Automotive Product Mascots – Equipment and Services (Part 1)

Personally, I’ve never exactly understood brand mascots. I mean, yes, I get what they are, but in fact I – like the child in our lede picture — have always been somewhat creeped out by mascots of any sort. Most troublesome are the somewhat threatening ones that get in your face with their big-headed…insistence. Whether you find mascots disturbing or compelling or something in between, they all represent attempts by their creators to make indelible impressions on consumer consciousness. Automotive mascots are no exception to this rule. Endearing or revolting, let’s take a look at the various unforgettable creatures that the automotive products industry has fielded throughout the years to shill and support their wares.

A good place to start in this mascot survey is with one of the oldest and I dare say – just to get this out of the way – most creepy. Michelin’s Bibendum at 129 is the oldest mascot we’re going to consider today.

Bibendum fits – and arguably created – the classic model of human/animal fantasy creature that seems to have arisen from the depths of an imagination that perhaps should not be explored too deeply. Michelin’s creation hails from the dark ages of product advertising seems and yet seems most closely related to sports team mascots in our modern world. I’m looking at you Philadelphia what with both Gritty and the Phanatic. As it’s said, the brown acid is not specifically too good. Good or not, it seems that something hallucinogenic was circulating in France in the late 19th century. A long strange trip indeed.

Bonus points if you can identify all of the still-common-to-this-day tire repair tools spread out before Bib.


In early ads, Bibendum’s claim to fame was that the tires he was composed of were said to “drink up” obstacles. Hence his name. “Nunc est bibendum” being “Now is the time to drink” in Latin. To modern sensibilities, this might seem like a questionable motto to affix to something related to driving; but in fact the Michelin brothers started with bicycle tires, so maybe being drunk and French and riding a bike in the 19th century conveyed something quite different than it does in 2023.

The conceit of the slogan and ad certainly does convey the image of a very different driving environment than today’s motorists might encounter. Note the horseshoe in Bibendum’s toasting glass. Obviously at the turn of the 20th century it was a common occurrence to dive over discarded horseshoes in the road…nails, and perhaps horse, and all.

You show ’em Bibendum, drink up as the clearly lesser brand X and Y pnues (tires) look on deflated.

Sadly, no one in this picture looks very comfortable. Certainly not Mr. and Mrs. Bibendum. But those people in the background also look skeptical, scared, or confused. “Is it post-war Europe yet? No? Another 40 years? Damn.”


As impressive as Michelin’s print ads featuring Bibendum were, the mascot seems to have been absolutely eye-catching when making live public appearances. Eye-catching in the way that the things of nightmares come to life might be. This, as we will see with other mascot examples is something of a mascot “feature” that product managers have a hard time resisting — i.e., suiting up their creations so as to scare the bejesus out of small children.

Fortunately, Bibendum has managed to become much friendlier over the years. He’s also not often referred to by his given name and instead is just called The Michelin Man. This not only reduces questions around the association of tires with drinking, but adds focus to the brand associated with the mascot. He is the brand’s man.

Or something. I’m still not entirely sure about the “man” part.

But I guess he’s as man-like as his sailor-suited close kin, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (who blessedly avoided ever acquiring a proper name like “Toasty” or “Uri” – Nunc Tempus Uri). For Bibendum, losing the head tires and lace-up shoes I think was a good move. He’s also benefited from the transition to wider, radial, tires. It’s a good look for him.

Having grounded this survey in the OG mascot, so old he practically predates automobiles, let’s take a look at those who followed in his product-supporting footsteps.

Automotive Services

One of the mascots that I strongly recall from my youth is the so-called “Happy Bear” from the Bear alignment and brake service shops. I originally assumed that the first one I saw as a young child in Baltimore was the only Bear alignment shop, a unique store. Eventually I learned that it was a national chain. This was about the same time I learned..despite what my mother insisted on telling me…that pizza wasn’t invented at the pizza shop down the block, Captain Kangaroo didn’t live at my local TV station, and that the Good Humor man drove down alleys all over the country in addition to mine.

