Memorabilia – Pantheon

FMM assistant curator Cheslynne Ruiters visits the Pantheon and looks at some kidneys…


Automotive grilles have taken on many different shapes and designs through the years, the first of these appearing in 1903. The principal function of the grille is to admit cooling air to the radiator, but as one of the main visual components on the front of a vehicle, an inspired design can help make a vehicle both attractive and identify the marque. Naturally, manufacturers became creative with their grille designs to make them distinctive, and here are two iconic examples.


The trademark tall, chrome Rolls-Royce grille may be the most widely-recognised design of all. It is a three-piece shape incorporating the R-R badge, the radiator shell and vertical vanes that resembled the portico of the ancient Roman temple Pantheon. The vanes first appeared in 1925 and replaced the previous unadorned black mesh that filled the radiator shell. Originally designed as a functional unit made of polished nickel-steel, the vanes were hinged at the top and bottom so they could be opened or closed for better cooling control. And as Rolls-Royce cars were hand-built by craftsmen, those making the grille would inscribe their initials on it. Today, the stately grille is so integral to Rolls-Royce’s heritage, even to essentially defining the marque.

Far younger but no less identifiable, BMW took a rather more practical approach towards its grille design. Fritz Fiedler was one of a new generation of designers, who in 1933 considered technology from an aesthetical viewpoint, and he unintentionally created the ‘face’ of BMW. In order to achieve optimum cooling, he designed the heat converter of the new 303 saloon car to slant slightly backwards. Moreover, it was divided into two sections and slightly tapered. The corners were rounded off to achieve a somewhat more elegant appearance.  Apparently, it was named the ‘kidney grille’ because of its mirror-image structure rather than being a mono-shape as used by most vehicles at the time. From inception, the basic design has been implemented on every BMW and today is the company’s signature grille.