Rolls-Royce cars: The most famous car emblem for 110 years, symbolizes the story of a secret passion

The most famous car emblem, which has been paving the roads on the Rolls-Royce cars radiators for 110 years, symbolizes the story of a secret passion. It all started as a typical incident in the Red Library, but the end was tragic. What actually happened?

Recently, 110 years have passed since the scantily clad lady's sculpture was officially registered as Rolls-Royce's intellectual property. For this jubilee, the carmaker does not publicly publish anything about the spicy background of the creation of probably the most famous car emblem, known as the Spirit of Ecstasy, Flying Lady, or Emily.

Even after more than a hundred years, the British maintain the decor, and many customers may not even know that they are carrying a symbol of 13 years of marital infidelity on the front of their car.

The secret symbol of lovers

When the British motoring promoter and Rolls-Royce lover Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (1866-1929) bought his second Silver Ghost in 1910, he decided to have his radiator decorated with a personal symbol. At the beginning of the last century, similar statuettes were in vogue.

Lord Montagu, therefore, asked sculptor and illustrator Charles Robinson Sykes, who co-wrote his motoring magazine The Car Illustrated, to create a young woman sculpture. The prototype was to be his personal secretary and mistress Eleanor Velasco Thornton, with whom he even had an illegitimate daughter, Joan.

The charming young woman was the artist's muse because before that he had created several sculptures and drawings inspired by her. According to Eleanor, who allegedly posed for him in his nightgown, Sykes modeled a bronze statue of a scantily clad woman with a fluttering robe and forefinger on her lips. He called it The Whisper, which was supposed to symbolize the secret of this love affair.

Eleanor, the mistress who made it to the hoods of luxury cars. | Photo: Rolls-Royce
Eleanor, the mistress who made it to the hoods of luxury cars. | Photo: Rolls-Royce

At all Rolls-Royce cars

At the time, one of the brand's founders, Charles Rolls, who had a hard time carrying some of the tacky creations the owners had had on the radiators of his great cars, decided to get Rolls-Royce CEO Claude Goodman Johnson to come up with a universal solution.

And the born esthete Johnson designed a statue of the goddess of victory Nike. However, this solution did not seem optimal to Sykes due to its robustness. In the end, this graduate of the Royal College of Art in London decided on a more subtle design inspired by both Nike and especially the mascot of the Lord's car.

The result was a statuette of a lady with a fluttering dress and her wings outstretched behind her. Sykes called it the Spirit of Speed, but the speed of these stately representative cars was never about it, so Johnson coined the name Spirit of Ecstasy. Initially, it was an optional accessory, but in practice, they were equipped in practice with almost all cars, and so the famous statuette became the standard equipment of all Rolls-Royce cars from 1912.

From silver and gold, the statuette has existed in a number of modifications over the years, even with a kneeling lady. The gradual reduction in the height of the body forced it to be reduced, and as a result, several modifications were made to the original design. Originally measuring 18 cm, today it is only 9.5 cm. On the modern, sportier Wraith model, the mascot on the bow was even tilted five degrees forward to increase dynamics.

Between 1911 and 1914, the sculpture was made of silver, then to deter potential thieves, it was only silver-plated with a base of a mixture of zinc, copper, nickel, and tin. However, a gilded version was created, which even won a competition for the most interesting mascot in Paris in 1920.

After locking the car, the statuette "slides" under the surface so as not to attract relentless hands. | Photo: Rolls-Royce
After locking the car, the statuette "slides" under the surface so as not to attract relentless hands. | Photo: Rolls-Royce

Until 1939, Sykes and his daughter Josephine cast the statues themselves in their London workshop, using the traditional, over the 5,000-year-old method of lost wax. It consists of making a precise wax master, which is coated with a special non-flammable material. After heating to a temperature above 1000 ° C, the wax flowed out of it and molten metal was poured into the mold through the same opening. After cooling and removing the outer shell, the casting was carefully polished. This practice was maintained by the British brand until 1999.

Then, in cooperation with a specialized company from Southampton, it introduced a modern casting process. Using a computer, a three-dimensional model of the statuette was created and then its highly accurate wax model, which enabled the creation of a special form. Today, each statuette is created by filling this mold with stainless steel melted at a temperature of 1600 ° C.

Once the steel has cooled, the mold is opened and, after cooling, the final treatment is carried out by a process called peening. The casting is blasted with millions of stainless steel balls with a diameter of only 0.04 mm, which helps to polish the surface without disturbing it. After further necessary modifications, the statuette undergoes strict quality control and is ready for mounting on the iconic mask of Rolls-Royce cars.

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Symbols of luxury and prestige are now manufactured from polished stainless steel, but customers can also have a statue and a silver-plated or gold-plated or equal to the whole of these materials. It depends on the customer, there are no limits. Individual adjustments from specialized companies are no exception, such as the one set with diamonds for $ 350,000.

In recent years, Rolls-Royce has begun to offer backlit versions for new generations of its cars. In the latest version, the statuette also existed in the polycarbonate version, when the blue saltpeter illuminated it. It was first introduced in 2011 on the 102EX electrical concept, but last year it fell victim to political correctness.

The European Union has issued a regulation restricting light pollution, and the Rolls-Royce brand has decided not only to no longer offer it, but also to immediately replace it with a metal version on all cars already sold.

In the 1970s, some countries even tried to ban the mascot altogether for security reasons. In Switzerland, for example, customers were not allowed to have it in the car and received it in a glove compartment upon receipt.

Rolls-Royce, therefore, decided to solve this matter with a spring mechanism, which ensured that at the slightest contact it slides under the surface in a flash. Cars still have this function today, in addition, the statue is hidden even after it is locked and can be hidden from inside the car by pressing a button.

Charles Rolls did not live to see the tragic end of his great love with the statuettes in his cars, he died in a plane crash and his companion Henry Royce never accepted the statuette on the radiator again, as it seemed to him disrupting the overall line of the cars. Therefore, she never appeared in his private cars.

And the lord and his mistress? Even this story does not have a happy ending. In 1915, Lord Montagu was ordered to serve his homeland in India, and Eleanor Thornton accompanied him there.

On the penultimate day of the year, the German ship SS Persia was torpedoed by a German submarine U-38 on its way across the Mediterranean Sea south of Crete without warning. While Lord Montagu accidentally saved himself, his mistress perished. He held her in his arms, but a strong stream of water smirked, and Eleanor, unfortunately, died, along with several hundred other passengers. The Lord survived her by only 14 years.

So the water in the Mediterranean was literally closed over a secret love affair, which at the time was known only to a small circle of friends. But in the form of a "flying lady", Eleanor lives on in these aristocratic cars, as only the only ones have a statuette on the hood as standard to this day.

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