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What's That Badge Mean, Anyway?

by  Jack Hagerty

Originally written in 1986 for the book Best of Cams

The badge on any car is very important. It usually tells you something about the manufacturer's origins and history.

Chevrolet has its bow tie (supposedly taken from a wallpaper pattern) and BMW its spinning propeller. Subaru's seven stars represent the constellation of the Pleiades or "Seven Sisters" which stand for the seven original companies that formed Fuji Heavy Industries. Ferrari's prancing horse pays homage to Italy's WW I flying ace Francesco Baracca (one of Enzo's personal heroes) while Porsche's more stylized stallion prances proudly on the Wurttemberg crest under "Stuttgart" (stud farm); the original occupation of that region and, I'm sure, a source of pride and vindication for most Porsche drivers. The three points of Mercedes' elegant star point to land, sea and air; the three areas of transportation which have used Daimler-Benz power plants.

Now, take a look at the Alfa Romeo badge; there's a badge to be reckoned with. Look at all that stuff! Crosses and crowns and big snakes eating little men. What's all that mean, anyway? Well, the badge is really the coat of arms of the city of Milano, where the company was founded and where its headquarters still are.

The emblem is split vertically into two halves: the cross on the left and the snake on the right. These were the symbols of the two ruling families of Medieval Milan which were adopted in the eleventh century. At that time both families financed armies in the First Crusade. The local archbishop gave one of the armies a banner of a large serpent, said to be of Biblical origins, to carry into battle as a symbol of Divine protection. The other army, not to be outdone, adopted the crusader's red cross on a white field. The First Crusade was relatively successful and upon returning, a defeated Saracen was placed in the serpent's mouth as a symbol of victory.

In the fifteenth century, or thereabouts, the two families joined forces (and flags) to form the powerful Visconti Dukes. To signify royal consent of this merger, the Dukes of Austria (who were ruling Italy at the time) approved the placement of a crown on the serpent's head. Even after the power of the Visconti faded, the crowned snake and cross remained as the symbol of the city.

In 1910, the fledgling "Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili" was searching for an emblem to use on their about-to-be introduced first car. As the story goes, a junior draftsman was waiting at a city operated tram stop when he looked up and saw the city's emblem on the sign. Thinking this would make a dandy hood ornament, he suggested it to the management who, surprisingly, agreed. They took the snake-and-cross and surrounded it with a blue field saying "A.L.F.A." at the top and "MILANO" at the bottom. For reasons not entirely clear, a figure-8 sailor's knot was placed on either side.

Nicola Romeo reorganized the company after WW I and by 1920, he had added his own name to the badge while removing the acronym style of spelling ALFA. When they won their first World Championship in 1925 a large laurel wreath was placed around the badge (Mercedes, too, has one of these on their radiator badge for the same reason). In 1932, the French branch of the company had enough pull to have "Paris" replace "Milano" on the badges of all cars heading for that country (talk about a collectors' item!).

For a short period after WW II the multicolored badge was replaced by a simple brass casting with the letters and figures in polished metal on a blood red enamel background. It was further simplified by changing the knots to plain wavy lines and by shrinking the laurel wreath.

The colored badge was soon restored, however; first in cloisonne' and later in plastic. The latest changes occurred in 1972 when a second factory was opened in Naples. Not wanting to show favoritism, the "MILANO" was dropped along with the two wavy lines and the hyphen between ALFA and ROMEO. The poor laurel wreath was further reduced to little more than edge filigree.

The original 1910 badge was over 2 1/2 inches in diameter. This yo-yo'd up and down over the years but by 1980 it had shrunk to barely 2 1/8 inches. By mid decade, however, the badge had been enlarged to what seems an enormous 3 inches, a size it retains today on the current Spiders.

I can hardly wait to see what comes next!

Another badge message from David Tallerico:

Sorry if you've heard this one ...
1) The cross represents the owner's prayers that the car won't break down.
2) The serpent eating the man symbolizes the repair bills that are eating the owner alive!

Reply to David's message from Jack Hagerty:

Close, but no cigar. The way I heard it was:
The cross is a crucifix (the car's Italian, after all :-) and the snake is a stylized dollar sign. The little man is the Alfa Owner. The true meaning of the badge becomes:

"Jesus Christ, these expenses are eating me alive!"

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