So what do we mean by “coolest” trim badges? Well, we figure there are two criteria for a badge being cool – either it looks really cool aesthetically, or it sends a message to the unwitting fool behind you that you’re capable of smoking him off the line quicker than Cheech and Chong can get through an ounce of Thai Stick. Click through to see what we consider the 10 worthiest badges of all time to be. And if you manage to stick all of these badges together on some poor car (only if you have permission!), send us a picture and I’ll make my boss send you a prize.
AMG – Mercedes
AMG used to hide their branding on cars, embracing an understated, sleeper mentality. The earliest full AMG model (rather than just AMG optional parts) was the AMG Hammer, based on the W124 (E-Series), which start of a venerable tradition of cramming huge, completely inappropriate motors into surprisingly small Mercedes models. However, the inconspicuous AMG model is no more. Nowadays, go to any San Fernando Valley shopping mall, stand in the middle of the parking lot, and swing your faux Versace handbag in an arc, and you’re guaranteed to hit several AMG-branded Merc SUVs. That atrocity aside, AMG badges still usually mean the thing is going to hustle, and we’re going to say that anything with an “AMG 6.3″ badge on it is decidedly “cool,” no matter how many of its drivers are soulless conspicuous consumption automatons.
M – BMW
In a lot of ways, the M badge has remained more exclusive than the “village bicycle” AMG badging – BMW doesn’t have an M version of every single freakin’ car (ie, 1-Series, 7-Series). We’re not happy about the X6 gaining an M badge, but hey, it’s got a twin-turbo V8 in it, so we won’t complain too much. What’s important is that the M badge signifies that the engine has been handbuilt by the M-Teknik division, and essentially blueprinted, in addition to the more obvious modifications that set M-cars apart from their more pedestrian base models. From the M1 to the latest V10 M5, this badge means business.
GT-R – Nissan
Ah, this list wouldn’t be complete without Nissan’s highest trim level, reserved for the lairiest trim of the venerable Skyline range. It stands for, perhaps unsurprisingly, Gran Turismo Racer (or Racing). And indeed, from the R32 on, GT-Rs were indeed very capable as tourers and racers. The GT-R was always the top of the line, debuting on the hakosuka of 1969, retiring in 1973, and revived in 1989 on the R32. Of course, now its evolved into its own model, dropping the Skyline moniker, but that doesn’t diminish our reverence for the badge.
Si – Honda
We can hear you squealing, “not the Type-R?” Well, no, and for a good reason – the Si graced the hindquarters of many more Hondas that the Type-R, allowing generations of adrenaline-seeking teenage pizza delivery drivers to explore the limits of both their vehicles and common sense, all whilst delivering that trademark Honda rev-happiness. The CRX Si perhaps exemplifies the Si badge in the US, and the fact that it’s nearly impossible to find an unmolested one is testament to its draw for thrill-seeking but budget-minded hoons of all creeds.
Super Sport – Chevrolet
OK, we know that in the last couple of years, GM was slapping SS badges on nearly everything. It’s surprising that we never saw Rick Wagoner with an “SS” badge slapped onto his forehead, come to think of it. We’re thinking of the SS badge in terms of what it meant during the heyday of Camaros and Malibus – more power. (Of course, it’s worth noting that in some cases, like on early Novas, it was merely an appearance package.) SS meant different things in different years, but usually it meant a tuned 350 or a 427. If you’ve been around more than 4 months, you’ll know that a 427 can turn most tires into pools of steaming liquid fairly rapidly. Later on, the SS badge could mean a Corvette motor in a Camaro, or a burly 454 in the Silverado SS 454. Mmmm.
