10 Famous American Car Logos Then And Now – The Difference is Surprising!

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For true car enthusiasts, their cars aren’t just about the complex mechanism, vehicle specs, or achieving an inspiring performance. To them, every minute detail of the vehicle inside and out matters, be it superfluous detailing or the history behind the brand name. And the most crucial thing car lovers get attached to is the vehicle’s visual identity, and if there’s any more crucial thing to any automobile, it will be its emblem.

In the automotive world, brands go to great lengths to design emblems that create an identity that will draw fans toward it even before seeing the rest of the vehicle. And while these emblems might seem like little more than superfluous decoration, many of them indeed have a long and storied history, deep symbolism, and have gone through a lot of evolution over the years.

In this article, we’re looking at the logos of America’s most iconic car brands and see how they look now and how they looked in the beginning. While you will probably recognize all of the contemporary logo versions, many of their original counterparts are still tricky to identify.

1. Buick

Buick Logo First and Current
Buick logo evolution

Being the founding member of General Motors Company – Buick is a celebrated car manufacturer in the US automobile market. It was established in 1904 and is considered one of the world’s oldest luxury carmakers.

The Buick brand, named after its creator – David Dunbar Buick, has a long, very distinctive, and yet equally confusing visual identity history. 

The company’s logo has been redesigned several times throughout the 116 years. From the first Buick logo where we see Uncle Sam walking across the planet and rolling behind him is a small cart with a car, to explore through the badges with just the company name, to one with a hawk, to a simple singular coat of arms, Buick kept coming back to the three-shield logo that would stay with them through today.

Introduced in 1937, the three-shield insignia can be traced back to the company’s founder – David Buick’s familial history.

In the 1930s, a General Motors Styling researcher, Ralph Pew, found a description of the ancestral arms of the Scottish Buick family, and the company decided to use it as its logo.

You might be thinking that the journey from a dapper man in a top hat to the sleek modern logo ends here. But hold your water because, in the 70s, Buick surprised everyone with its new logo – that of a “Happy” hawk. This move got Buick off the right track again as this logo had zero acknowledgment to any of its previous logos.

However, this diversion was short-lived, and the company resumed the familiar tri-shield logo again in the late 1980s. Apart from this, the only significant change Buick made to its logo was in 2002 when they scrapped the colored logo and adopted a silver monochrome logo which is also the one we see today. 

The moral we can all learn from Buick’s logo evolution is timeless and elegant, celebrating the brand, milestones achieved, and the continual perseverance for progress.

2. Cadillac

Cadillac Logo First and Current
Cadillac logo evolution

In a world full of silver-chrome car emblems that are plastered in whichever place they will fit on a car, it’s pleasingly fresh to see some splash of color in a car logo. Regardless of that, have you ever wondered why Cadillac has a bazillion of colors in their badge? Well, don’t you worry, as we are here to present to you the story behind the Cadillac logo.

After it was founded in 1902 by Henry Ford, the luxury automobile brand from the USA has been managed and owned by GMC. Subsequently, Cadillac has its logo altered and/or redesigned more than 30 times. Perhaps, no other automotive brand logo in the world has undergone that level of change.

The first Cadillac logo was inspired by the family crest of Antoine de la Monthe Cadillac, who founded the city of Detroit. The original coat of arms was divided into two parts which comprised of a coat and a shield and featured the following design elements:

  • The Merlettes – The Marlette birds appear in a set of threes on each side to signify the nobility of the mother’s and father’s lineage and therefore represent the Holy Trinity.
  • The Couronne or Crown – It represents the seven ancient counts of France. Above every tip, there’s a pearl that geographically depicts integrity from the Royal counts of Toulouse – a cultural center of medieval Europe.
  • The Color Stripes – The gold represents riches, the black represents superiority, the red symbolizes boldness, the silver color stands for virtue, and the blue color means valor. The black stripe indicates the award for crusader service.
  • The Laurel Wreath – This stands for the aristocracy.
    Over the years, as Cadillac tinkered with the logo every now and then, but the family crest remained a consistent symbol throughout and added up to its core values.

The present logo has been influenced by Cadillac’s philosophy of integrating Art and Science in its design language, devoid of detail and following a geometric approach from Piet Mondrian’s abstract painting.

The current Cadillac visual identity thereby showcases a modernized crest with an elegant cursive wordmark below it.

