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Explained: The cool history behind the car logos of your favorite automakers

Ferrari's Prancing horse logo came from a pilot (and more cool stories of car symbols)

Close up of 2022 Jaguar F-Pace R Dynamic S Jaguar badge on the back liftgate.
Joel Patel/The Manual / The Manual

Automakers are often defined by the cars they produce, but their stories go much deeper than that. The manufacturer’s logo is at the core of everything, an instantly recognizable symbol that sums up who that manufacturer is. There is just as much variety amongst these car logos as there is amongst the cars the companies produce.

Some of them are pretty obvious. Jaguar’s logo is a Jaguar because the company is called Jaguar. Kia, Nissan, and Ford’s logos are basically just stylized versions of the company name. Lexus, Honda, Hyundai, and a few others go even simpler with a stylized version of the first letter of said company name.

But other car logos have a more interesting story behind them. Some pay homage to the manufacturer’s homeland, the company’s heritage, or mark a historic event. Others are a little bit out there. Here is the history behind some of the more interesting car emblems you may spot.

Audi Logo
kucheruk / Adobe Stock

Audi

Audi’s famous badge has nothing to do with any other well-known ringed logo, nor is it connected to the “Quattro” all-wheel drive system. It’s actually a reference to the major merger that took place in the early 1930s. Back in 1932, Audi partnered with DKW, Horch and Wanderer to form the “Auto Union.” Cars produced by that union featured the four-ringed logo we now associate with Audi alone.

Auto Union itself disappeared in the mid-80s, but its logo is still being used by Audi, which itself is now part of the Volkswagen Group — another massive German auto conglomerate.

2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63
Miles Branman/The Manual / The Manual

Mercedes

The Mercedes logo is actually a star, similar to the one that adorned the home of the parent company Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft’s founder — Gottlieb Daimler. However, Gottlieb would never see this “symbol of prosperity” attached to what would become one of the most successful motor manufacturers in the world. It was actually his sons that suggested the symbol be attached to Mercedes after he died back in 1900.

Curiously enough, the three-pointed star wasn’t the only logo put forward. A trademark was also filed for a four-pointed version which was never used. Fast forward to 2023, and most people won’t even see the badge as a “star.” It’s just a Mercedes logo.

BMW logo wheel
Miles Branman/The Manual / The Manual

BMW

BMW’s blue and white logo draws heavily on the German manufacturer’s heritage — representing the flag of its home state of Bavaria. A long-standing theory also links the distinctive badge to the company’s history as an airplane engine manufacturer.

What is now BMW sprang out of Rapp Motorenwerke airplane manufacturing back in 1928. Its logo, or the “BMW Roundel” to give it its official title, has been interpreted as a propeller working in front of a clear blue sky for close to a century. During that time, the badge itself has essentially remained the same. All that’s changed is the font and the color of the outer ring.

Subaru logo
Pascal Huot / Adobe Stock

Subaru

Fans of astronomy and the Japanese language may already be able to guess the inspiration for the company’s car logo. If you lack that kind of expert-level trivia night knowledge, we’ll fill you in on it here.

Subaru is the Japanese name for the Seven Sisters, or Pleiades — a cluster of stars in the constellation of Taurus. The badge itself only features six stars, with the six in question being the most prominent ones in the cluster — Electra, Maia, Taygete, Asterope, Celaene, and Alcyone.

So, why the six stars? That itself apparently relates to the merger that created Subaru. The five smaller stars on the badge represent the five companies that merged, while the large sixth star represents the “new” company, Subaru. New is, of course, a relative term — as this happened in 1953.

Alfa Romeo 4C closeup
Miles Branman/The Manual / The Manual

Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo logo is steeped in Milanese history. The “Biscione,” which is the prominent snake on the badge, is the symbol of the house of Visconti, which ruled Milan around 700 years ago. The snake is actually eating a man and has a floating crown above it. The other prominent part of the logo, the red cross, is also associated with the city of Milan.

While this may cause a few flashbacks to Game of Thrones and make you picture knights riding “Veloce” horses into battle, its origins are a bit less exciting. It was designed by an Italian Draughtsman named Romano Catteneo shortly after the manufacturer was established in 1910, and the blue ring that encircles the other elements was added in 1918.

Close-up view of the logo of a Ferrari on public display in a car show
ymgerman / Adobe Stock

Ferrari

The story behind legendary Italian supercar manufacturer Ferrari’s equally iconic “prancing horse” badge almost sounds too fantastic to be true. But let’s give Enzo Ferrari the benefit of the doubt. After all, if it turned out the logo was produced by some nameless college student for $20 or something, the world would indeed be a darker place.

Luckily, the official story starts with Enzo meeting Count and Countess Enrico and Paolina Baracca at the first Savio circuit, where he won. The aristocrats had a deceased son, a fighter pilot who had adorned his plane with a prancing horse. Enzo was told the symbol would bring him luck, and he ran with the idea. The yellow background was added as a homage to Modena, where Ferrari’s factory is based.

Lamborghini logo
Miles Branman/The Manual / The Manual

Lamborghini

The event that led to Lamborghini’s choice of logo also influenced other areas of the Italian automaker’s image. It all centers around Ferruccio Lamborghini taking a trip to Don Eduardo Miura’s ranch and being impressed with the fighting bulls bred there. The Don’s surname would be used for what many still consider the finest Lambo ever manufactured, and the animals he bred would go on to adorn the company’s crest.

Lamborghini’s logo doesn’t feature a docile bull; instead, its head is down, its tail is up, and it’s about to aggressively send half a ton of beef toward the person looking at it. The car emblem symbolizes strength and power, which sums up Mr. Lamborghini’s vehicles quite well.

Porsche logo
Ryan / Adobe Stock

Porsche

Ferrari isn’t the only supercar manufacturer with a horse on its badge — though rival Porsche’s story is a little less dramatic. Instead of a good luck symbol, Porsche’s badge is a homage to the city of Stuttgart, where the brand is based, and the former kingdom of Württemberg, which Stuttgart was the capital of.

The horse itself is a reference to the stud farm the German city was apparently built on, while the six curved antlers are a nod to the former nation it presided over. The car logo was set in 1952 and has been affixed to the front of the manufacturer’s cars ever since.

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