Rolls Royce – the “Spirit of Ecstasy”

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It was 1904 when Charles Rolls and Henry Royce produced their first car, a twin cylinder Rolls Royce 10hp. Charles Rolls studied the chassis being made by Henry Royce, who had a reputation for building quality, long lasting engines, and had the foresight to add bigger engines to the frames Royce was building. This led to 3, 4 and 6 cylinder engine configurations which were paired with the Royce 10hp. Later in 1906 Rolls Royce Limited was established and the brand continues to be recognized as an icon in constructing superior luxurious automobiles. Charles Rolls, after three years having focused on the motor car, decided to pursue his passion in aviation.

Rolls Royce cars did not initially have a hood ornament. It was simply the recognizable RR boldly engraved on the grille. An owner of a Rolls Royce named John Montagu wanted to dress up the top of his prominent radiator and commissioned Charles Sykes to construct a hood ornament. If the name Eleanor Velasco Thornton doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry, it didn’t for me either. But you should know the “The Whisper” hood ornament elegantly displayed on the bonnet of the Rolls Royce was modeled after her. Eleanor was a 22 year old secretary who worked for the weekly British automotive publication named “The Car Illustrated” which was edited by John Montagu. Montagu was married and from a prominent family in England. However, Montagu fell in love with Eleanor who bore him a daughter, given up for adoption so as not to expose their affair that remained secret for nearly 10 years. Montagu wanted his hood ornament to be modeled after his lover Eleanor. The first Rolls Royce hood ornament was that of a woman with her finger to her lips alluding to the secret of her affair with Montagu. Known as “The Whisper,’” as it sat atop the radiator of early Rolls Royce models.

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It is widely believed the most expensive “Spirit of Ecstasy” hood ornament, made of platinum and diamonds, was valued at $350,000.00. The pricy hood ornament retracts automatically behind the elegant grill and is a standard feature on all modern Rolls Royce cars since 2004 to prevent the ornament being stolen.

Regrettably at the young age of 32, Charles Rolls was tragically killed in a flying accident when the tail of his plane broke off and plummeted to the ground. Henry Royce, passed away at age 70 after an illness. Madam Eleanor Thornton, the model for “The Whisper” and the “Spirit of Ecstasy,” while on the S.S. Persia, accompanied by her lover Montagu, drowned after their boat was struck by a German U-boat. Montagu survived the sinking and lived to be 62.


Jason Paynter is a classic car appraiser, collector and unabashed enthusiast. He is also author of the book, Drop, Throttle, Oversteer: Collecting & Investing in Classic Cars, available at Amazon. He lives in Louisville, KY with his beautiful wife and three sons who are (heaven help him) of driving age. Jason is also a certified appraiser and would be more than happy to assist in helping valuate your collection or answer any of your questions about cars. Email him at jason@gdherring.com.

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