While the Cadillac is a classic, its logo has been one of the most powerful and instantly identifiable brands in the car industry. Though classics are timeless, they don’t shy away from adapting to the demands of modern consumers, and Cadillac has been synonymous to evolve with technology.

3. Chevrolet

Chevrolet Logo First and Current
Chevrolet logo evolution

The jury is still out on the origin of Chevrolet’s iconic bowtie emblem. As supposedly remembered by William C. Durant, the co-founder of Chevrolet was inspired by a pattern that he saw on the wallpaper of his hotel in Paris. Durant’s wife, Catherine, instead expressed a different opinion and suggested that William took inspiration from a newspaper ad for “Coalettes” that showed a similar outline. Finally, one other theory claims Louis Chevrolet personally designed the bowtie logo as a modified Swiss cross to pay tribute to his parent’s homeland.

Whichever of these stories is true, the Chevy bowtie logo is one of the well-known automobile logos in the world. However, before the Chevrolet bowtie logo was born, the company’s logo was that of an emblem in a signature-style wordmark with a bold typeface. The distinct handwriting of the mark matched the co-founder’s signature.

The current Chevrolet logo was introduced in 2011 to celebrate the company’s 100th anniversary. The symbolic bowtie now had a face-lift. You can see the modern Chevrolet emblem is a combination of a textured bowtie with a sleek silver framing. Occasionally, Chevrolet uses the “Chevrolet” wordmark underneath the bowtie. However, at this time, the Chevrolet emblem alone is so powerful and memorable that it’s recognizable to be by itself and doesn’t need to have a reference to the brand name.

The Chevrolet cars have been using the famous bowtie emblem since 1914, making it one of the longest-standing logos in history.

That is the most influential impact the Chevy logo has made with its heritage and consistency.

4. Chrysler

chrysler Logo First and Current
Chrysler logo evolution

Despite Chrysler’s acquisition by Fiat in 2014 and after that forming a new Fiat Chrysler US LCC company, Chrysler’s logo still evokes memories of cars like the New Yorker and the Plymouth Barracuda.

When Walker Chrysler collaborated with some of the greatest engineering minds to establish a new American automotive brand, he had the distinct vision of creating affordable luxury cars that would be in the same league as the Ford’s Lincoln and GM’s Cadillac. Because of this factor, Walter conceptualized that as a premium car brand, they would need a special logo to appeal to its customers.

The first original Chrysler logo was designed in 1924 by Oliver Clark, who made part of the engineering team around Walter Chrysler. The logo consisted of a wax seal with a pair of silver wings, symbolizing speed and quality. The wings were an external reference to represent the speed of Mercury, the Roman god.

Clark said the seal was intended to symbolize the premium quality of the vehicles produced by Chrysler.

With time, the Chrysler logo has evolved from its various different visual identities over all years. After its acquisition, it was felt that the Chrysler logo needed a new logo that should be in congruence with a modern and sleek design. However, the company decided to go back to its roots and embraced the silver wings feature from its first logo.

The current Chrysler logo now has a more balanced and sophisticated look with its trademark silver wings with smoother and fuller lines. Although the historic wax seal has been eliminated, it is replaced by the blue line with a wordmark on it.

5. Dodge

dodge logo then and now
Dodge logo evolution

Whenever we think of the name Dodge, we think of a brand that has been part of traditional American culture representing its rich automotive heritage.

The Dodge Brothers Company was started in 1900 in Detroit, Michigan, by Brothers Horace Elgin and John Francis. Initially, they set up as a mechanic shop where they built Ford engines and parts exclusively.

In a little while, this Michigan factory became the largest automotive parts company in the world. And it was during this time, the Dodge brothers decided to start their own manufacturing car company.

The first Dodge logo was designed in 1910. It was composed of a circular medallion in white, which has letters “D” and “B” (standing for Dodge Brothers) in a monogram style. This monogram was enclosed in a double-rounded gold metal frame with six small circles around the perimeter.

The Dodge logo that we all know today was designed in 2009 by Wieden and Kennedy (best known for their work with Nike’s advertising campaigns).

This new logo resulted in a contemporary style – a silver lettering in all caps with two red diagonal stripes at the end. The double red line symbolizes agility and speed. While the uncomplicated font represents the power and the “forever young” quality of the brand.

