The Spirit of Ecstasy

The Spirit of Ecstasy


       The Spirit of Ecstasy is certainly the most attractive and probably the best known motor car mascot in the world. Designed by  Charles Robinson Sykes, she has adorned the radiators of Rolls-Royce motor cars since 1911 and concealed a hidden passion. This marvellous mascot was modelled after a woman who had bewitching beauty, intellect and esprit -  but not the social status which might have permitted her to marry the man with whom she had fallen in love. This is the story of Eleanor Velasco Thornton, whose liaison with JohnWalter Edward-Scott-Montagu (after 1905 the second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu) was to remain a secret for a decade or more, principally because both partners acted with the utmost discretion. John Scott, heir to his father's title, was a pioneer of automobilism in England. From 1902 he was editor of the illustrated magazine The Car. Eleanor V Thornton was employed as his secretary. Friends of the pair knew of their close relationship but they were sufficiently understanding as to overlook it.

.A member of this circle of friends was the sculptor Charles S Sykes. To Lord Montagu's order he created a specialmascot for his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. The small statue illustrated a young woman in fluttering robes having placed one forefinger to her lips. The sculptor had chosen Eleanor Thornton as model for this figurine, which was christened "The Whisper".Lord Montagu had, with a certain amount of flair, taken up an idea of his time, to put a mascot on top of the radiator,and it had become a fashion. Rolls-Royce had noted other owners of their cars following the new vogue, but doing sowith less style by choosing mundane or even risque and vulgar subjects. Following th Lord Montagu commission, Charles Sykes was asked to create a mascot which in future would adorn every Rolls-Royce. In February 1911 he presented to Rolls-Royce the "Spirit of Ecstasy", which was easily recognisable as being a variation on the theme of "The Whisper". The similarity was hardly coincidental because the model for both had been the lovely Miss Thornton. The Spirit of Ecstasy was now delivered by the Company with every Rolls-Royce. Each was done using the technique which was thousands of years old and known as the lost-wax method.This practice results in the mould's being destroyed to reveal the casting, which explains why no two figures are exactly alike. Sykes, assisted by his daughter Jo, remained responsible for manufacturing the Spirit of Ecstasy for many years. Likewise, each of the unique creations bore his signature on the plinth. The sculptures are eithersigned "Charles Sykes, February 1911" or sometimes "Feb 6, 1911" or "6.2.11". Even after Rolls-Royce took over the casting of the figures in 1948 each Spirit of Ectasy continued to receive this inscription until 1951. From 1911 to 1914 the Spirit of Ectasy was silver-plated and thus many thought it a massive piece of precious metal -one reason for the frequent thefts. In smaller versions, and now made from highly polished nickel alloy, the radiatordecoration has stood its ground on every Rolls-Royce, including those in the present range. Over the years various alterations have been made. Those mascots for Rolls-Royce motor cars at the Springfield plant inthe USA were modified. Bowing a little more forward no longer were they a danger to the bonnet. The original versionhad touched the bonnet sides when these were opened without the precaution having been taken of turning the figures ideways. No enthusiasm for the Spririt of Ecstasy was shown by Royce, who judged her to be but a fashionable bauble and carpedthat shespoiled the clear line of the car's bow.The order to create the sculpture was given during the chief engineer's illness and had been absent. Thus it became a habit that Rolls-Royce cars used by Royce were rarely driven with a mascotin place. When, towards the end of the twenties and the new body line of Sports Saloons had reduced the height of the coachwork, Royce was prompted to think about a lower variationof the Spirit of Ecstasy, by which alteration a driver might benefitfrom clear vision even with the windscren lower and his seating position reduced in turn.Sykes created a kneeling versionof the mascot, whih fulfiled this demand. Signed "C. Sykes, 26.1.34" the inscription on the plinth revealed the day when the first piece had been finished. The kneeling version remained after the Second World War for the new Silver Wraith and Silver Dawn. All following models, however, sported a standing mascot, although this has now been reduced in size considerably compared to the old one. Rarely, however, is the correct term "Spirit of Ecstasy" used - detractors remark this was only done at the factory in Crewe. The nickname "Emily" is widespread and Americans speak of the "Silver Lady" or the "Flying Lady". In 1920 Rolls-Royce had taken part in a competition in Paris for the most apposite mascot in the world. This they did with a gold-plated Spirit of Ecstasy, which secured Rolls-Royce first place. From then on gold-plated versions of the Spirit of Ecstasy were available from the company - at an extra charge. Safety regulations in some countries turned out to be a stumbling block to the fitting of the Spirit of Ecstasy. She qualified as a sharp-edged piece of metal jutting from the coachwork, which might injure a victim in an accident. because of this, in Switzerland during the second half of the seventies, the installation of mascots on Rolls-Royces was forbidden and purchasers of a new Rolls-Royce delivered to that country found their mascot in the glove compartment. The problem was solved withthe Silver Spirit and Silver Spur; at the merest knock the Spirit of Ecstasy sank into the radiator surround and vanished out of harms way. Thus were the safety regulations satisfied.

    The woman who had been the model for the radiator decoration, was not to appreciate its success.
    Eleanor Thornton lost her life when, on 30 December 1915, the SS Persia, whilst on her way to India, was torpedoed
    off Crete by a German submarine. She had been accompanying Lord Montagu who had been directed to take over a
    command in India. He was thought to have been killed, too, but survived and was rescued a few days later by another ship.
    On his return to England he read the obituary articles in the newspapers about his own demise.