Car badges, also called radiator or grill badges, began as branding for manufacturers and dealerships, but these enamel-on-metal emblems soon became mini works of art, like jewelry for cars. Attached to a car’s grill, these badges proclaimed everything from one’s allegiance to a particular manufacturer (from Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo to Packard and Porsche) to membership in a motoring club. Examples of the latter include organizations associated with particular makes (Ford Mustangs, Volkswagen Beetles), places (Beverly Hills and other enclaves of the rich), and services (in the United States, the American Automobile Association, or AAA, is the largest).

A close cousin of the car badge is the license-plate topper, which is basically a radiator badge designed to be attached to a vehicle’s license plate. Unlike car badges, license toppers are often nothing more than advertisements, sometimes for auto-related products like motor oil but often for everything from farm products to soda pop.


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