6. Ford

Ford Logo First and Current
Ford logo evolution

As one of the world’s largest-standing automotive manufacturers, Ford stands true to its reputation of making effortlessly simple and reliable cars.

As in the case of its logo, nothing much has changed as the company has stuck with its iconic Blue Oval logo from 1927 to now. However, this Blue Oval logo wasn’t the one the company started out with back in 1903.

Ford’s original logo was colored black with a white inscription “Ford Motor Co. Detroit, Mich” adorned within a decorative wreath design.

The Ford script has stood the test of time and was created by the company’s first chief engineer/designer Childe Harold Wills in 1907 – because Ford wanted a simple and less busy design than the brand’s original circular emblem. Since then, the logo has had some minor changes here and there, including Blue Oval, which was added nearly two decades later, but that very familiar script has remained virtually eternal. This element in Ford’s logo design followed a minimalist approach and eventually became the most recognized logo typeface in the world.

The latest iteration of the Ford emblem appeared in 2003 when the company celebrated Ford’s 100th anniversary. This version is in use till today and by far is the sleekest, clean and classy evolution in Ford’s visual identity. The blue logo has received a subtle gradient treatment with light blue and navy blue shades and a white tint that adds a nice volume and light. The ‘Ford’ lettering is also designed in white. Overall the Ford logo symbolizes the brand’s simplicity, style, sophistication, and impeccable reputation.

7. Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang logo evolution

The running pony is the most recognizable symbol when we see a Ford Mustang. However, not many know about the origin of the world’s best-selling sports car logo. Simultaneously, even fewer people know how the running horse inspired Phil Clark, the young 27-year-old designer, to design the Mustang logo.

Clark was famous for sketching animals. Having said that, the pony came to reality only after Clark and his associates spent nearly 100 backbreaking days on working and modifying renderings of the final original design.

The very first Mustang logo is a galloping horse. This horse was distinguished as a wild horse and always faced left instead of a domesticated racing horse that faced right. This Mustang logo had red, white, and blue stripes behind it, representing the American flag.

The exemplary Mustang logo has undergone subtle changes with changing times – the latest logo update happened in 2010. This current upgraded logo showcased the horse with a more muscular appearance and had a sharp, sculpted look.

8. Jeep

jeep Logo First and Current
Jeep logo evolution

When you think about Jeep, the first few that instantaneously conjure up in your mind are – horsepower, durability, and the American spirit. However, the birth of this legendary American brand is albeit a complicated one and subject to many interpretations.

Since its creation, the Jeep brand has gone through a string of several different owners. The first owner was Willys-Overland, who responded to the Army’s request to produce a four-wheel-drive vehicle that could be used in reconnaissance operations. Willys-Overland worked alongside the American Bantam Car Company and Ford to produce the first prototypes. The current owner of this giant is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Although Jeep’s wartime history is well-documented, little is known about the history of the Jeep logo. This can be due to the fact that for an extended period of time, the brand logo didn’t even appear on the Jeeps that were produced. Instead, only the name “Jeep” was used on the vehicles.

This decision of not having a logo on its vehicles was more of a testament to Jeep’s popularity and recognition which became the main USP of the brand. Following which the brand owners did not consider it obligatory to create any other symbolic image.

The first Jeep logo used a red and gold color scheme. Its design is in stark from logos used by the majority of automobile brands – in most automobile logos, elements like ovals, circles, shields, and the like are in conventional forms. The brand uses a classic Helvetica Bold typeface for the font used to spell out “Jeep”.

Today, the complete Jeep logo comprises the bonnet of a car. It’s a design that looks similar to the grill of a car supported by two circles meant to represent headlights. While the Jeep font is depicted in a solid, dark-green color and is placed above the primary logo. The conscious decision to play with this color was likely a homage to Jeep’s interesting history with the US military.

Considering everything, the Jeep logo is a relatively simple one, simplified even further since the brand chooses to only use the full logo for specific promotions and instead marks all of their vehicles with only the word “Jeep”. In a certain sense, this simplicity that goes sans luxury and comfort was the most important part of the logo design that Jeep represents. What was more important to the brand was the usability, maneuverability, and reliability of its vehicles.

