Curves, Cursive, & Chrome: Vintage Typography in Classic Automobile Logos
The Indy 500 happens this weekend, and although we have to admit we’re amazed by the power and excitement these contemporary racing machines generate, we’ve found ourselves waxing nostalgic about a different kind of car, from a different kind of era.
Enter: Chromeography, a site so rich with classic typography that you could spend the better part of a day browsing its gorgeous images. Chromeography is run by Stephen Coles, an editor and typographer who literally wrote the book on The Anatomy of Type. (Coles also publishes Fonts In Use and Typographica.)
Say what you will about contemporary cars. They may be faster, louder, and more powerful. But there’s nothing like the feeling you get from these classic beauties. It’s a feeling that starts with the lettering of their logos. Because they were custom-designed for each car, each of these typographic logos cleverly embodies some aspect of the car itself. Here are some of our favorites, grouped by style and vibe.
With their long, connecting horizontals, these logos seem to reference the open road itself—that classic symbol of American possibility.
- The reverse italicization of the lettering on this 1955 DeSoto Fireflite Coronado gives it a windblown effect, reminiscent of driving with the top down.
- Note how cleverly the simple horizontal transforms the “444” in the logo for the 1957 Volvo 444 into an abstract pattern, the design of which recalls a truss or suspension bridge.
- You’d really feel like a Vagabond in this 1951 Frazer.
- The lettering of the 1962 Dodge Lancer is so mannered as to be almost abstract. But it doesn’t come close to as abstract as the logos that follow….
Some logos famously communicate rebellion. Others are so free and easy they’re essentially illegible.
- Nothing says “rebel” like the angular script of the old Mustang logo. Note how the final “g” is pushed up as if the lettering itself is coming to a screeching halt.
- Between 1957 and the 1960s, the Plymouth Fury got a little more… furious.
- This fabulous, nearly illegible logo is from a Polish car, the Jelcz Star 25 Fire Engine.
- This one is Dutch; it’s from the Daf 33.
- The logo for the Ford Zephyr Mark II Overdrive reads like a hastily scrawled signature—although the chrome lends it a timeless quality.
Not all signature-style logos communicate freedom and abandon. Some evoke the mannered, practiced signature on a check. These logos signify one thing above all: money.
- The ornate, luxuriating script in the Chrysler Fifth Avenue logo feels pretty dated today.
- So does the very ’60s cursive in logo for the 1962 Chrysler Imperial. Yet the long extender on the upper-case “I” and the tall verticals on the “I” and “l” lend it a certain character that’s missing in the Chrysler Fifth Avenue.
- Before it went tall, the Chrysler Imperial logo went wide. Here’s an earlier version, from the 1957-58 model. Love how the backslant from the upper-case “I” becomes the dot for the lower-case one.
- The underline in the signature-style logo for the 1968 Triumph Vitesse 2 Litre convertible communicates confidence, and formally echoes the bar across the “t”.
Beautiful, right? Let’s just say, while the fans at the Indy 500 are cheering on those monster machines of theirs, we’ll be over here quietly drooling over vintage automobile logos. In the words of typography enthusiasts Michael Banovsky and Laurent Nivalle, “If you love typography, go to car shows.“ Or, if you can’t get to a car show anytime soon, you can just visit our Pinterest collection.