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The Spirit of Ecstasy – a brief history

Article by: Hannah in General - 8 July

The Spirit of Ecstasy needs no introduction. An iconic symbol of class, elegance and  remarkable craftsmanship in the automobile world.

But where did this striking mascot originate?

When the first Rolls-Royce was unveiled at the Paris Salon in December 1904, they didn’t have a mascot on the radiator but instead had the Rolls-Royce emblem. But when John Walter, the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu commissioned a personal mascot for his 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, did he know how much this would influence and change the future of the mascot on these famous vehicles? Seeking the skill of his friend and sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes, Sykes chose as the model for the mascot, Eleanor Velasco Thornton. Working for John as secretary for his motoring magazine, Eleanor and John fell in love in 1902. Their relationship was a secret to most for over a decade, with only their closest friends knowing of their love. When Sykes crafted the mascot for John Walter, he designed a figurine of Eleanor in fluttering robes with one finger against her lips, indicating the secret of their love. This was given the name ‘The Whisper’.

What followed from this mascot as others were having their own personal ornaments created, was a concern by Rolls-Royce that some may not be appropriate to the cars. So when the Managing Director of Rolls-Royce cars at the time, Claude Johnson, needed to create a new mascot, it was only right that he turned to Sykes. The mascot needed to be more graceful and would be mounted on all future vehicles from Rolls-Royce and as it is quite evident to now see, needed to be an icon of the marque.

As Sykes set to work with his brief from Johnson, he was not overly impressed. Johnson had ask Sykes to use Nike, the spirit of mythical beauty, as a suggestion of the figurine but Sykes believed it need more femininity. And so, using his original ‘The Whisper’ and Eleanor Thornton as his muse and inspiration, he adapted ‘The Whisper’ and created a similar version of The Spirit of Ecstasy as we know her today. Johnson described her as “expressing her keen enjoyment, with her arms outstretched and her sight fixed upon the distance.”

Despite Henry Royce believing the mascot didn’t enhance the car and thinking it reduced the view of the driver, Sykes presented The Spirit of Ecstasy to Rolls-Royce in February 1911. From then, it was offered officially as an optional extra, but it was fitted to most vehicles and in the early 1920s, was a standard fitting.

Then, during the 1930s and for the new sport saloons, Sykes was asked to create a lower kneeling version of the mascot to allow a clearer view of the road. After the Silver Dawn, Phantom IV and Silver Wraith, the kneeling version was replaced with a new smaller version of the original Spirit of Ecstasy and is true as of today.

From the admiration and love of a secret relationship, a truly unpredictable piece of history was born.

Over the years, the mascots have been modified or incorrectly mounted onto the radiator caps. Here at Fiennes Classics, we’re able to re-fit original specification mounting studs and set them to the radiator caps accordingly. Get in contact today if we can be of any assistance with this.