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The badge. A trend which started way back in history and grew hugely in popularity up through the middle ages as a way of honouring a person. They were worn with pride and they meant you were a part of something bigger.

We have previously touched on the subject of various trends and fads within our classic car scene. Some have their fleeting moment such as mixing ordinary white outer headlights with French yellow high beams – a trend which thankfully seems to be fading again. Others however, such as the so-called restomods seem to have more momentum and longevity. But there’s another trend which goes right back to the very birth of the automobile: The enamel car badge. Granted, not many motorists will consider fitting them to their modern car, but they were a mainstay with car enthusiasts right up to the late seventies and even to a lesser extent into the eighties, and it only takes a casual stroll through the grounds of any classic car meet to establish that they are still hugely popular with the classic car enthusiasts.

These enamel badges usually present the insignia of an association or club of some sort. As such, they come in many different shapes and sizes while the most adventurous examples are also hugely colourful in their artistic designs, becoming almost jewel-like as they glitter in the sun while embellishing the face of your classic car. For obvious reasons, many of these badges have an automotive theme which might vary from a huge institute such as the RAC in the UK and similar quite broad associations such as DAS in Germany, JAF in Japan or FDM back in my home country, Denmark. But it can just as well be a small car club – either for a certain marque or even a motorsport club such as the BARC badges which I’ve personally always rather liked. Larger European tourist rallies which were held during the fifties and sixties would also often issue the participants with a badge as proof of participation. These badges were of course usually made in very limited numbers and have therefore become quite collectable today. On other occasions though, the enamel badges might even represent clubs which have absolutely nothing to do with cars; but I suppose people with a passion for a certain race of dog, for pigeon shooting or for their working life in the services or as part of a journalistic guild just have a desire to exhibit their belonging to a group of people as well. I guess we all like a sense of belonging.

The production of such enamel badges is a time consuming and meticulous process. First a stamping mould needs to designed which is then used to create the metal surface of the badge. Often the badge will be made of copper though regular iron can be used too when cost needs to be kept in check. Once the mould has been stamped into the badge, it then needs to be suitably plated and polished. Only then can the design be coloured in using soft enamel which is carefully inserted by hand, one colour at a time, using different sized syringes. Especially this part of the process requires skill and great attention to detail. Excess colour and impurities are wiped from the surface before the badge is baked at approximately 230 degrees Celsius for 10 to 15 minutes depending on size and amount of soft enamel used. Finally, a clear epoxy coat is applied to protect the enamel from the elements so that colour fading and cracking won’t happen.

Of course, as with almost everything else within the automotive industry, plastic rudely made its entry. Again, it comes down to cost and suddenly more and more badges were being produced in acrylic plastic rather than copper or iron. To my eye at least, this is where these car badges lost their charm and appeal – even if a square acrylic AA badge is of course a perfectly suitable accessory on the grill of a mid-eighties Ford Orion…

It seems to always work fabulously on pre-war cars.

Once you have your badge – or even several badges – which you desire to display on your treasured classic car, the next big decision you face is how you fancy mounting them. As you can surely see, there’s plenty to consider if you’re an enamel-badge-oholic! There are two distinct ways to go about mounting them: Either they can be mounted straight onto the grill, or if you want them even more visible for everyone to see – almost like were they sat on a plinth of sorts – you can invest in a dedicated badge bar to sit above the front bumper, and on this you can now proceed to line up you whole collection of badges. Now there’s a statement if ever there was one!

What could possibly be cooler than a Klub Felicia Coupé Praha badge on an early Skoda S110R?

Personally, these exquisite enamel badges have always had an unexplainable allure on me – especially the more colourful ones with clever designs. Of course it gets even better if they display a charming splattering of patina. I’ve often been tempted into parting with a handful of cash for various old badges found at autojumbles, but oddly, I very rarely fit them to my cars. In fact, I’ve only ever had one badge on my NullZwei and that’s only because there’s a story behind it. My grandfather placed this particular FDM badge (the acronym translates roughly into Association of Danish Motorists) on his brand new Audi 100GL back in 1973. As I kid I loved that Audi and dreamt of owning it one day. That never happened, but before selling his Audi, unbeknown to me, my grandfather removed the FDM badge of 1973 vintage. A couple of years later, I purchased my first car, my 1973 BMW 2002, and my grandfather subsequently handed me his old FDM badge. As such I comfort myself knowing that I did after all get a very small part of his Audi anyway, and while I’m probably just being overly sentimental, every time I drive my NullZwei, it’s almost as if I’ve got my grandfather riding shotgun with me. But strangely, all my other classics have been kept sans badges and instead my little collection of old enamel badges now litter my garage wall. But despite not fitting them to my own cars, I always enjoy finding badges I haven’t previously come across as I attend classic car shows and meets.

My FDM badge of 1973 vintage sits proud on the grill of my 1973 NullZwei.

But how do you feel about these old enamel badges? Are they hot or are they not? And what about the badge bar? Is it a beautiful and necessary exhibit of badges or should it be limited to just one or two badges discretely mounted on the grill? Please share your views and opinions with us in the comments section below. You can even add a picture of any badges which might be adorning your own classic car…

If small enamel badges just aren’t enough for you, perhaps you should try going all American instead with a more macho approach to your grill adornment…

 

4 Responses

  1. Andrew Boggis

    Anders, for me such badges are the ongoing equivalent of an excess of scrutineering badges on race cars. A sort of I’ve done this and that…

    Both seem to detract and distract…Am I being unfair/sexist to suggest that these are similar to tattoos on young ladies ?

    Andrew

    Reply
  2. yrhmblhst

    Well, the answer is…”it depends”.
    Depends on the type of car and depends on the age. One is fine, maybe two if youre a symmetry nut like me, but 4 would be the absolute max.
    We didnt use many of those over here, but I like em. As the author stated, they can be little works of art and are quite collectible. You can rest assured that when i see a cool looking one at a reasonable price point that it will be coming home with me.

    Reply
  3. Zack Stiling

    The badges by themselves do look very nice and having one or two can work nicely as a period accessory but I think a badge bar is overkill, and the number of cars sporting them to-day is quite disproportionate to all those that sported them in period.

    A couple of things I’ve noticed:
    1) Badge bars on rubber-bumper MGs look most out of place
    2) Why do some people display RAC and AA badges. What would be the benefits of belonging to both organisations?

    Does anyone know why the AA badge on the Skoda is black?

    Reply
  4. Anders Bilidt

    @Andrew, I don’t think that’s unfair at all. While we’re strong advocates of a Gentlemanly behaviour at ViaRETRO, it’s also a place where we should always be allowed to share our honest opinions without being worried about being judged for them. And frankly, you have a valid point too. Because isn’t a clean and unadorned look the purest expression of form? Too much embellishment only distracts.

    @yrhmblhst, I agree that it very much depends on the car – no doubt. That’s where I feel the badges almost always look fab on pre-war cars. On something quite conservative like an Austin Westminster or Rover P5, one or two badges usually look appropriate too (at least in my opinion), but please don’t try attaching an enamel badge to the front of your Miura!

    @Zack, I too prefer just one or two attached to the grill. The wide badge bar is perhaps a bit much. But again, each to their own of course. I do however agree entirely that having both an AA badge and a RAC badge seems somewhat daft. I always feel the same way when I come across a historic racecar wearing both Castrol and STP stickers…

    Reply

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