“Like jewels and furs, the earliest automobiles were expensive personal accessories for the wealthy. And like the people who drove them, these autos wore distinctive jewelry-emblem nameplates that were akin to fine broaches.” Mark McCourt wrote those words for Hemmings Motor News nearly two decades ago in an article on vintage vehicle badges that had become collectibles.
“Automobile emblems and badges have always been collected for their beauty, historical significance or rarity,” he continued, “and this fun and interesting hobby thrives today.”
Since then, and especially with the popularity of the “man cave” phenomenon, automobilia has become a significant aspect of the car collecting hobby, whether it’s old gas pumps, dealership and filling station signage, vintage automotive literature or badges and emblems. For example, Barrett-Jackson’s 48th Annual Scottsdale Auction offered more than 1,600 lots of automobilia.
While individual car badges may be too small to offer at such a venue, you can find them online (eBay is a good source), or at swap meets, antique stores, garage and estate sales. Individually, they may not be expensive, but each of them likely comes with a fascinating story to share.
Profiled here are just three from the collection of Barrett-Jackson Operations Manager Tom Jarvi, whose grandfather amassed an impressive collection of vintage badges over time and passed the hobby along to his grandson. Each is from a bygone automaker, but each shares a story that is part of the quilt of American car culture.
The Flanders 20 is a rather large badge from the grille of cars produced in Detroit in the early days of the American motorcar, and the 20 is presented in both numerals and is spelled out across a banner beneath the company name.
In 1908, Barney Everitt, who had produced Wayne vehicles as early as 1904, William Metzger, an early and successful salesman for Cadillac, and Walter Flanders, who had been Henry Ford’s production manager, founded their own Detroit-based car company, Everitt-Metzger Flanders Co.
They opted to combine the transmission and rear axle into a single unit, which led to people saying E-M-F stood for “Every Mechanical Failure.” Nonetheless, they attracted the attention of the Studebaker brothers, who was looking for a lower-price vehicle to add to their lineup.
Everitt and Metzger soon became disenchanted with Studebaker’s involvement and so they departed, leaving Flanders to produce vehicles under his own name, albeit with financial support from Studebaker. Flanders wanted to produce a car to compete with Ford’s Model T and crafted a vehicle, the Flanders 20, that in 1909 sold for $750, $75 less than the Model T.
The Flanders 20 had a 20-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and a 2-speed transmission, and with a 3-speed for 1910. Through 1912, more than 31,500 of the Flanders 20s had been produced, and were available in roadster, touring, runabout, suburban and coupe body styles. However, Studebaker became irritated with Walter ‘s wandering interests ‒ he was also working on an electric vehicle and a motorcycle. Studebaker and Flanders parted, and the Flanders 20 became rebadged for 1913 as the Studebaker SA25.
Durant bought components from various suppliers to assemble his Star cars. Production peaked at more than 79,000 units in 1926, but production halted after the 1928 models and Durant declared bankruptcy a few years later. He later managed a bowling alley and hoped to open a national chain of bowling establishments, but suffered a stroke in 1942 and died five years later.
Some car badges are shaped to represent the name of the model. Consider the Chevrolet Impala or Corvette Stingray badges; the Plymouth Barracuda, Shelby Cobra, or Jaguar’s leaping cat; or the Jackrabbit that leapt across the radiator of the Apperson Jackrabbit (or Jack Rabbit, as it is sometimes written; much like Sting Ray, Stingray and StingRay).
After splitting from Haynes-Apperson, brothers Elmer and Edgar Apperson launched their own automobile company in Kokomo, Indiana, in 1902. Among their cars was the Jack Rabbit, a speedster that featured a cylindrical, rear-mounted gas tank and was entered in events such as the Vanderbilt Cup races, where it was the last chain-driven competitor.
Jack Rabbits became available as touring, town and coupe models in addition to the racy roadster, and with 4- or 6-cylinder engines.
The Appersons introduced their own V8 for 1916. Elmer and Edgar worked closely as a team, but after Elmer died of a heart attack while attending a race in Los Angeles in 1920, the company went into decline, producing its last vehicles in 1926.
There’s a famous line, used in several movies, proclaiming that, “We don’t need no stinking badges!”
But perhaps we do, because each badge brings along its own story.