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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Freeplay Radio

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The words “ethical” and “sustainable” are in many ways the cornerstones of a new order that seeks to put others above self and to provide real solutions for those problems that cannot be solved at the flick of a switch. Just try to imagine the impact on your corner of this world without running water, sanitation or ready access to 24 hour electricity?

“Tomorrow’s World” was an excellent BBC TV programme that featured gadgets, devices and reports about evolving technologies and new inventions. An episode in April 1994 carried a report on the work Trevor Baylis, a British inventor, who had designed a “Clockwork Radio” with a windup mainspring prompted by the need to deliver clear health information to the population of Africa about to threat from the AIDS epidemic.

Christopher Staines was watching and realized the potential of Baylis’ innovative idea on a continent where disposable batteries were scarce. In 1995 Staines and business partner, South African, Rory Stear started BayGen Power Industries in Cape Town, (South Africa) – which would later be renamed Freeplay Energy Ltd.

Whilst still called BayGen the company introduced a hand cranked clockwork torch which had a small energy storage capacity.

Following the securing of necessary funding the Clockwork Radio idea was developed with Baylis filing his first patent in 1992. In 1996 the Freeplay radio was awarded the BBC Design Award for Best Product and Best Design and the Design Council’s Millennium Product Award.

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Not particularly beautiful, the Freeplay radio doesn’t set its sights on winning lifestyle awards, it is however, a wonderfully honest and thoroughly useful design classic.

Freeplay still makes a range of radios and other products but the previous clockwork mechanisms have now been entirely replaced by small batteries charged by a hand-crank or solar powered generators. Their range seems to primarily address the solutions required by the “off-grid” humanitarian market where their devices, in addition to being a radio receiver, come complete with torches and mobile phone rechargers incorporated into the one unit.

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Trevor Bayliss experience appears not to have been altogether happy and his control of his major invention appears to have been lost. In part to help solve these issues for others, Mr Bayliss established a business advising inventors on the appropriate course of action required to protect their Intellectual Property Rights and to raise the necessary funds required to realise their inventions.

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I bought a Freeplay radio – a Ranger – in 2002 as I planned to undertake a journey from London to Malaga driving my wife’s beautiful Citroen 2CV. You can see here my earlier post Citroën 2CV. For some reason, we hadn’t added any form of in car entertainment to the car and endless hours of boredom were minimised by the small Freeplay radio and the frequently changing French and Spanish radio stations as I made my way South. The Ranger’s small solar charging panel was also very effective.

True to Freeplay’s publicity 30 seconds of cranking the wheel attached to the back of the radio and I got around 30 minutes of radio use.