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1911 Spirit of Ecstasy

At the turn of the century in England, there was a certain, Charles Sykers, offspring of an artistically gifted family. Their respective independent incomes and his own talent, made it possible for him to study at the London Royal College of Art in South-Kensington. During his three years there, he was trained by experts to be an all-rounder.

The family was of course, hoping for his return to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Sykers however, decided to remain in London. From his first engagement, someone still owed him money and instead of paying, the debtor introduced him to John Montagu, who from 1902 onwards, was the publisher of the weekly appearing magazine 'The Car Illustrated'.

John Montagu was a member of a famous aristocratic family, in the eighteenth century, as the 4th Earl, it was said that he invented the sandwich, even today there is a representative bearing the same name in the House of Lords, although in the meantime, their number has been reduced and they are now elected in by ballot. In this case however, we're dealing with John Edward Scott-Montegu, who excelled at college as a member of the rowing team and later, particularly as a politician. Indeed, in the first place, he appeared to be a motor car buff.

He was married to Lady Cecil Kerr, whom he cheated on by taking a mistress. At first she worked for him as a secretary and later as his personal assistant. It is not recorded, how often she was present in the business premises on Piccadilly Circus in the heart of London. Apparently, the public kept quiet about this relationship, out of which, a daughter was born.

Her name was Eleanor Velasco Thornton, and she is particularly interesting for this story, not only because she stood model for Charles Syker's bonnet ornament, the Spirit of Ecstasy, but also on a number of other occasions. Sykers worked for the new Car-Magazine and through artistically impressive illustrations, helped to raise the level of the publication to that of their select clientele.

Also over and above Syker's activities for the magazine, through Montegu's sponsoring, he had plenty of opportunities to prove his talents. Thus, he also created the cup donated by Montegu for the Gordon Bennet races in Ireland in 1903 and also several other medals as racing trophies. Greek mythology always played a role in his works.

Montegu's closeness to Rolls-Royce was carried over to Syker, who was a frequent passenger and on a number of occasions, he put the Silver Ghost on canvas. Thus, it was no surprise that his artistry soon adorned the Rolls-Royce pamphlet. On the occasion of one particularly fast and comfortable trip, Charles Sykers said that he had the impression of an elf, which could float along with them on the bonnet of the car, without losing its balance.

Now, how did the commissioning of the bonnet-figure come about? In 1910, Charles Rolls suffered a fatal accident and Henry Royce was apparently, opposed to the idea of disturbing the silhouette of the vehicle. There was however, a necessity because certain Rolls-Royce users, up to that point, were disfiguring their bonnets with the most obnoxious creations.

We'll probably never know for sure, whether Eleanor Thornton really posed as the model. Apparently there is a photograph where she and the figure appear together, indeed, what does that prove? She was also supposed to have touched the figure's lips with a finger, to demonstrate how smoothly the engine ran, something that for which not only the first Rolls-Royces were famous. This however, contradicts the theory that the first figures were called 'The spirit of speed' and only afterwards did the company emphasize more their smoothness than their speed.

It can be proved however, that from 1934 onwards, to improve the view to the front and from the safety aspect, the figure was depicted in a kneeling position, then right up to the present day, there is a smaller Spirit of Ecstasy (please don't call it 'Emily'. In the meantime, the figure disappears into the radiator grille to prevent it from being stolen. As a post scriptum, the fate of Eleanor Thornton should be mentioned, she drowned in the Mediterranean Sea together with several hundred others after their ship was attacked by a German submarine. Montegu himself survived the attack.

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