SVT – Ford
Another in-house tuning operation, SVT means Special Vehicles Team – a crack set of engineers who liked to make things go fast. SVT developed from SVO, which doesn’t mean they crawled out of some hippie’s diesel Mercedes tank … Special Vehicle Operations, son. They made the Mustang SVO with the turbo Pinto engine … you rememb…? Aww, nevermind. You’re too young. They switched over to SVT in the early ’90s, and made several different high-performance vehicles: the F150 Lightning, Contour SVT, Focus SVT, and the awesome Ford GT supercar. Along the way they tuned a whole series of Mustangs known as SVT Cobras. The latest creation harkens back to the Lightnings of old (dead since 2004), the Ford Raptor SVT, which looks pretty badass. No question SVT is on this list, and we’re not just placating blue oval fans. They’re the real deal.
Cosworth – Ford Europe
Our chums across the Atlantic probably know all about this one, as they’ve been hankering after Cossies since the shop opened its doors in ’58 and began collaborating with Ford of Britain and Lotus on a whole series of up-spec’ed little demons. They tuned the engine in the famous Ford-Lotus Cortina, developed the race-dominating Ford-Cosworth DFV V8 Formula One engine, and tuned a variety of other later Fords like the Sierra RS Cosworth pictured here. They didn’t work exclusively for Ford – their American-market attempts were a mixed bag though: the Chevy Vega Cosworth was a flop. However, the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16V was a screamer and was only slightly less raw than the E30 M3 of the time. Since Cossie has been synonymous with fast for so many years in Europe, they’re going on the list. (For you ‘Mericans, many Cossies sold in Europe are left-hand-drive and now available to import into the US.)
Turbo R – Bentley
A Bentley is on the list? Stow that incredulity, buddy. The Bentley Turbo R was no joke. To begin with, Bentleys are hugely expensive and quite understated, so it speaks volumes that they slapped a “Turbo R” badge on the back of any of their offerings. “Turbo R” sounds more like something that would grace the trunklid of a Suzuki Kei-car … but there’s a reason. A development of the Mulsanne Turbo, this baby packed a 6.75 liter V8 that was then turbocharged to make an unbelievable (for the time) 296 HP and 486 ft-lbs or torque. That was more than enough to motivate the big Bentley to 60 MPH in the seven-second range, which is impressive since the car weighed about as much as a supertanker full of oil. Any 5200 lbs car that can do that is OK in our book.
Hurst/Olds – Oldsmobile
Oldsmobile hasn’t been associated with fast since Richard Nixon was in the White House, but the Hurst/Olds has passed in and out of favor enough over the last couple decades that the gaudy gold-splashed cars have gone from lame to kitchy-cool. Conceived in 1968 as a way to get around GM’s infamous restrictions limiting engine size in smaller cars (the Yenko cars were another), the Hurst/Olds was in intermediate size car packing an optional W-45/6 455 CID engine making 390 HP and channeling it through a Hurst Dual-Gate-equipped Turbo Hydromatic 400. Of course, you need to have a bouquet of chest hair poking out of a polyester shirt to really roll in a Hurst/Olds, but a thrift store run is a small price to pay for the excesses inherent in a Hurst/Olds.
RS – Audi
Ah, the Audi RennSport models. In some ways, the “S” models are what are supposed to compete with BMW’s M-cars, but the RS-series complicates things because they’re so outlandishly tuned that BMW is forced to chase the RS cars’ performance to avoid losing the power race. Created by Audi’s version of a Skunkworks team, the quattro GmbH engineers only slap RS badging on limited-edition, ultra-high-performance Audis. The original RS car was the RS2 Avant, a wagon version of the car we knew as the Audi 80, making an astonishing 311 HP out of a highly modified Audi turbo five-cylinder. The current bad boy in the RS lineup is the RS6, which contains a twin-turbocharged 90 degree V10 developed from a Lamborghini design. It makes 571 HP and keeps BMW executives up late with cold sweats. So yes, just about anything with an RS badge on it is going to be a hot, nasty dose of addictive petroleum-based excitement. We highly approve.
Your favorite badge not on the list? Drop us a line and if we get enough interest we’ll work on a second post! Unlike politicians, we have no shame in espousing vigorous populism!