In fact Bear is a brand of alignment tools/machines and has been in business for over 100 years. Currently, the brand is owned by a group called “The Cartek Group” that provides little consumer-facing information on their website. If anyone from Cartek (a private venture capital group…maybe that’s the problem) is reading this, you need an About Us or Our Story page.  I mean, the nation’s second-most-famous advertising bear (about 20 years younger than Happy Bear) has his own website. I’m just saying.

Then of course, no one is buying an alignment rack or frame-straightening device for home use, so perhaps consumer info is not really necessary for Bear-Cartek. Regardless, the somewhat squatty but definitely gonzo happy bear is still visibly present on the website and on new Bear equipment.  This makes the Happy Bear almost as old as Bibendum; and it has to be noted, much less scary. That’s a win.

Who are these guys?

Picture from


If you guessed, that they’re the same as these guys, then you’re correct. Manny Rosenfeld, Moe Strauss, Moe Radavitz and Jack Jackson founded Pep Auto Supply in Philadelphia in 1921. They named the business after seeing the word “Pep” on a can of valve-grinding compound. By 1923, the fellows had changed the name of their business to “Pep Boys” after some vaguely-described interactions with the Philadelphia police and a visit to a “dress shop” in Los Angeles.

OK. I’m beginning to understand that if one spends enough time looking into the history of any business or mascot, they’re all a bit odd. Maybe that explains Cartek’s reticence to explain Happy Bear.  (Oh…it’s not really a bear? I get it…)

Ultimately the Pep Boys proceeded to lose one of the Moes (Radavitz) and replaced Jack (with another Jack…Moe Strauss’ brother). This resulted in the three guys in the photo and their iconic cartoon representations on the sign. Aside from minor changes — Manny had to give up his cigar, at least in public appearances — the Pep Boys have looked pretty much the same for close to 100 years. The business is now owned by Icahn Enterprises, which owns along with Pep Boys a company that produces casings for hot dogs and that invented the skinless frankfurter. We’ll get back to that in a little bit.

That Turtle Wax Color Back might help with the top side of 80s mom’s (debadged) Caprice wagon, but likely she had some kind of protection for the rest of the car. In 1984, there’s a good chance that this would have been a preparation/preventative sold to her at the dealer.

What that might have been is Rusty Jones, or as Rusty himself said “The One New Car Option that Appreciates in Value”.

Or maybe, as personal experience informs, the only new car option that is put on the bill of sale after you think you’ve negotiated the as-delivered price of the car but that since it’s 8:50pm and the dealer is closing in 10 minutes and unfortunately the person who handles that part of the paperwork has gone home for the evening and there’s no time to change the paperwork if you want this car tonight (especially since your trade has already been de-tagged and driven into some lot waaaaaaaaaay behind the showroom) then you just pay for it.

Oh Rusty, you looked like such a friendly fellow.

I always suspected that Rusty was the same guy as, or at least close kin to, the original Brawny paper towel guy.

Perhaps Rusty was just trading on the family resemblance since despite the axe, I never felt pressured to buy paper towels when I didn’t need them.  And that’s about all I can come up as far as a genealogy for Rusty Jones; although I will note that Rusty’s rust-proofing hustle came to a crashing end with bankruptcy in the late 1980s. This makes Rusty Jones one of the few mascots covered here who became homeless.  The Brawny guy is still going strong with his paper products, although in the current century his axe and mustache have gone the way of Manny’s cigar.

The last “automotive services” mascot is the newest, assuming one considers 23 years old “new”.

This guy started appearing in 2000 for the Government Employees’ Insurance Company (GEICO). The story is that the idea of using a gecko as a mascot came up while the ad agency was brainstorming how to get customers to properly pronounce the name of the company.  There’s some odd linguistic jiu jitsu happening there, but you can figure that out on your own. Also contributing to the ultimate choice of mascot was the 2000 screen actors’ guild strike. It was expedient, under the circumstances, to develop an animated character for a  mascot.

