From 1769, when the first steam-powered vehicle was invented by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, to today’s high-tech marvels, cars fascinate us, attract us and change our lives. As a graphic designer, it’s natural that you’d look at the overall design of the car, advertising surrounding each model and the car logos that drive our recognition of the product.

Car logos sometimes have hidden meanings or special significance to the automaker. Let’s take a look at nine of the top car logos ever created, the brilliance behind their designs and the meaning behind each one.


1. BMW

BMW offers one of those iconic car logos that’s instantly recognizable. Originally, BMW planned to make engines for airplanes. A lot of people suspect that the blue and white, propeller-like design is a nod to that history, but the truth is that the design was based on a previous company owned by BMW’s founder, Franz Josef Popp.

His previous company was called Rapp Motorenwerke, which failed after World War I. In 1917, Popp registered Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) and used a similar design to Rapp Motorenwerke, but he added colors of his national flag. The result is a car logo as iconic as the brand itself.


2. Abarth

When someone sees the Abarth logo, they immediately think of Italian racing cars, speed and quality. The logo looks like a shield and has a scorpion outlined in black with a split red and yellow background. The company was founded by Armando Scagliarini in 1949. Although the company was bought out by Fiat, the logo remains on their Italian racing cars.

The colors here are a vivid yellow, white, red and green. The green, white and red are a nod to Scagliarini’s half-Italian ancestry. The yellow and red are a nod to the racing world. The scorpion is from Scagliani’s astrological sign, as he was a Scorpio.


3. Ford

When it comes to the history of automobiles and even just the logos for various cars, Ford Motor Company must be included in the discussion. The first Ford car logo appeared in 1903 for the Model A.

The first logo had a Victorian look with some embellishments and script lettering. The design was pretty intricate, unlike the simple blue oval of today. It wasn’t until 1927 that the blue oval appeared. Over time, the blue oval has changed and been refined, eventually becoming just the word “Ford,” the lettering a bit less intricate.

Today’s Ford logo has the same shade of blue that Ford has used for decades, but the designers added some shading and light to give it a bit of motion and make it more eye-catching for online brand recognition.


4. Chevrolet

Chevrolet (nicknamed Chevy) is a popular American automobile company founded in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet and William C. Durant. Reports indicate that Durant designed the famous bow-tie Chevy emblem. The inspiration for the design is a bit murky. Stories range from wallpaper in a Paris hotel inspiring Durant to an expanded Swiss flag. The mystery behind what inspired Durant is part of the attraction of the logo.

The simplicity of the cross design with lettering across the longest part of the cross makes the brand itself instantly recognizable. Designers should remember the simple design and how it sticks in consumers’ minds.


5. Audi

Audi has one of those car logos that’s so instantly recognizable that you know the design behind it is brilliant. The logo is made up of four intertwined rings. Audi is a German car maker. The company was founded by August Horch in 1909. The name Audi is a Latin translation of the name Horch, which means “listen.”

In 1932, four companies merged to create the Audi logo of four rings, each overlapping and representing a different company that came into the manufacturer’s fold. The design is simple, but the hidden meaning behind those companies coming together makes it unique.


6. Mitsubishi Motors

Mitsubishi Motors has a unique emblem and a unique story to go with it. The original logo was created by combining the logo of two family crests. At the end of the 1800s, Tosa bought out the Tsukumo Shokai company from the Iwasakis. The two crests, three stacked rhombuses and a three-leaf oak symbol were combined in the three diamonds that make up the Mitsubishi logo today.

Even the name of the company itself is a nod to the three-diamond emblem. “Mitsu” means three, and “hishi” means diamond shape. The layers of meaning behind the emblem give it a rich history. Designers should take note of the significance of this car logo and how it ties into the company’s history.


7. Ferrari

The prancing horse of the Ferrari logo is a show of strength. Another Italian automaker makes this list, also known for their racing cars as well as high-performance sports cars. Ferrari was founded in 1939 by Enzo Ferrari, but the first car with the Ferrari emblem wouldn’t arrive until 1947.

The brand logo is known by the prancing black horse on the emblem. The rest of the logo uses Italy’s national colors. The horse sometimes appears as a silver logo as well.


8. Toyota

When it comes to hidden symbols, Toyota is a good emblem to study. The history of Toyota dates back to 1924, when Sakichi Toyoda created a Model G Automatic Loom machine. The company began producing cars — Toyotas — in 1933. The overlapping ovals signify their goal to keep customers satisfied and make sure their cars are reliable. The long ovals signify the trust customers place in the brand.


9. Jaguar

William Lyons and a friend founded the company in 1922, but the friend later sold his shares. The company was originally called the Swallow Sidecar Company. The first car appeared years later and was name Jaguar.

Jaguar features a logo design that’s straightforward and brilliantly simple. The cars are fast, and a jaguar is powerful and fast. The early version of the logo appeared in 1935 but changed to the image of a jaguar in mid-leap around 1945.


Car Logos for Inspiration

Even if your task isn’t to create a car logo, you can gain a lot of inspiration by studying these simple yet brilliant emblems of automobile history. Note how the emblem changes and grows more modern yet still reflects the past. Each logo has a meaning that’s special to the company and its history and values. Every logo, whether for a vehicle or some other product, should have the same rich meaning behind it.



About the author

Lexie Lu

Hello! My name is Lexie and I have a fervor for design, writing, and coffee. I graduated with a dual major in Creative Writing and Commercial Design, and through those grueling study hours (facilitated by coffee, of course) I always found time to write for myself.

My posts feature design trends throughout all industries and show how the field is always changing. There’s never a dull moment in the design world!

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