The Story Behind the Spirit of Ecstasy Mascot



It is one of the most exquisite car mascots in the world, a work of art in its own right.

The miniature sculpture is the work of Charles Robinson Sykes, but who was his beautiful subject?


Nobody knows for certain. Most evidence points to the model being Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a vivacious beauty who posed for Sykes on many occasions in the early 20th century. If this is true, the mascot also represents a very romantic and ultimately tragic story.


Eleanor worked as Claude Johnson’s secretary at the Automobile Club at the end of the 19th century. Motoring was in its infancy and it was an exciting time to be involved. In 1900, the Automobile Club's held the Thousand Miles Trial which was designed to prove to cynics the general safety and reliability of motor cars under a variety of conditions. Taking part in this was the dashing John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott Montagu, who became the second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu in 1905. He had had a passion for cars from the very first days of their introduction to England and was an advocate of motoring interests to Parliament in these early years. Eleanor became his secretary and his mistress. Due to the difference in their social standing, there was no way they could marry and their affair remained secret except to their closest friends.


The Whisper and the Spirit

In May 1902, Montagu founded the weekly magazine Car Illustrated, which Charles Rolls was a contributor to. He also opened the new Rolls-Royce factory at Derby in 1908 and owned a Silver Ghost. It was for this car that Montagu commissioned a one-off mascot from Charles Sykes.

The model was Eleanor and the figure was called The Whisper - the woman has her fingers to her lips as if to tell the onlooker to help her keep a secret.

Such was the popularity of the mascot fad that people were attaching all kinds of things to their cars: golliwogs, toy policemen, etc. Claude Johnson, now general managing director of Rolls-Royce Ltd and Eleanor’s old boss, decided to commission an official mascot for Rolls-Royce. This would ensure that the mascot was in keeping with the overall style and quality of the car. Charles Sykes was once again the man chosen to create it and The Spirit of Ecstasy bears many similarities to The Whisper. Although initially offered as an optional extra from February 1911, in practice, the Spirit adorned almost all Rolls-Royce motor cars from that day onwards.


Tragedy strikes

The story does not have a happy ending, however. In 1915, Eleanor and Montagu were sailing back to India through the Mediterranean on the SS Persia when it was torpedoed by a U-boat. Eleanor was drowned.


Montagu was devastated but could not publicly mourn her death. They had a daughter together but she was fostered and Montagu was only ever known to her as “uncle”.

The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu was created in memory of Montagu and his passion for cars, but perhaps the most lasting memorial to the two of them is the “Silver Lady” on the bonnet of every Rolls-Royce in the world.