Rolls-Royce’s New Face In The Wind

The new Spirit of Ecstasy, above, is smaller, with a stance closer to that of the original sketches, along with a more dynamic stance.

A smaller, more aerodynamic Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament will grace the new Rolls-Royce Sceptre, when the brand’s first battery-electric vehicle arrives in showrooms.

The announcement of the reimaging of the classic automotive mascot comes 111 years after the Spirit of Ecstasy was first registered as intellectual property of Rolls-Royce.

“She is the embodiment of our brand, and a constant source of inspiration and pride for the marque and its clients,” said Torsten Müller-Ötvös, chief executive officer, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

“Like our brand, she has always moved with the times while staying true to her nature and character. In her new form she is more streamlined and graceful than ever before — the perfect emblem for the most aerodynamic Rolls-Royce ever created.”

So, what’s the difference?

Rolls-Royce Dawn with the current Spirit of Ecstasy. Only new models will get the new mascot.

The new version stands 3.26 inches tall, compared to her predecessor’s 3.94 inches. Part of the shrinkage comes from a lower, more dynamic stance that more closely resembles the drawings made by her creator, illustrator and sculptor Charles Sykes, in the early 20th century.

As originally sculpted she stood with her feet together, legs straight and tilting at the waist. Now she stands with one leg forward, as if braced for the wind. Her robes, usually mistaken for wings, have been revised to make them more realistic and aerodynamic.

“She has come to represent a spiritual direction for our brand. Her form perfectly captures the marque,” said Anders Warming, director of Design, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “She leans forward, expressing our relentless pursuit of progress, and her dress gracefully flows in the wind, echoing the serenity of our products in motion.”

A back view of the current mascot, as. seen on the Rolls-Royce Cullinan.

The new form was digitally sculpted to better capture the essence of Syke’s original drawings. To keep her authentic, yet make her contemporary, designers consulted stylists at Goodwood for their perspective on her hair, clothes, posture, and expression.

How the Spirit of Ecstasy is made

Until 1939, each Spirit of Ecstasy was made by Sykes, who hand polished each one. Given Rolls-Royce’s limited production, this wasn’t tough. Yet they are still made the way Sykes made them, using the lost-wax process, also known as cire-perdue. It’s a procedure that dates from the third millennium B.C.

The lost-wax process is a form of metal casting that starts with a wax model used to create a mold. Once the mold is made, the wax model is melted away, and molten metal is poured into the mold. 

Eleanor Thornton, a model and exotic dancer, who posed for sculptor Charles Sykes, creator of the Spirit of Ecstasy.

Not the first change

According to Rolls-Royce, this is not the first time the brand has tinkered with its mascot. 

The original 1911 mascot was 6 7/8 inches tall. By the 1960s, she had changed eight times and then measured a more petite 4 5/16 inches tall. The distance from her nose to the tip of her outstretched robes shrank proportionally, from 5 inches to three.

There have also been subtle variations in her base shape, stance and precise inclination of her robes. And, from 1934 until 1959, buyers could choose a kneeling Spirit of Ecstasy.

The new version created for the Spectre will appear on all future models. The current design will continue to be seen on the Phantom, Ghost, Wraith, Dawn and Cullinan and their Black Badge variants. Today, they are made by specialists in Southampton, England,

The people who would create an icon

While modern automotive mascots are rare, a victim of fashion and the quest for ever-better aerodynamics, they were once common on many automobiles, particularly luxury cars.

Spirit of Ecstasy creator Charles Sykes, with his daughter, made and hand polished every Spirit of Ecstasy mascot through 1939.

Some survive, such as the Mercedes-Benz star, while others, such as Jaguar’s leaping cat and the Cadillac crest, have disappeared. Yet the story of the Spirit of Ecstasy’s birth is fascinating.

It begins with freelance journalist and motoring enthusiast John Montagu, a cash-starved aristocrat, who established “The Car Illustrated,” Britain’s first car magazine, hiring artist Charles Sykes as his chief illustrator. 

Not long after that, he meets Eleanor Thornton, an assistant to his friend Claude Johnson at The Automobile Club, offering her a job as the magazine’s office manager. It’s not long before Montagu and Thornton begin a 13-year affair, despite a 14-year age difference.

Clearly, Thornton is no angel. When not working in an office she’s an exotic dancer and does life modeling. One of her clients is Sykes, who produced a mascot for Montagu’s Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost of a young woman in fluttering robes with a forefinger to her lips. Sykes uses Eleanor as the model for the aluminum statuette, which he dubs, “The Whisper.”

A mascot is born

Sir Henry Royce hated radiator mascots, including the Spirit of Ecstasy.

In 1910, Henry Royce is frustrated by the plethora of tasteless hood ornaments adorning Rolls-Royces. Claude Johnson, managing director of Rolls-Royce, suggests they create their own mascot that would enhance a Rolls-Royce and prevent such atrocities. Royce grudgingly agrees. Johnson commissions Charles Sykes to create it.

Johnson wants something that looks like. The “Nike of Samothrace,” a Grecian statue sculpted in 190 B.C. and exhibited in the Louvre, in Paris. But Sykes thought it wasn’t right. He wanted something more delicate an ethereal.

Sykes knew what the company wanted; it had been conveyed in a letter. The mascot should convey, “the spirit of the Rolls-Royce — namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy, a beautiful living organism of superb grace like a sailing yacht.”  

And while Syke’s statue contained the form of Eleanor Thornton, the face was that of his mother. Once completed, Rolls-Royce registered the mascot, which it called the Spirit of Ecstasy, as its intellectual property in 1911.

But neither of the company’s founders endorsed it. Sir Henry Royce disliked mascots of any kind; and The Honorable Charles Stewart Rolls died in a flying accident in June 1910, so he never saw it.

But buying a Rolls-Royce didn’t ensure you’d get the mascot. It was an option through 1939. Only 40% of the 20,000 cars sold during that time came with one. Since then, many subsequent owners have added them.

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