today of course – they went to the aftermarket.
A bulldog on a British Bentley. What could be more appropriate? But wait! Look at those ears! That’s no English bulldog. As custodians of one of these clowns of the canine world, we know that’s a French Bulldog.
Expressive and beautifully mounted, this impala mascot graced a Chrysler.
The Swallow Sidecar company became SS Cars Limited, and branched out into four-wheeled sporting machinery. This fierce mascot is on an SS1, nicknamed the Jaguar by founder William Lyons, thus the first “Leaper” of Jaguar fame.
The literature does not explain why New York artist Fred Dana Marsh, the first owner of this 1930 duPont, needed a deck gun on the prow of his Model G Merrimac Speedster.
This greyhound often graced the prows of elegant Lincolns.
When imagination is allowed to run free, there’s no telling what will come of it.
Reynolds duPont, Jr., owner of this 1928 Model E duPont Woonsocket Convertible Sedan (We did not ask if there was any relation.) says that he has two “Monkey with Grapes” themed mascots, but the other has the monkey hiding the grapes behind his back, and with that one mounted, he can’t get the hood open.
This is the third time this mascot has appeared in one of our blogs. There’s a reason for that.
An American Indian in full headdress and cowboy boots, saddled up on a giant hornéd snail, complete with chain bridle – can we get any more fanciful?
CARMA is a publication of The OM Dude Press
a service of Options in Mobility
Author, Editor, Publisher, Reporter, Historian, Archivist: Dick Stewart.
All photographs are by the author unless attributed otherwise
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