The Heyday of Cursive Script

by James Kraus

1964 Porsche 904 Carrera GTS. A masterwork in the annals of badging: cursive lettering, gold-plating, diagonal orientation, and unique placement flowing over the curved transition from rear deck to rear quarter panel

Free-flowing cursive script is not often seen on automobiles today. It still survives at Alfa Romeo, Ford, Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche. Outside this quintet it is rare indeed. In days past, cursive was common throughout the industry.

Such longhand script was often utilized to enable casting a complete badge out of a single piece of metal. The alternative was to either run block letters together, or connect individual block characters with a bar across the top (à la Ferrari,) a bar at the bottom (typified by BMW and Mercedes-Benz) or through the centre in the style of Alfa Romeo.

Pre-war cars used cursive scripting almost exclusively, although badging itself was generally minimal or nonexistent. In the 1900’s manufacturer nameplates were usually affixed only to the front of the radiator, and model designations were not displayed. In the thirties, even this practice declined, with most vehicles displaying the manufacturer’s name only via a stylized logo atop the radiator shell. After the war, marque and model badging began proliferating and begat its own art form.

Creative graphic artists and typographers often produced amazingly flamboyant and intricate designs as well as simple and elegant jewel-like examples. Often you can look at a vintage script and by its design cues, correctly guess the decade of inception. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, the cursive script form reached its peak.

Use of color also came into vogue; in addition to the normal bright silver, gold scripts began to adorn Cadillacs, Porsches, Alfa Romeos, Lancias, and others. Porsche began using gold with the introduction of the Speedster, after which they used it on a variety of other 356’s. In the 911 era, gold badging was used to embellish the top-range E and S models until late 1971.

I have selected a number of cursive badges, arranged by county of origin for your delectation. A few are quite rare and seldom seen.

Since this piece began with a photo of the Porsche 904, I will continue on with more examples from Germany:

Porsche Continental. The use of the Continental nameplate was discontinued in 1948 by the Ford Motor Company. Believing it was discarded, Porsche later used it on 356 models for export the U.S. Almost simultaneously, Ford reintroduced the name at the Paris Auto Show in October 1955 with the debut of the new Continental Mark II. Porsche then replaced the “Continental” badge with a “European” script for a few months, after which it was discontinued and 356 once again became the sole worldwide moniker for non-Speedster and non-Carrera road models.

Porsche European. Here is the European script. Although discontinued by Porsche in 1956, Lotus renewed the theme in the late 1960’s with the Europa. Tom Wavrin photo.

Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. A marriage of block and cursive. Robert Strovers photo.

Borgward Isabella TS. Martin Alford photo.

East to Czechoslovakia:

Škoda Felicia

Now across the pond to America:

1957 Chrysler Imperial Crown Southampton. Flamboyance meshing perfectly with the outlandishness of designer Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” of 1957. Extremely large in scale, the ‘I’ stands approximately 15 cm (6 inches) tall. Note how the capital ‘I’ carries on to dot the small ‘i.’ Just looking at this makes me want to pour a glass of single-barrel Bourbon, light up a Royal Robusto and listen to some Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Dave Linsay photo.

1956 Packard Caribbean

1956 Packard Caribbean

Rambler Marlin

Rambler Marlin

Chevrolet Corvair

Oldsmobile Jetstar 88

1962 Studebaker Avanti. Boomerang-shaped lettering and aqua paintwork: a virtual snapshot of period design currents. Note how the dot of the ‘i’ is intersected and suspended by the crossbar of the ‘t.’ Ian Fleming kept a supercharged R2 Avanti at his home in Kent; it was the last car he purchased prior to his death in 1964. Paula Wirth photo.

1960 Buick LeSabre. As in the example above, this one is not cursive in the strictest sense due to the characters being individually drawn. Nevertheless it has a healthy dose of cursive flair, especially in the highly stylized ‘S.’ Greg Jerdingen photo.

Next; back over to the Continent for a trip to Italy:

Siata 208 S Spider

Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce. True automotive jewelry.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GTA 1.6 Stradale

Alfa Romeo Giulia Super 1.3 Berlina

Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider

Lancia Appia

Lancia Appia Convertibile

Lancia Fulvia Sport 1600 Coupé Zagato

Fiat Derivazione Abarth 750 Berlina

Ferrari 212 Export

Ferrari 212 Export

Iso Grifo IR8

Iso Grifo IR8

Now over to France via the Autostrada dei Fiori:

Renault Dauphine Gordini

Facel Vega Facellia F2

Simca Aronde Etoile Six

By ferry over to the United Kingdom:

Sunbeam Alpine Mark I

Austin-Healey 100-6

Vanden Plas Princess

Ford Cortina GT MkI

Austin Mini 850

Hillman Minx. Doctor Keats photo.

Nearly all manufactures utilized some form of cursive scripting during the 1950’s and 1960’s with few exceptions. Mercedes-Benz never used cursive during this period. BMW indulged only on automatic gearbox cars, which carried a longhand Automatic script. In a similar vein, Volkswagen sent clutchless Beetles to North America for eighteen months beginning in the spring of 1968 with a badge reading “Automatic Stick Shift” rather than the customary block-letter “VW Automatic.” With the exemption of the Karmann Ghia, that was VW’s only foray into the art form. Saab were also cursive-averse.

Some of the photos above are courtesy of Chromeography which hosts superb photographs of badges and logos in both block and cursive styles from automobiles, motorcycles, scooters, bicycles and appliances. I heartily recommend a visit.

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5 thoughts on “The Heyday of Cursive Script

  1. Exceptional. Thank you for sharing.

    My favorites:
    + MkI Cortina GT – Crisp “cursive,” GT block feels precursor to Audi R/RS models. Delightful.
    + Karmann Ghia – Gestalt. Strong, angular block letters anchor a centrally-placed, delicate namesake. Wonderful.

  2. That 904 GTS badging is gorgeous! Obviously Porsche was thinking in terms of asymmetric, diagonal placement for badging in the early 1960’s as this was also the style used on the earliest 911’s through 1966. They should have stayed with it!

  3. Well, I gotta say that looks a lot better than what I use to do, or did, I had a new car back in 1986 and I was a huge fan of the band U2, this was before they got really famous like they are today, anyhow I sanded down the hood of the car and with silver and black I spray painted a massive U2 on the hood. I did a different U2 symbol on the trunk, basically the letters with very stylized wings. That car got a lot of attention, it confused many too, why did I ruin such a car. Well of course I was thinking I added value to it. LOL. A lot of people still had not heard of the band, at least not where I was living anyhow, but I was really proud of the car, and did I ruin it? Nope it was still drivable, it was not an investment as such. Anyhow nice blog and good history of script writing on cars.

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