All of us know the Ford Blue Oval or the Chevrolet Bow Tie symbol when we see it. But do you know where they came from? These are two of the iconic corporate logos known worldwide and while we hot rodders recognize them immediately there are probably precious few who can tell the story of the "birth" of these logos.
For starters, given our hot rod industry is unquestionably buried deep within the roots of Ford, let's take a look at where the Blue Oval originated. Well, the Blue Oval wasn't Ford's first logo but rather the most popular and currently in vogue.
In the early years, the Ford logo was based within an ornate border with the words "Ford Motor Co. Detroit. Mich." with no distinct color. It wasn't until 1912, after Ford had become a highly successful automobile manufacturer, that the logo was revamped. It was epitomized with the very plain but stylized "Ford" script in the center of an oval; the color blue had yet to make its entrance. Childe Wills, Ford's first chief engineer and a designer (think Model T), lent the use of a script font that he had used for his personal business cards to Ford to create the new company logo. Remember this was still during a period of time when Henry believed everyone would be happy with black cars and trucks. (Do you know why Ford selected the color black? That's another interesting story in and of itself.) It wasn't until the Model A that the choice of colors was introduced, begrudgingly, by Mr. Ford. It was 1928 with the introduction of the Model A that Ford took their logo and instilled the blue background with white letters and white boarder inside the edge of the blue background.
After 1960, the oval became larger (width) and with a little less height but it was still the Blue Oval all of us admire. Ford celebrated a true milestone in 2003 when the company turned 100 years old. Ford named the Blue Oval the "Centennial Blue Oval," making it one of the most recognized logos in and outside of the auto industry.
When it comes to corporate logos within our world of hot rodding there can be little argument about Ford's place. Knowing this there can be little denial that the "second" most popular and recognizable logo in hot rodding is the Chevrolet Bow Tie. Within the corporate world, the Chevrolet logo is highly recognized both here and worldwide. The Chevy logo is well known not so much for the number of Chevy vintage tin but for the number of Bow Tie logos residing within engine compartments. While Ford may be the single most popular brand of original sheetmetal there can be little denial that the Chevrolet Bow Tie is the single most popular engine.
William Durant (founder of General Motors) is the acknowledged "father" of the Bow Tie but exactly where it came from is covered by a shroud of mystery. In the early '20s the Chevrolet was number three in car sales behind Ford and Dodge. It was in 1911 that Durant formed the Chevrolet Motor Company (CMC) via a partnership with Louis Chevrolet, a race car driver. Durant had been forced out of GM but later used his position within Chevrolet to gain access and a position of control within General Motors.
It's unfortunate but the company and cars that still bear the name "Chevrolet" were not a favorable partnership for Louis. He resigned from CMC in 1915, selling his stock to Durant over the direction the company should follow; Louis wanted to sell high-end cars while Durant believed in order to be competitive the cars needed to be affordable. Louis Chevrolet couldn't have selected a worse time to bail on the company for it was only a few years later that Chevrolet began as the dominant car company and flagship brand within General Motors. Unfortunately Louis died penniless rather than the multi-millionaire (even billionaire) he would have been had he (and his family) held onto his stock until today.
Back to the iconic Bow Tie logo. All I am going to do is confuse you some more and tell you the three most popular stories and let you decide which one is the true story; or could it be a combination of all? Company publications offer the story how Durant, while travelling in Paris (circa 1908), noted the now-famous pattern of bowties "marching off into infinity" encased within wallpaper seen in a French hotel. It's said Durant took a piece of this wallpaper back to Chevrolet and the design was incorporated in the now-famous Bow Tie logo. According to Chevrolet they have Durant on record as confirming the Paris story.
That's one, here's number two: The Durant family denies this story as nothing more than urban legend-a myth. Durant's own daughter in 1929 tells a story that her father had mulled over a number of ideas at the family dinner table and somewhere "between the soup and the fried chicken" he came up with the design that has appeared on every Chevrolet car and truck since.
Confused? Here's story number three: William Durant's wife in an interview with Chevrolet Pro Management magazine in 1986 described how Durant was inspired by a Virginia newspaper logo while the family was on hiatus in Hot Springs, Virginia. According to Durant's wife, he had commented on the newspaper logo saying, "it would make a great emblem for Chevrolet."
That's what makes hot rodding so much fun, there's more than one story for every story!