On this day in history : 6th February 1911 – “The Spirit of Ecstasy” – the official Rolls Royce mascot – is unveiled…. It was originally inspired by an illicit love-affair….

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Spirit of Ecstasy on a Rolls Royce Corniche – User Jed, own work CC BY-SA 3.0

The first Rolls Royce motorcars had no mascot – all that adorned them was the ‘RR’ emblem of the company…. It was Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, a keen motoring pioneer and enthusiast, who commissioned the first mascot for his own car…. He turned to sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes, a graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, to design it for him…. Sykes modelled the mascot on a beautiful woman by the name of Eleanor Velasco Thornton – who also happened to be Montagu’s mistress…. Sykes designed the mascot with a finger placed to her lips, to indicate a secret – referring to their love affair…. The mascot became known as ‘The Whisperer’….

The pair had met in 1902, when Montagu was editor of ‘The Car Illustrated’ magazine…. Eleanor was his 22-year-old secretary – and they fell in love…. For over a decade their affair remained a secret, known only to a few close friends…. She was from a humble background, he from aristocracy – and he was married…. Montagu and Eleanor even had a daughter, who was given up for adoption….

Montagu had set a trend by having a mascot on his automobile – soon it was to become the must have accessory for any well-heeled Rolls Royce owner….

Rolls Royce became concerned that inappropriate mascots may be used to adorn their cars – so managing director Claude Johnson approached Sykes to produce a mascot that could be used on all future cars…. It had to reflect ‘the spirit of Rolls Royce’…. It was to include ‘speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace’….

Once again Sykes modelled his mascot on Eleanor, modifying his original version…. He called his new model ‘The Spirit of Speed’….later describing it as ‘A graceful little goddess, the spirit of ecstasy’…. Claude Johnson seized on this and so the mascot became known as ‘The Spirit of Ecstasy’…. Although there have been modifications and variations over the years The Spirit of Ecstasy still adorns the Rolls Royce today….

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Side view (1972 Silver Shadow) – NoslivRage – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

As for Eleanor and Montagu….it is a rather sad end to their love story…. In 1915 they were onboard SS Persia travelling to India…. On the 30th of December the ship, which had reached the Mediterranean, was torpedoed without warning by a German U-boat…. Eleanor and hundreds of others drowned – and at first it was believed Montagu had perished too – but he survived and was found adrift in a life raft a few days later….

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