Rolls-Royce is celebrating its 110th anniversary of the most famous hood ornament in the world – the iconic ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’…
Yes, just as the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Regan was making his first indelible mark on the world, the most famous, iconic and desirable symbol of luxury was being registered as the intellectual property of Rolls-Royce on 6 February 1911.
Its All In A Whisper
It was the founder of the National Motor Museum and The Car Illustrated magazine, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu who decided while out and about in his already glamorous Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, the car needed even more ‘bling’ than was already on show. After some thought, mischievous Montagu decided the best way to add even more opulence would be to create a mascot and mount it in the most prominent position on his Silver Ghost.
The job was given to a certain Charles Sykes who was already on the pay-roll as an illustrator but as luck would have it, sidelined as a sculptor too. Sykes produced a bronze statue of a young woman in fluttering robes, which he named the ‘Whisper’. This, of course, went viral and soon others were having their own bonnet furniture produced, much to the displeasure of Rolls‑Royce General Managing Director, Claude Johnson.
Spirit of Ecstasy
In a bid to distance the company from these ‘unsightly’ additions that were now wandering around the streets, Johnson approaches Sykes to come up with an ‘official’ mascot for Rolls-Royce and their cars. Quick to make a few shillings and pence, the entrepreneurial Sykes shows no hesitation or loyalty and promptly reimagines ‘The Whisper’ to create what’s now the iconic ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’.
The design was subsequently registered as the company’s intellectual property in 1911 and quickly became a defining feature of the Rolls-Royce motor car. Measuring in at a rather large and pedestrian threatening seven inches (18cm) tall, the Spirit of Ecstasy today stands a more petite three ¾ inches (9.5cm) high.
Spirit of Safety
Over the years various countries and safety campaigners have tried to ban the mascot on safety grounds with the self-righteous Swiss even banishing them to the glove compartment. Rolls-Royce’s typically elegant and ingenious solution was to mount the mascot on a spring-loaded base, allowing her to sink into the radiator out of harm’s way at the merest touch. This retraction mechanism has evolved into a smooth, graceful movement known as ‘the rise’ and is a standard feature on every new Rolls-Royce motor car.
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The Spirit Of Progress
Until as recently as 1999 the mascots were produced by ‘lost wax’ casting, which dates back over 5,000 years. Charles Sykes himself, assisted by his daughter Josephine, personally cast, inscribed and finished every Spirit of Ecstasy right up until 1939.
It wasn’t until the Germans got involved that the Spirit of Ecstasy was made more efficient by introducing a modern casting process, working with a specialist company in Southampton, England. Sykes’ original ‘Whisper’ and other Spirit of Ecstasy figurines are on permanent display at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.
As an emblem, the Spirit of Ecstasy represents far more than just our company and our products. To our customers, she is a potent symbol, instantly and universally recognised – of success, endeavour, achievement and standing. In her beauty, simplicity, elegance and rarity, she encapsulates everything our customers seek – and find – in their Rolls-Royce motor car.
Within our company, the Spirit of Ecstasy fosters pride and esprit de corps, uniting and empowering the Rolls-Royce family right across the world. She reminds us of our inheritance and principles, and inspiring greatness in all of us. Every car we build must be worthy of bearing her because it is she that makes every Rolls-Royce, and our company, unique and complete
Spirit Of The Future
2020 saw the Spirit of Ecstasy taking on a new life and appearance known as The Expression, where she appears ethereal and regal, yet with a highly contemporary, technological edge that reflects the company’s vision as a modern House of Luxury.
We rather like the ‘Dawn Black’…