The Spirit of Ecstasy

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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Morgan Cars

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It may be seen as era specific, but back in the 1940’s, as any Hollywood movie will attest the “half timbered” car was not at all unusual. The huge eight seater Chrysler Town and Country dating from 1941 is perhaps, in many ways, the most iconic example of the Woodie, partly as it became the surfer’s station-wagon of choice. Wood was used as opposed to metal both for budget as well as design reasons. Others had equally evocative names the Pontiac Torpedo, the Nash Suburban and the Buick Roadmaster.

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In 1950’s railway carriages – particularly in France – were made of wood. Solid wood furniture was made up to the 1960’s ahead of “advancements” such as Formica. The surrounds of a Butler’s Sinks in any self respecting 1940’s scullery were always wood.

I recently saw publicity shot for a country house hotel that had a bright green Morris 1000 Traveller in the front drive. Denoting no doubt, that in addition to highly anticipated, hot and cold running water, the hotel would spare no expense to transport its guests back to a drafty era that creaked on the bends. The Traveller – for which I have great affection – was launched in October 1953 and was based on the Sir Alec Issigonis’ – the designer of the Mini – see our earlier piece here – Mini – the best selling car in Britain Morris Minor that debuted in September 1948.

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So let’s be clear that the use of wood in car manufacturer – quite literally – “Went Out With The Ark”. Or did it?

I am fascinated by Morgan Cars, above all, for their quintessential Englishness. They have character and cannot be ignored when assessing iconic sports cars. They also continue to have a waiting list that at times has exceeded ten years but is said to currently be around six months.

Founded in 1910 by Henry FS Morgan in Malvern (Worcestershire, England) who ran the business until his death in 1959 at the age of 77. In 1911, Morgan started building affordable – they attracted a lower road tax as they were treated as motorcycles  – and stable three wheelers. An early version of the three wheeler was shown at the 1911 Motor Cycle Show and Harrod’s took an agency to sell them in London priced at £65.

My family legend has my late father (a Brooklands Circuit Trustee until his death in 1991) being nearly totalled in a three wheeler driven by his school pal and the UK’s first Formula One World Championship (1958), Mike Hawthorn.

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By 1935, in response to more realistically priced four wheeled cars, including Ford’s Popular, the more familiar Morgan “4-4” – four cylinders and four wheels – and Morgan’s first four-wheeled car, was launched at a price of £194. A four seater model was released in 1937 and in 1938 a four seater drop-head version was launched. In 1938 a 4-4 was entered for Le Mans. World War II intervened and production stopped until 1950 when an in-line four cylinder Standard Vanguard engine was used.

The company continues to be 100% family owned and produces more than 1300 cars annually that are all assembled by hand. Unusually, Morgan – despite some run-ins with the Health and Safety guys – particularly in the USA – continue to build their cars with an Ash wooden frame and body shell – the chassis being, of course, metal.

The Plus4 Morgan models launched in 1953, 1956 and 1968 used the Triumph TR2, TR3 and TR4A engines. See our previous post here – Triumph TR2, TR3 and TR4

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In 1955 production of the 4-4 was revived with the Plus8 chassis and a Ford engine.

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In 1968, Morgan used the Rover V8 (later the Land Rover version) Engine – delivering much better acceleration – to launch the Morgan Plus8 – our featured image – and my favourite Morgan. This model was fazed out in 2004.

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The Morgan Aero 8 was first introduced in 2002 and went through a series of incarnations with the most recent iteration being launched in 2015.

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The Aero 8 was followed in 2008 by the Aeromax that was limited to 100 units. A targa-roofed version, the Aero SuperSports, was launched in 2009 but production ceased in 2015. An Aero Coupe, hard topped version of the SuperSports, was launched in 2011 and withdrawn in 2015.

Whilst a great condition Morgan Plus8 can now fetch a King’s Ransom why not place this scale model die-cast on your shelf. Please click the link below the image

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MORGAN PLUS EIGHT MODEL CAR 1:43 SCALE GREEN CARARAMA SPORTS OPEN TOP K8

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Photo credits – with grateful thanks – Charles Ware’s http://www.morrisminor.org.uk/40-traveller-wood, Hemmings and Richard Thorpe Classic Cars.

 

Sunbeam Alpine – Bond’s first car

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My son and I are huge fans of the British produced magazine “Classic & Sports Car” – said to be the “World’s Best-Selling Classic Car Magazine”. It’s a monthly romp through some of the glorious cars built over the last, say, 75 years, with “barn finds” and restoration stories returning classic cars to pristine condition. This month it featured the Sunbeam Tiger – in its “Case Histories – We Test The Classics That You Can Buy” section – the predecessor to the ever cute, wire wheeled, two seater Sunbeam Alpine.

The Sunbeam Alpine was first launched in 1953 by the Rootes Group – featuring names acquired from take overs of other motoring marques – but in 1956 it was substantially redesigned by Kenneth Howes and Jeff Crompton, as a sports car aimed at the US market where it was a hit.

The total production run of the Sunbeam Alpine, which ended in 1968 following the takeover of Rootes Group by Chrysler, was around 70,000 vehicles.

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Its movie star good looks saw the Sunbeam Alpine take a leading role in several movies:  In 1955 a metallic green Sunbeam Alpine Mk I – a more bulky coach-built Grand Tourer version of the parred down post 1956 “Series” models – was seen driven by the beautiful and white gloved, Grace Kelly in “To Catch A Thief” with Cary Grant;

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In 1962 a white walled tyre, lake blue Sunbeam Alpine Series II was seen as a first “Bond Car” when in the story it was rented and driven by James Bond in “Dr No” – it is said that it was the only suitable vehicle for such a movie to be found on the island of Jamaica. It’s said to be the “first” Bond car as it was the first car Bond drove that was neither supplied by his superiors/Q or commandeered from an unsuspecting bystander;

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In the 1971 film “Get Carter” starring Michael Caine a 1968 Sunbeam Alpine was driven by an dark haired accomplice who rescued Caine’s character.

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Finally, in the 1966 film “The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery”, George Cole’s character “Flash Harry” drove a crimson Sunbeam Alpine.

Would a Kindle subscription to Classic and Sports Car be a fantastic gift for yourself or someone close to you? If so, if you live in the UK, click the following link and add at least 12 months of huge pleasure to any Petrol Head! Classic & Sports Car

Ok so a fully restored, Concourse Condition Sunbeam Alpine may be a bit pricey, so why not “Get the T shirt” by clicking the following AMAZON link CafePress – Sunbeam Alpine V – 100% Cotton T-Shirt or add a die cast model of James Bond’s Sunbeam Alpine to your collection by clicking the following AMAZON link Sunbeam Alpine, blau, James Bond 007, 1962, Modellauto, Fertigmodell, SpecialC.-007 1:43

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