Here I’ll note that several subsequent generations of TV viewers can thank that SAG strike for sparing us the sight of a human in a reptile costume pestering us about a product that most of drivers have to have but would mostly rather not think about; unless you live in New Hampshire or Virginia and then you can just get by through maintaining that you have “enough” money to take care of any accident you may cause (New Hampshire) or pay a fee that allows you to drive an uninsured vehicle (Virginia). Ironically, GEICO was originally established in the Washington, D.C. area – which of course includes Virginia – due to the area’s large concentration of federal employees.

Automotive Products

One of the fun things about the Sleepy Boy illustrations is observing the various ways that he’s about to set different things on fire with that candle of his. That little feller is smiling now, but only seconds later…


In this category, we’ll start with the oldest mascot in this list, and frankly one that is mostly defunct.  Originally the mascot of The Fisk Rubber Company of Chicopee, Massachusetts, the “Time to Retire” boy started to receive wide-scale attention in the early 1930s.

Mind you, this was at a time when Sleepy Boy’s equivalent tire mascot across the pond was still smoking and drinking and no doubt continuing to scare and just generally bum-out children.

Apparently he’d also taken up boxing and/or pro-wrestling.

Well, it was a global depression after all and a sordid mess over there on the Continent. A scary tire guy had to do what he had to do. Nevertheless, the tiny feet – real shoes – still creep me out tremendously.

Meanwhile in Chicopee, Massachusetts USA, Fisk was leaning on the talents of no less wholesome an artist than Norman Rockwell. Unfortunately, it was mostly all for naught as the original Fisk Tire Company was largely defunct by the start of World War II. The brand was acquired by U.S. Rubber in 1940 and its tires were marketed as Uniroyal by the 1960s. Somewhere in there the tires stopped being made in Chicopee.

This left Chicopee to fall back on its other – some may say considerably longer lasting – fame as the Kielbasa Capital of Massachusetts.

I once lived not too far from Chicopee Provisions — the Kielbasa-werks — and can recall both the smells of smoking sausages in their regenerated cellulose casings (see, I told you we’d get back to that) and going down there more than once to pick up commercial orders for various kielbasa-related activities at my Western Massachusetts-based college.  (Best not to ask)  All of which was no doubt more pleasant than experiencing the smells of a tire factory which probably had no direct to the public sales.

But actually Fisk – or at least the Sleepy Boy — didn’t entirely go away. The Fisk brand starting in the 1950s began to do something that “brands” really aren’t supposed to do — that is to float around and become attached to different things. Fisk in the 1980s became the house-brand for KMart’s automotive products.

Oh look. A 1983 Mercury Colony Park!


Clearly, Kmart’s death spiral started much longer ago than its current demise (there are two remaining Kmart stores as of this writing…out of about 2400 at peak Kmart).  The chain was grasping at straws well back into the 1980s. During which time, the appropriation of various brand names — as symbols of desired prosperity — was deemed a reasonable strategy for renewal. The Internet is somewhat sparse on images of Kmart products.  Go figure.

There are a few, such as this oil filter. I recall the tires, automotive lighting products, and batteries.

Speaking of automotive lighting products, this brings us to S.E.V. Marchal.

Hailing from 1923, the Marchal company has had a long and storied history.  Adopting an analogous approach to Fisk – where the mascot adapted to different products over time – the Marchal black cat has had different appearances in the 60+ years of the Marchal brand of automotive electrical products.  At times, the kitty has been illustrated with close to photo realism.

At other times, the cat has appeared almost cartoon-like.  This illustration, for Marchal spark plugs, is one of my favorites.

A BMW 2002 in an early 1970s Monte Carlo rally blasts through what seems to be a bunch of French guys standing at bus stop somewhere in the woods. Having perhaps grown up with the very scary Bibendum, they seem rather nonplussed, all things considered.


