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The hood ornament: from purpose to personality

Back in the day, the ubiquitous “hood ornament” seen gracing the front end of many cars and trucks started out with a very practical purpose. You see, at the start of the “automotive age,” radiator caps actually sat on the hood, outside of the vehicle and on top of its grille, serving as an unofficial “temperature gauge” for engine coolant fluid.

Indeed, back in 1913, the Boyce MotoMeter company actually patented a hood ornament thermometer for just that purpose – and it became a collector’s item in the process. (You can see one version of this iconic hood ornament at left.)

Today, though, hood ornaments are entirely decorative in nature. Yet they’ve also come to symbolize the “personality” of motor vehicles, from the “Spirit of Ecstasy” adorning luxurious Rolls Royce cars on up to the legendary Mack Trucks bulldog.

Heavy truck owners especially tap a variety of hood ornaments for their vehicles, everything from swans and ducks, with said “ducks” often a nod to the character Martin "Rubber Duck" Penwald played by actor/singer Kris Kristofferson in the movie Convoy; a 1978 film about truck drivers that didn’t exactly garner critical acclaim, as you can read in this review by the New York Times.

Yet while some heavy truck hood ornaments may be viewed as something of a lark [and check out this photo gallery for examples] others are put to more serious purpose – often as an extension of deeply-held religious conviction.

For example, the chrome cross (seen at right) decorating the front of The Goose – a 1996 Freightliner Classic XL operated by husband and wife team Daniel and Phyllis Snow – serves as reminder to them both that “no matter how many problems life throws at us,” their faith is there to sustain them.

“That cross on our hood was an anniversary gift to Phyllis,” Daniel told me via email recently. “It serves as a daily reminder to us on our journey in this life.”

Proof positive that many hood ornaments have purposes and stories all their own to tell.

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