Originally called the “Spirit of Speed”, the “Spirit of Ecstasy” as it is now known first appeared on the top of a Rolls-Royce radiator in 1911.
The inspiration for the Spirit of Ecstasy was commissioned by the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu. He asked his friend Charles Sykes to design the mascot, which is thought to be modelled on Eleanor Velasco Thornton who was the secretary and lover of the Baron Montagu. This first figurine was named “The Whisper” and depicted a young woman in flowing robes placing one forefinger to her lips.
Rolls-Royce were keen to design their own mascot because some Rolls-Royce owners were commissioning their own designs, which were not always in keeping with the ethos of the company. So Rolls-Royce’s Claude Johnson (often known as the hyphen in the name Rolls-Royce) commissioned Sykes to create the now infamous “Spirit of Ecstasy”. Johnson described how Sykes had sought to convey his design, “the spirit of ecstasy, who has selected road travel as her supreme delight… she is expressing her keen enjoyment, with her arms outstretched and her sight fixed upon the distance.”
Coincidentally, the spirit of ecstasy as pictured above is photographed from the Baron’s own 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom I, taken at the National Motor Museum Beaulieu. The 2nd Baron was a very keen motoring enthusiast and was the inspiration for the museum.
The Spirit of Ecstasy is also nicknamed as “Nelly in her Nighty” were all silver-plated until 1914 and most now are made from stainless-steel, although silver and gold statuettes can still be ordered.
Later Rolls-Royce’s, like the new Phantom are fitted with retractable statuettes which can be raised or lowered by the touch of a button to help protect Nelly from theft or damage.
The original mould for the Spirit of Ecstasy had become worn, which had lost some of the detail of the figurine. So using computer technology, along with old photographs of Thornton herself, the legendary figurine was recreated, restoring the lost detail to the Spirit of Ecstasy that sits atop the latest generation of Phantom.