Of course, how many of us here may remember the Marchal chat noir is in relation to the driving lights that adorned rally cars of the 1970s.

And of course the kitty is CC contributor and resident automotive lighting expert Daniel Stern‘s avatar.

I would love a set of those Marchal lights. They’re beautiful, and most of them proudly carry an image of the Marchal cat. Perhaps I will get a set someday for the 1976 Volvo as sadly they just won’t attach to the modern BMW. To some extent this is appropriate since the Marchal brand merged with Cibié in 1978 and then large disappeared altogether via another merge with European parts supplier Valeo in 1980.  Valeo is a brand that is constantly being given the side-eye in the BMW forums. Practically, Marchal and BMW is totally a bygone historical connection.

Not quite as old as the Marchal Cat, but just as charming (yeah, so I have soft spots for all of my household pets and their automotive brand mascot doppelgangers) is the Turtle Wax turtle.

This stuff was so dominant in my youth that I actually used the term “turtle wax” to refer to both the process of waxing a car as well as a proprietary eponym for any kind of car wax. I’m not sure where this came from, but it was indeed common parlance in my family to talk about “turtle waxing” the car.

The turtle wax bottle (the brand name was always written in lower case back in the old days, thereby leading me to believe that the words were a generic product name, or perhaps heaven forbid that turtles were an ingredient) when I was a kid was exactly like the one in the above picture.  It seems that this “mod” bottle replaced a simple round bottle at some point in the early 1970s.  The mod bottle as well as the earlier one were green glass.  Green being the color of (some) turtles.  Glass being what bottles ought to be made out of instead of planet/ocean-life killing plastic. Although it should be noted that plastic (not turtles) is one of the critical secret ingredients in the original formulation of turtle wax, or as it was originally called, Plastone.

At over 80 years old, the Turtle Wax company remains privately held with members of the original founder’s family still participating in the direction of the company. The green top-hatted turtle – sometimes known as “Tommy Turtle” — remains the brand mascot.  Tommy now appears on many more products than Turtle Wax (it seems that the actual brand name is currently written with initial capital letters).

One of the things I discovered while researching the Turtle Wax turtle is that for over a decade a 34′ rotating turtle sculpture adorned the top of Chicago’s so-called Wendel-Flatiron Building.  Turtle Wax was headquartered and manufactured in Chicago from its 1941 founding until 2016 (when production moved outside of the city). As is the way of giant illuminated landmarks – see Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Star, Birmingham’s Vulcan, Boston’s Old Hancock Building, Minneapolis’s Weather Ball and no doubt many other places – the turtle was lit different colors to indicate the weather forecast. The fact that the Star and the Vulcan were also lit different colors to commemorate local traffic fatalities is a whole other story that bears telling somewhere/sometime on CC, but let’s say that unlike his real-life slow-crossing relatives, Tommy the turtle wax turtle had nothing to do with traffic accidents.

Maybe some readers from the Chicago area can recall the giant turtle which dominated what was (of course) known as “Turtle Square” from 1956 until 1963. There are several articles about the turtle online, and strangely no one seems to really agree on the facts related to how come the turtle was removed or where it went afterward.

The triangle of Madison, Ashland, and Ogden in Chicago, 2023. Former location of the Wendel-Flatiron Building and a 34′ rotating, weather-telling, turtle brand mascot.


All we do know is that the replacement for the Flatiron Building and its weather-indicating topper was as uninspiring as nearly all these sorts of urban “improvements” tend to be. Today, Chicago seems to have a surplus of bare metal, twisted beam, sculptures. It once had the only 34′ rotating reptile sculpture that held a bottle of car wax.

So at this point, before diving into the rest of what’s turning out to be a much more massive survey than I’d originally imagined, let’s take a break.  I’ll be back in a couple of days with Part 2, and more big-headed, sometimes creepy, and always memorable (to someone at least) dose of mascot fun.

All images of mascots are the respective copyright of their owners.