9. Hummer

Hummer Logo First and Current
Hummer logo evolution

Perceived as one of the most brazen and notorious SUV-cars manufacturers in the world, Hummer boasts a very outlandish militaristic aesthetic and masculine visual identity design.

Like Jeep, Hummer was a product of the war. A beast on four wheels, this masculine, attention-grabbing road warrior was built for challenging terrain and dusty roads. The Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) put Humvee in the spotlight, and the sturdy battle-tested rigs became a vehicular role model of America’s aggressive might.

The earliest Hummer logo had no-frills; it was created with just a simple and strict wordmark. The extra-bold typeface of the capital lettering is similar to the Franklin Gothic Heavy font.

The nameplate featured thick straight lines and traditional bulky sharp angles. Attributable to the strength of the typeface, the lettering looks like it has been chopped in both upper and bottom parts in order to fit the invisible frame.

The monochrome palette of the logo adds to the power and brutal supremacy of the brand.

The Hummer logo is an excellent example of how a simple and minimalistic logo can exhibit a brand’s personality with limited real estate. It was a true reflection of Hummer’s image of a behemoth and automotive excess, which started as the military’s next do-anything workhorse or High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) or plainly put as Humvee.

With that being said, the Hummer logo was redesigned in 2021. This was following the brand’s rise as a military war hero to its downfall as an environmentally dirty machine and now getting a resurrection with the Hummer EV; Hummer’s story was far from over.

The new logo represents a chiseled squareness yet connects it to the old mark’s firm bluntness, which keeps the brand’s core identity intact. The thinner font and sharp geometric angles both modernize the old logo and lessen its assaultiveness.

This Hummer logo definitely looks more consciously designed than the old one. It’s tech-savvy, slim, and is reintroduced with a futuristic spinoff.

10. Lincoln

Lincoln Logo First and Current
Lincoln logo evolution

If an automobile logo has the X-factor to carry forward a legacy of luxury, magnificence, and prestige, it would be none other than the Lincoln emblem. The legendary Lincoln brand has been synonymous with wealth, power, and indulgence that represented pure American style and extravagance at its finest.

A sub-brand of the Ford Motor Company, Lincoln actually started its journey as a solo enterprise established in 1915 by Cadillac co-founder Henry M. Leland. After WWI, the company was acquired by Ford and has remained a sub-brand ever since. However, what’s perhaps most interesting about this brand’s logo is how it came to be and the real meaning behind its symbol.

The first Lincoln logo was created in 1917. It then featured a round-angled medallion, sculpted at the top edges and had a bold wordmark on it. This was the only logo used by the brand when it was owned by Henry Leland.

For several years now, the premium automaker has displayed its unusual star-like logo as an epitome of the highest quality. This can be witnessed from the fact that even with its simple cross-sectional logo, it immediately stands out amongst scores of other badges on the road. However, there are many different versions of the origins of its current logo identity.

According to one theory, a section of people assert that the badge represents a compass with its needles directed towards all four corners of the globe. On the other hand, some people claim that the logo has an official name, the Lincoln Star, reflecting the brand’s grandeur and radiance. A certain version states that the Lincoln logo doesn’t have any significant meaning at all.

So what exactly is the real truth behind the Lincoln Star?

The most accepted theory about the now-celebrated Lincoln logo is that it’s based on the Continental Star. It was adapted as the Lincoln logo in the 1950s following the merger of the Lincoln and Continental lines. By contrast, another prevailing theory is – the logo is based on the coat of arms emblem used by the brand in the 1930s, which displayed a red cross in the center shield.

Irrespective of the origin of the Lincoln logo, the four-pointed Star has become the symbol of the brand’s worldwide expertise in top-end design and making state-of-the-art cars.

Conclusion

Logos are very important as they are the face of the business and therefore establish instant brand recognition. Brand’s need to evolve and stay up-to-date but so do their logos.

A good logo can be a synthesizer of a brand and plays a pivotal role in serving as a point of connection between a company and its customers. However, astoundingly very few companies take advantage of the opportunity that logos represent; most logos disappoint in visually expressing a brand’s values and principles.

Where do you stand in your logo evolution journey? Is your logo distinct and relevant with the timeless quality of a cutting-edge brand? Or is it one that has been carrying a stale presence for years, beginning to show signs of fatigue?

If you’re looking to redesign your logo but are overwhelmed on what and how exactly your logo needs an upgrade, we can help.

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