Badge of Dishonor
I keep a small sticky-notepad tucked in the center console of my Golf GTI. Each note looks like the the one in the photo above, and at every opportunity, I leave these little pieces of paper on whatever “up-badged” cars I find sitting in lots, stowed inside decks, or parked along streets. If you’re not familiar with the term, up-badged cars are basically the celebrity impersonators of the automotive world — cars bedazzled by their owners to resemble whatever hotter, pricier versions the owners wish they drove.
If I spot one, I’ll grab the notepad, jot down the authentic make and model of the offending vehicle and check the box requesting “change” or “restitution”. Then, I leave a short message:
“Those who don’t know, don’t care, and those who do know, know you’re lying.”
Complainant? A concerned enthusiast.
If I’ve learned anything concrete from the time I’ve spent calling out counterfeit cars, it’s that nothing gets up-badged more than German luxury cars. Mercedes seem to be the most popular target for automotive blasphemy; one can find everything from base CLAs to G550s with lopsided AMG lettering tacked onto their bumpers. There’s no shortage of BMWs with M-badges glued in creative places either, and while faked Audis are a little rarer, I was recently entertained by an A7 owner who had neglected to remove the “supercharged” emblem from his front quarter panel after slapping an S7 logo onto the fastback (only A7s were supercharged).
American muscle also suffers frequently. I sometimes pity Mustang Ecoboost owners who attempt to pass their pony cars off as beefy GTs, only to crank them up and reveal the quiet burbles of four-cylinders, occasionally pumped through aftermarket pipes. Meanwhile, some true Mustang GT owners, still dissatisfied, cram the letters “SHELBY” between their tail lights. Similarly, and though I’ve spotted plenty of SXT-trimmed Dodge Chargers and Challengers sporting enormous Hellcat decals across their doors, I’ve also seen several real-deal Hellcats with bogus Demon badges scowling from under their side mirrors. Does 707 horsepower really require such compensation?
The Hellcat-Demon frauds are excellent examples of why up-badged cars can be as confusing as they are amusing, as the cars that bear this pitiful affliction are often respectable in their own right. The original Audi A7 is a badass vehicle, and its supercharged V6 is capable of impressive power. Mercedes-Benz S550s are the benchmark for luxury sedans, and even base-trim turbo Mustangs with 300 horsepower are fast enough to give most folks a thrill.
It has to be said that some small minority of up-badged cars exist purely for the fun of it — I once happily parked beside an old Chrysler Sebring with a winged Bentley “B” on the front — but in most cases, what do up-badged cars really accomplish? Everyday citizens and non-enthusiasts could care less what signage adorns the random cars that pass them in traffic, while most petrolheads are easily capable of calling bullshit when they see it. No one worth fooling gets fooled.
Which brings us to the teachable lesson here: instead of tastelessly decorating interesting cars to indicate some phony level of power, performance, or exclusivity, owners should simply take pride in their cars, and keep dreaming of the metal they one day wish to purchase. After all, aspiration is the fuel of automotive enthusiasm. Up-badging is just the easy way out.