The Rolls-Royce Hood Ornament

“The Spirit of Ecstasy” depicts a woman leaning forwards with her arms stretched behind her. The way her clothing flows on her arms, it looks like she actually has wings. It’s an iconic symbol of luxury and elegance.

Lord Montagu (full name and title: John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, Second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu), a British politician and motoring enthusiast, commissioned his friend, sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes, to design a hood ornament for his 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Lord Montague told Sykes to fashion something that would embody “speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace.” Sykes choose Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a British model and actress as his inspiration for the “The Whisper,” which was the first version of what we’ve come to know today as “The Spirit of Ecstasy.” Only a few models of “The Whisper” were made and very few survived. Today you can admire one at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England. It looks a bit different than “The Spirit of Ecstasy” but you can easily see the resemblance and the clear evolution of the design.

Claude Johnson, the managing director of Rolls-Royce saw the amulet designed by Sykes and asked him to design one that could live on the hood of the Rolls-Royce. Johnson was looking for a figure that could convey the spirit of the car brand.

The figure has had 11 redesigns, names and size adaptations. It has also been known as “The Whisper” as well as “The Spirit of Speed.” Casually it’s known as “Emily”, “Silver Lady”, and “Flying Lady.” It’s been synonymous with the marque British brand since 1920. In the beginning, it was an option and by the 1920s it was standard.

Kneeling versions were introduced for sports cars and the current version has a luxury defense mechanism – if anyone applies any pressure to the ornament, which is mounted on a spring-loaded mechanism, the car immediately retracts the figure into the radiator shell of the hood. The driver can also raise or lower “The Spirit of Ecstasy” mascot with the touch of a button, to ensure its safety. This feature has been standard on Rolls-Royce cars since 2003. (The 2020 Bentley Flying Spur will copy this feature so it ensures none of their Flying B’s are stolen). Originally “The Spirit of Ecstasy” was silver-plated but by 1914 the composite was changed to nickel or chrome to prevent thefts. Today’s models have been digitally sculpted to resemble Thornton.

Today “The Spirit of Ecstasy” can be stainless steel, 24-karat gold, illuminated frosted crystal, or even matte black and studded with diamonds. Take a look below at some of the available options!

Spirit of Ecstasy coated in silver chrome. Cost: $1,500-$2,000

Polycarbon version. Cost: $15,000

24 karat gold version. Cost: $16,000

Spirit of Ecstasy in diamonds. Cost: $200,000


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