The Spirit of Ecstasy

449A26D6-7E29-4A46-BB11-52AE62F7EBE6

I saw a program on TV recently about the Bentley Bentayga, the new signature 4×4 developed by the luxury brand to appeal to a new market and selling at significantly over $200,000. The iconic Jack Barclay showroom in London’s Berkeley Square has been updated to cater for this new market with an extensive and slightly brutal makeover.

I don’t want to sound at all grumpy old bloke about this development, the car certainly does look refined and comfortable, albeit that it could be easily mistaken for an Audi Q7, but I get a little worried by the need for brands to extend – to reach out to a new market.  Arguably the brand needs updating but should they resist the temptation to simply following the crowd? Or is it that these cars are intended to be highly aspirational but are simply not special enough.

9B00084E-8D8E-4641-AD57-D6CA9890F21D

The Bentley “B” on the bonnet is still in place but the bonnet ornament – the chrome winged “B” is no longer – almost certainly for good Health and Safety, if not aerodynamic, reasons. Sadly, it seems a thing of the past. Well not for all manufacturers …and being fair the winged “B” does appear on the bonnet of the beautiful Bentley Mulsanne.

B94D97F0-5220-40E4-B986-1D878518954D

Originally conceived as a way of making a dull radiator cover more attractive only Rolls-Royce and Mercedes seem to continue the fine tradition of bonnet ornaments. The most iconic of these pieces of classic automobilia is, of course, The Spirit of Ecstasy.

In 1909 the then Lord Montagu of Beaulieu – a family inextricably linked to the world of motor cars and the founder of The Car Illustrated – sought something distinctive for the bonnet of his new Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. He commissioned sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to produce a limited run of four figurines that became known as “The Whisperer”.

Some myth and legend surrounds the model, the sculptur’s muse, but it is said to be the Lord’s secret love, Eleanor Velasco Thornton, a Secretary from his office. Ms Thornton is depicted in flowing robes with her index-finger to her lips, perhaps keeping their love a secret? The affair is rumored to have endured for over ten years.

2ADD6CA3-78FB-448A-AC7E-C1F2A67B28EC

By 1910 Rolls-Royce took a “dim view” as to the appropriateness of these ornaments and co-founder, Claude Johnson, commissioned Sykes to invoke the mythical beauty of Nike – the Goddess of Victory – to produce a dignified and graceful mascot. Sykes wasn’t so impressed by the brief but preferred to deliver the beautiful, “The Spirit of Ecstasy”.

It was a clear variation of The Whisperer but Johnson was very pleased with Sykes’ creation on its arrival in February 1911. Royce, however, who was then ill, felt it disturbed the driver’s view!

F1570BC8-02FE-4462-AFAE-318F67D4A9F9

Initially an optional extra by the early 1920’s the figurine was fitted as standard. Given changes to coach-work various versions of The Spirit of Ecstasy were used and in the 1934 Sykes was again commissioned to produce a kneeling version for the Phantom iV.

1349BFD0-FF41-4D66-89CE-66C0DB3A4330

As of 2003 – the Phantom model and all subsequent versions carrying a reduced the Spirit of Ecstasy only 3 inches tall and mounted onot a spring-loaded cradle that retracts when hit or the engine is turned off. Some years and a smart use of technology resulted in this retractable mount that clearly suggests Rolls-Royce’s determination to ensure the longevity of their iconic sculpture.

Whilst the majority are stainless steel a frosted crystal, illuminated version is a factory option.

82FA5C84-5280-42F9-9F27-5779AA174E03

Images with grateful thanks – Tim Bishop, Jill Reger, Banham’s and Rolls-Royce Motors

If you like this post please “Like” and share it with your friends and colleagues. We’d really like to hear of your experiences of the products/subjects featured in this post. please share them below in the “Leave a Reply” section. Thanks 

Mini – the best selling car in Britain

IMG_0121

Relatively few of us can actually remember the Sixties, there are, however, true icons that were spawned in the era of Pop Culture that have grown in popularity with the passing of time. They have cemented their place in world’s consciousness like no marketing campaign could ever achieve.

One such revered treasure is British Motor Corporation’s (BMC) truly iconic “Mini”.

A crumb of comfort to all budding design geniuses the Mini’s designer, Sir Alec Issigonis’, during his Engineering studies at the Battersea Polytechnic failed his maths paper three times. Despite this his skills were recognised by both Austin and Morris where he was employed in the late 1930’s – working on a predecessor to the Morris Minor – prior to their fusion into BMC in 1952.

After a brief stint with Alvis, in 1955 Issigonis left at the invitation of BMC’s boss Sir Leonard Lord to work with a small design team on three new designs. With the Suez Crisis in 1956 the project was scaled down to concentrate on a small car code-named XC/9003. The result was a transverse four cylinder water cooled engine and front-wheel drive which allowed a greater percentage of the car to be used for passengers. The car also featured a down-scaled rubber cone suspension system designed by Alex Moulton (the eponymous bicycle designer).

Mini 1

In August 1959, the car was launched as two models, the Morris Mini Minor – the first bearing registration “621 AOK” – and the Austin Seven (later to be known as “the Austin Mini”). Issigonis’ design was initially manufactured at Longbridge and Cowley – BMC’s plants – and later made under license all over the world.  The Mini become the best selling British car in history with a production run of over 5.3 million cars.

IMG_0123

Variants included the Clubman, Traveller, the half-timbered Countryman, the Moke, Reilly Elf, Wolseley Hornet and the sizzling 1275GT.

IMG_0120

Moke 1

Performance versions, the Mini Cooper and Cooper “S”, were realised by Issigonis in collaboration with John Cooper who specialised in designing and maintaining racing cars. Cooper saw the potential in these small cars that drove like a go-kart on ten inch Dunlop tyres. They were hugely successful winning the Monte Carlo Rally three times.

IMG_0119

In 1969, a coup for early product placement, Mini’s were seen being triumphant in the film “The Italian Job” – alongside Michael Caine and Noel Coward – Aston Martin DB4/DB5

Mini Psycho 2

My wife’s first car was a resprayed – from gold to red – and treasured Mini that was stolen in Streatham (South London, UK) in the early 1990’s much to her sadness.

In the mid-1970’s my Aunt Molly, simply one of the coolest people I have ever known, had a Harvest Gold version. She and her husband had lived in South Kensington and holidayed in Juan Les Pins. She wore Pringle and Ferragamo but Todds to drive in.

IMG_0126

BMW acquired the Rover Group (formerly British Leyland – the successor to BMC) in 1994 and sold-on most of it to other manufacturers, retaining the rights to build cars using the “Mini” name.

The last Mini – a red Cooper Sport – to made in Longbridge was built in October 2000.

IMG_0125

The later re-imagination of the Mini brand by BMW would have been inconceivable without the role played by the original but BMW are certainly making the most of its heritage. Launched in 2001, under the masterful eyes of designer, Frank Stephenson, the early designs of the “New Mini” embraced much of the retro feel of its predecessor and has certainly achieved the status of a classic design. Only time will tell if it achieves a similar iconic status in its own right.

Mini Con Cooper

If you liked this post please “Like” and share it with your friends. We’d really like to hear your experiences of the subject(s) featured in this post. Please share them below in the “Leave a Reply” section. Thanks

Images courtesy of BMW and others.