Badges of honor: the meaning of six Italian car logos


Long before the boring logo infected our handbags and pants, there was the car badge. Here is a perfect exercise in miniature in the discipline of graphic design: in a modest space, a world of meaning had to be efficiently and economically conveyed. The word and the image must function as one; there is no luxury of space. A set of values ​​should be presented unambiguously, but with a striking style. Italian manufacturers have some of the best: they call them scudetti. These “little shields” are a sort of contemporary holdover from medieval heraldry. And the pride of the brand is as fierce as that of the old city-states.


This glorious name is a happy accident: in 1915, mining engineer Nicola Romeo bought Milan’s Anonima Lombardi Fabbrica Automobili (‘Lombard automobile factory’) and an industrial romance began. The Alfa badge makes specific reference to local history and urban pride: the Christian Red Cross was worn by the Lombard brigade during the First Crusade and the biscione, or grass snake (swallowing its mythical victim) was used by both the Sforza and Visconti families. The Alfa badge is the coat of arms of Milan, although the word “Milano” was dropped without romanticism in 1971 when production of the Alfasud began in southern Italy.


The first Lamborghini appeared in 1962, a challenge to Ferrari from a company that until then had only manufactured agricultural tractors and industrial heating equipment. A fierce fighting bull was chosen in deliberate contrast to Ferrari’s sleek stallion. Lamborghini maintains the bullfighting associations in its naming strategy: the Gallardo is a fighting bull breed and the classic Miura from 1966 was named after the Spanish breeder.


Maserati’s trident belongs to Neptune. Specifically, in Giambologna’s 1567 masterpiece, the Fontana del Nettuno in Bologna. The fountain also features splendid lactating nereids, but the Maserati brothers clearly felt that the aggressive trident was a more appropriate symbol for their racing cars than the gushing nymphs. Originally, Maserati made cars only for the track, but when production of fast, luxurious GTs began in 1946, the trident badge stuck.


The name means humble metallurgist or “blacksmith,” but the Ferrari badge is more aristocratic. Enzo Ferrari previously led the Alfa-Romeo racing team. In 1932, the Contessa Baracca persuaded him to use the crawling cavallino (prancing horse), which had been painted on the side of his late son’s Spad XIII fighter plane (in Italy, cavalry officers were the first generation of fighter pilots). Ferrari agreed. And when in 1947 appeared the first car in the name of Ferrari, the crawling cavallino was his badge. Ferrari put the horse on a yellow shield because, he said, it was the color of Modena. Later, a toned down version of the Italian tricolor was added.


Fiat is the acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, the leading Italian car manufacturer. The first badges included a factory scene, since Fiat is uniquely identified with the Italian industrial revolution. The purely typographic badge is a design classic: its distinctive twisted “A” appeared in 1901 and survived until the 1960s when, in a fit of modernism, the four letters were presented on a blue background in a thin chrome diamond. In 1983, product designer Mario Bellini reduced all of Fiat’s evocative meanings to five chrome bars. But with the relaunch of the Fiat 500 there has been a return to traditional lettering, albeit now in red.


Vincenzo Lancia was in the circle of Fiat boss Giovanni Agnelli and aristocratic pioneers of the Italian automotive industry, including industrial designer Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia, who created his badge. Originally, a flag bearing the Lancia name hung a pun “spear” on the bottom of a steering wheel. The wheel was discontinued in 1957, but returned in 1979 when the last genuine Lancia, Giorgietto Giugiaro’s Delta, was launched.

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