The question about Rene Lalique was just so easy last week – I mean who doesn’t know at least a half dozen noted French deco designers. Actually, Paul, did anyone in the entire league get that right? Certainly no one at the bar I host did. The question taught us that in glory days of the motorcar people started putting ornaments on the engine caps, which in turn evolved into a rather gorgeous little art form. Our man Rene Lalique designed several different glass ornaments (or motor mascots, how cute) and they are really something to behold, if a little impractical since they had a tendency to smash into a thousand pieces upon impact with… anything. Still, they’re pretty nice, check it out:
If I had one of those babies on my rig you can be sure that I would be the safest guy on the road. Sadly though, glass hood ornaments fell out of favour as a result of being, well, made of glass. Moreover, hood ornaments in general suffered a downturn when coroners across North America started to notice that pedestrians involved in low speed collisions seemed to be dying, not of blunt force trauma, but rather of deep and violent stab wounds. Designs like this may have had something to do with it:
And thus the golden age of hood ornaments came to a close, and those few that remained were mounted on springs and such so that they would retract on impact. This meant that assassins had to hit people at much greater speeds, which is more dangerous for non targeted bystanders, so was this innovation in safety really worth it? You decide.
Deluxe hood ornament trivia
One of the more famous hood ornaments is that used by Rolls Royce. It’s called the Spirit of Ecstasy, and still adorns their cars to this day. It looks like this (though it’s gone through various versions):
But this isn’t the original design. Nope. Back in 1910 our hero the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, he of great moustache, commission a custom design for his Rolls. Here he is:
At the time our Bawdy Baron was secretly seeing a lowly commoner named Eleanor Thornton, and with whom he had an illegitimate child who was naturally put up for adoption. Here she is:
The Baron thus had a sculptor create a special hood ornament, based on Eleanor, which became the famous Spirit of Ecstasy. However! The original version was a little different, as the figure is shown with a conspiratorial finger to her lips in a shush-ing gesture, indicative of Eleanor and the Baron’s secret affair. The original Rolls Royce ornament is therefore known as The Whisperer.