Auto Typography


(first posted 2/13/2013)    I’m not just a car lover – I’m also a former book editor. From my years in publishing I learned how subtle type and layout choices can change a book’s entire look and influence how readers perceive it. It made me into something of a type geek. And so I look at the badges on cars. Do you look at them too?


Most letterforms you see attached to cars are not downloadable as typefaces you can use on your computer, though. Artists create them specially for each use, such as on this 1961 Pontiac.


Car logotypes are meant to convey something about the automobile to which they are attached, such as the stately, elegant lettering on this 1947 Cadillac.


This badge’s closely-spaced, forward-leaning letters say that this 1969 Dodge Charger means business. The swirling C suggests the turbulence this powerful car leaves in its wake.


This Forward-Look 1959 Plymouth Sport Fury’s badge fashions an F out of a chevron reminiscent of the futuristic dual-vertical-chevron Forward Look logo itself. And just check out that long, flat flank to which it’s attached.


All of these forward-leaning logos suggest moving forward, something you certainly hope your car can do. This 1963 Impala runs against that grain with upright, individual block letters that exude confidence and strength.


Have you ever noticed how seldom individual letters are used anymore? They certainly have to be more expensive and harder to get right in assembly. Notice the slightly dropped O in the Plymouth logo on this 1962 Belvedere.


This badge from a 1941 Buick Super solves that problem by only making the letters appear to be individual, when they’re really in relief as part of a single stamping of steel.


Sometimes it takes very little to make a bold statement. These three small numbers on this hood scoop say an awful lot about the 1970 Dodge Super Bee to which they are attached.


I’ve always thought GM’s 1960s logotypes were the most appealing ever. Admit it – you can spot this SS badge on a car from a mile away using just your peripheral vision. These two letters instantly convey a certain meaning, or at least they did until the 1970s when GM fouled it by attaching them to cars that were only trimmed to look sporty. But I digress.


A swirly, whimsical logo simply would not do for an engine as serious as this one, which is stuffed into a 1972 Dodge Charger. Blunt, block letterforms speak more clearly to the punch under this hood.


Automobile badges most commonly identify make, model, trim level, and engine. They also sometimes call out important new features, too, at least until those features become common to all automobiles. Remember how many 1990s GM cars called out ABS on their haunches? The same was true for some early automatic transmissions. I love how the rendering of Dynaflow on this 1951 Buick Special conveys a feeling of fluid motion.


Eagle-eyed type geeks look for lettering in the smallest details, such as on the hood ornament of this 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX.


I took all these photos. I like how this 1967 Oldsmobile reflects me! To see a slideshow of several other interesting examples of automobile typography, go here.