The Creation of the Spirit of Ecstasy
When Lord John Montagu commissioned his friend Charles Sykes to sculpt a personal mascot for the bonnet of his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, Sykes is thought to have chosen John’s secretary, Eleanor Thornton as his model. Sykes originally crafted a figurine of her in fluttering robes, pressing a finger against her lips – either to symbolize the secrets of their love, or maybe the quietness of the car we’ll never know. The figurine was consequently named The Whisper.
The very first Rolls-Royce motorcars did not feature radiator mascots; they simply carried the Rolls-Royce emblem, the RR. This was not enough for many of their customers who believed that such a prestigious vehicle as a Rolls-Royce motorcar should have its own luxurious mascot, by 1910 personal mascots had become the fashion. Rolls-Royce were concerned to note that some owners were affixing "inappropriate" ornaments to their cars, birds, dogs, fish, policemen with a raised arm, etc. Claude Johnson, then Managing Director of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, was asked to see to the commissioning of something more suitably dignified and graceful.
He turned to Charles Sykes, a young artist friend and a graduate of London's Royal College of Art, to produce a mascot which would adorn all future Rolls-Royce cars and become generic to the marque, with the specifications that it should convey "the spirit of the Rolls-Royce, namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace..."
The Spirit of Speed (Soon to become Spirit of Ecstasy)
Sykes' brief from Claude Johnson had been to evoke the spirit of mythical beauty, Nike, whose graceful image was admired in the Louvre, but Sykes was not impressed. He felt that a more feminine representation might be apt.
It was again Miss Thornton whom he had in mind. Sykes chose to modify ‘The Whisper’ into a version similar to today's ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’. He called this first model The Spirit of Speed. Later, Charles Sykes called it "A graceful little goddess, the Spirit of Ecstasy, who has selected road travel as her supreme delight and alighted on the prow of a Rolls-Royce motor car to revel in the freshness of the air and the musical sound of her fluttering draperies." He presented the mascot to the company in February 1911.
Claude Johnson devised the description of ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’, he described how Sykes had sought to convey the image of "the spirit of ecstasy, who has selected road travel as her supreme delight......she is expressing her keen enjoyment, with her arms outstretched and her sight fixed upon the distance."
Royce was ill during the commissioning of the flying lady. He did not believe the figurine enhanced the cars, asserting that it impaired the driver's view, and was rarely seen driving one of his company's vehicles adorned with the mascot.Sykes' signature appeared on the plinth and these were either signed "Charles Sykes, February 1911" or "Feb 6, 1911" or "6.2.11". Even after Rolls-Royce took over the casting of the figures in 1948 each standing Spirit of Ecstasy continued to receive this inscription until 1951.
The Spirit of Ecstasy was also manufactured by the British firm Louis Lejeune for a number of years.Although it seems unchanged, the mascot had eleven main variations in its life. Lowered height of coachwork forced subsequent reductions in the mascot size. Consequently, several alternations in the original design were made. Sykes was once again commissioned by Rolls-Royce in the 1930s to make a lower version of the mascot to suit the sports saloons.
The kneeling lady mascot was unveiled on 26 January 1934 (devised for the Phantom III of 1936-1939) and was again as undeniably a reflection of Eleanor as it was a symbol of the Rolls-Royce. It also bore on the plinth the inscription "C. Sykes, 26.1.34", the date when the first of this new piece was finished. The kneeling lady was an option for late 20/25, the 25/30 and Wraith pre war model cars. This version was continued after the war with the Silver Wraith, Silver Dawn and Phantom IV models, but thereafter discontinued in favour of a smaller version of the original standing mascot, and so it remains to date.
Spirit of Ecstasy today
Today's Spirit of Ecstasy stands at 3 inches and, for safety, is mounted on a spring-loaded mechanism designed to retract instantly into the radiator shell if struck from any direction. There is a button within the vehicle which can retract or display the mascot when pressed.John Beecroft
Charles Robinson Sykes.
1875 - 1950
Commercial artist, painter, cartoonist & sculptor.
1902: Principal illustrator to The Car Illustrated magazine -- A Journal of Travel by Land, Sea and Air (publisher: John Scott Montagu),
1909/10: Created a personal mascot for John, Lord Montagu for his R-R 40/50 Ghost.
For this Montagu mascot, Sykes used Eleanor Thornton as his model. The
finished product was christened ‘The Whisper’ either to mark the secrecy of the
affair between John and Eleanor, or, the quietness of the Rolls-Royce, we’ll never
1910: Commissioned by Claude Johnson, Managing Director of R-R
Design Brief: To create a mascot that symbolises the spirit of the
“Speed with silence; absence of vibration; harnessing of great energy;
a beautiful, moving, living organism of superb grace.”
1911: Sykes modified the Whisper and created the Spirit of Ecstasy which on
February 6th the design was granted trademark registration.
1880 - 1915
‘A true new woman of the Edwardian era, vivacious, attractive, talented, ambitious and free-living’
At various times she was:
- Private secretary to Charles Sykes
- Secretary to Claude Johnson at the Automobile Club of Great Britain
- Employed by John Scott Montagu at The Car Illustrated magazine & reputedly his mistress
- The inspiration (and possibly the model for) for Sykes for the Whisper and for the Spirit of Ecstasy.
- May have born children to all three of these men
Died en-route to India aboard SS Persia which was torpedoed by a German U boat on December 15th, 1915. Also on board was John, Lord Montagu who was returning to his post as Inspector of Mechanical Transport for the British Army in India. He survived the sinking of SS Persia… perhaps by wearing a Gieves-type life-jacket.
Charles Rolls’ first partner.
1897: Founding secretary to the Royal Automobile Club
1903: Joined C.S. Rolls & Co.
1910: Managing Director of Rolls-Royce Limited
Pre - 1911, officially Rolls-Royce cars had no mascot, just the ‘R-R’ emblem. Other car manufacturers were already making mascots.
In the early 1900s, a craze started for adding personal mascots on car radiators. (Examples:- a golliwog; a policeman with a truncheon; birds; dogs etc)
Rolls-Royce directors were “not impressed” by this sort of “frivolity” and a suitably graceful / dignified mascot was commissioned.
The Rolls-Royce mascot, the Spirit of Ecstasy, was registered as a trademark on February 6th 1911.
John Scott Montagu
1866 - 1929
Motoring pioneer, publisher, Parliamentarian
1893: MP for New Forest; Member of various parliamentary bodies related to
motoring, roads and aircraft
1901: Founder, writer, publisher of The Car Illustrated magazine (see picture above)
1903: Gave trophy for Gordon Bennett international motor race
(Trophy designer: Charles Sykes)
1903: Father of Eleanor Thornton’s child (Joan)
1905: Moved to House of Lords on becoming 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu
1906 onwards: Owned several Rolls- Royce cars
1908: Switched on the electricity to start production at Rolls-Royce new factory in
Derby and in a speech there said:
‘There is one reason why I think the Rolls-Royce is the best car in the world and that is because I just ordered one myself’
1909/10: Commissioned Charles Sykes to design a mascot for his Rolls-Royce. Sykes
probably used Eleanor as the model for what became known as ‘The Whisper.’