Legacy of the Spirit of Ecstasy – Leading the way forward
In 1909, John 2nd Baron Montagu, former member of the UK parliament, commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to design a signature mascot for his Rolls-Royce. It was then that Sykes chose Montagu’s secretary and mistress, Eleanor Thornton as a model of reference to design the ornament.
Birth of the Spirit of Ecstasy
The original figurine was crafted with her forefinger placed on the lips and her robes flying symbolizing the love affair between Montagu and Thornton. It was named ‘The Whisper’ and is currently on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu. In 1910, when hood ornaments started becoming a trend, Rolls-Royce was concerned that owners were fitting their cars with inappropriate figurines. Claude Johnson, the then managing director of Rolls-Royce Motors decided to commission a sculptor to create a mascot that defined race and dignity. He asked Sykes to design a mascot that conveyed the following:
“The spirit of Rolls-Royce, that is speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful machine of superb grace”
Sykes then decided to create an iconic mascot that has a feminine representation. Yet again, the sculptor chose Thornton as the model to design the ornament, modifying The Whisper to what was then known as ‘The Spirit of Speed.’ However, In 1911, Rolls-Royce realized that the ornament was too big, obstructing the driver’s view. Therefore, the same year, Sykes presented another rendition of the sculpture to what we know today as the ‘Spirit of Ecstasy.’
Alterations of the Rolls Royce hood ornament
Rolls-Royce offered the Spirit of Ecstasy as an optional extra, which later became a standard offering in 1920. From 1911 to 1914 the ornament was silver plated. It was in 1920, that a gold-plated version of the Spirit of Ecstasy won first place at a competition in Paris. After that, the company offered the gold-plated mascot as an option for an additional cost. Over the last century, the design of the ornament has had 11 distinct variations, of which three made it to the production cars. Mentioned below are some of the popular renditions of the Flying Lady:
- Kneeling version
- The 2003 version
- Spectre version
In the 1930s, Rolls-Royce had once again commissioned sculptor Sykes to create a lower version of the ornament to suit the aerodynamic needs of a sports saloon. The Kneeling lady ornament was unveiled on January 26th 1934. It includes an engraving of the signature ‘C. Sykes, 26.1.34,’ which signifies the date when the first piece was finished. This version of the Spirit of Ecstasy has been discontinued and is found on the last models of the Rolls-Royce Phantom IV and Silver Wraith.
The 2003 version
This particular version of the Spirit of Ecstasy is what we see in modern day Rolls-Royce cars. The sculptor stands at 7.6 cm (3 inches) and has a retractable anti-theft feature. When external force is applied, the spring-loaded mechanism folds the mascot inside the bonnet compartment. It can also be controlled from a button inside. The Spirit of Ecstasy is available in high-polished stainless steel, a 24-carat gold-plated version and also in an illuminated frosted crystal.
An all new design of the Spirit of Ecstasy has been designed for the upcoming all-electric model. It is known as the Spectre, and was first registered as an intellectual property in the year 1911. The ornament has since then been redesigned with a lower stance, with better aerodynamics. It is said to be the latest Spirit of Ecstasy, and will be seen on all future models of Rolls Royce’s.
“The Spirit of Ecstasy is the most famous and desirable automotive mascot in the world,”
– Torsten Müller-Ötvös
Materials used for the Spirit of Ecstasy
The initial versions of the Spirit of Ecstasy were silver-plated and are now made using stainless-steel. Customers can still choose to order gold and silver statuettes. The Black Badge version of Rolls Royce carries the ornament in a gloss black stainless steel finish, which was one of the first for the company.
Rolls Royce recently introduced another custom option for this iconic mascot, which is an illuminated frosted crystal. The ornament illuminates when the vehicle is stationary and the welcome light is turned on.
Many custom versions of the Spirit of Ecstasy have also been found. Some of these include a fully diamond studded hood ornament, matt black finished figurines, and 24-carat gold versions etc. Odell Beckham Jr. (NFL player) got his Rolls Royce Cullinan, Spirit of Ecstasy replaced with a figure replicating his iconic one handed catch. This way most Rolls Royce owners still continue to have their hood ornaments as exclusive as it gets.
“I am like a Rolls- Royce. I can run without an engine, purely on reputation”
Rolls Royce hood ornament – the new Spirit of Ecstasy
While it is certainly the most elegant hood ornament, the Spirit of Ecstasy has not always been aerodynamic-friendly. Automakers decided to ditch the idea of having hood ornaments due to the concerns related to its impact on fuel economy. But Rolls Royce persisted, and maintained its tradition of carrying this iconic mascot throughout its 100 year journey.
The British luxury automaker has finally decided to bring a new version of the Spirit of Ecstasy. Rolls-Royce plans to launch its latest electric vehicle in 2023, called the Spectre. This particular model will carry the new version of the Spirit of Ecstasy. Designers at Rolls-Royce have reduced the stance of the flying lady by 17% resembling the original designs by Sykes. The position of the ornament has also been changed slightly for less drag. Robes of the mascot have been redesigned to improve the aerodynamic efficiency of the car.
It took a whole of 830 hours for designers at Rolls Royce to redesign the hood ornament. The time spent includes the modeling and tunnel testing of the Spirit of Ecstasy. No official figures of the drag reduction measure have been announced yet, but will be able to find out on the arrival of the new EV.
The Spirit of Ecstasy by Rolls-Royce
Symbolizing beauty, grace and energy, the Rolls Royce hood ornament has stood the test of time and has become a popular mascot in the automotive industry. Although the original model has undergone a few different changes over the years, it still holds substantial value and carries a presence and definition of luxury. Miss Thornton, on whom the Spirit of Ecstasy is based, passed away in 1915 due to a tragic accident and the ornament remains as a tribute to her and what she believed in, freedom and progressiveness.