Automotive Logos II: Ford’s Mid-Century Indulgence of Iconography

by James Kraus

1960 Ford Starliner

Ford is not the oldest automotive manufacturer, being predated by Peugeot, Daimler, Benz (separate companies at the time) and Fiat. It was however, the first mass-market producer. The origin of their current script logo dates back to the days of the Model T, and the characteristic blue oval background arrived with the debut of the Model A in 1927.

Despite the recognizability and brand equity inherent in the traditional Ford script in it’s blue oval, its use lasted but a decade. The blue oval was dropped after 1936, and the classic Ford script was unceremoniously scrapped in 1948. For the next few decades, it was destined to appear only sporadically on door sill plates, castings and other barely-visible locations with or without a surrounding oval.

Original Ford blue oval 1927-1936

After releasing the famed flathead V8 engine, the elder Ford became more and more conservative. He disliked hydraulically actuated brakes, finally allowing them in response to consumer demand in 1939. He never allowed independent front suspension under his watch. The senior Henry finally relinquished control after World War II and engineers began work on the first genuine Post-Ford Ford.

The logo-less 1949 Ford

The resulting 1949 model was the most redesigned Ford since the Model A. Freed from the constraints imposed by Henry, the engineers added independent front suspension and Hotchkiss drive with parallel leaf springs at the rear. Designer George Walker bid adieu the traditional separate-fender look both front and rear with a sleek new flat-sided pontoon body in the style of the 1947 Kaiser-Frazer.

Apparently, Ford executives convinced themselves that the classic Ford script wasn’t suited to this futuristic machine and the famous icon was sent packing. The 1949 Fords bore no logo whatsoever. Subsequently, someone in marketing or advertising decided that the lack of a logo was a not such a good idea.

1950 Ford Crest

As a result, the 1950 Ford debuted with a new red, white and blue heraldic crest that according to the company was “derived by Ford stylists from an authentic coat of arms which dates back to 18th century England.”

The new badge was indeed filled with traditional heraldic imagery. The shield was divided into three coloured sections by a chrome-edged black chevron that contained five chrome bezants. Each section depicted a chrome passant lion.

1962 Ford Crest. As cars became increasingly lower and wider, so did the new Ford logo

Curiously, the new logo was only affixed to North American cars, leaving European and Australian Fords logoless. Thus, some of the most enticing Fords of this era, the Cortina Mark I and II and the rear-drive Escort, carried no logo, crest or insignia of any sort.

GT40

Among European models, only the GT40 was granted a logo, with the model name enclosed by a red, white and blue circle, quite similar to the Pepsi logotype of the period.

Back in the U.S., the new Ford crest was destined to appear only on standard full and intermediate-size Fords and early Falcon models. Meanwhile, Ford’s prolific graphic artists worked overtime creating unique logos for nearly every other new U.S. model within the Ford range, beginning with the Thunderbird.

Thunderbird

The original 1955 Thunderbird sported the new Ford heraldic logo over a pair of crossed chequered flags. For 1956, Ford graced the Thunderbird with their first ever model-specific logo. The turquoise coloured insert used from 1956 to 1965 was very much in keeping with the period.

Next came bespoke logos for the Ranchero, Falcon, Mustang and Country Squire:

Ranchero

Falcon

Mustang

Country Squire

Most curious was the rise and fall of the elegant Country Squire emblem with its horse head over crossed polo mallets. Although the popular wood-paneled Ford was sold from the early-fifties through the early nineties, the logo was only used from late 1964 through the end of the 1967 model run.

Any contemporary brand manager would recoil at this diverse graphical strategy since the resulting broad proliferation of imagery dilutes the equity of the main brand.

Modernized Ford blue oval, 1982

Ford apparently finally came to this same conclusion in 1982 when a modernized blue oval was reinstated globally, appearing on nearly all Ford vehicles worldwide. It was the first Ford corporate logo to be seen in Europe since the pre-war German Ford Eifel.

The only Ford model-specific logo to survive is the Mustang emblem, which carries on to this day.

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5 thoughts on “Automotive Logos II: Ford’s Mid-Century Indulgence of Iconography

  1. There was another Ford logo from 1953 to 1967 that never even appeared on a vehicle! During this era, Ford spare part and accessory packaging carried no Ford logo, but a special “Rotunda” logo commemorating the remodeling of Ford’s circular Dearborn exhibit hall as part of Ford’s 50th anniversary in 1953.

  2. During this time there was still another Ford logo that was used on trucks. There were many variations but it was generally a Ford shield with a cogwheel and lightning bolt.

    • I have a Ford Money clip with the lightning bolt and cogwheel. Only one I have ever seen. Does anyone know what it was used on?

  3. Actually the Ford Blue Oval began appearing on the trailing edge of the passenger side fender of British and German Fords in 1961. The Ford oval than began to appear in Ford world-wide promotional materials beginning in 1962 and was full adopted on everything from factories to dealers by 1967. In 1976, the Blue Oval began to appear on the grille and trunk lid of Fords built outside of North America, with NA falling in line in 1982. The Blue Oval was also used by Ford’s part division during the 1950’s. The 1950 style crest was used on US Fairlane through 1970, and continued to be used in Argentina on the Falcon Station Wagon until about 1991.

  4. The Blue Oval was also utilized in sales materials and dealership signage in the U.S., but usually overshadowed by F-O-R-D in large block letters. Generally, the brand would be presented as FORD while the parent corporation was identified as Ford inside the blue oval. Thus, even Lincoln and Mercury sales brochures would state on the back page: “Lincoln-Mercury Division of Ford” using the Blue Oval.

    In addition to Fairlanes, the 1950-style crest also appeared on Galaxies and the original 1960-1963 Falcon. Toward the end of its life, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the crest devolved into all kinds of simplified iterations on U.S. models from a rectangle of red divided into three triangles topped by a crown to a red shield with three lions atop a laurel wreath.

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