Mascot is a term used to refer to the hood ornament on a car. It is generally represents something which the car symbolizes. Mascots can be outstanding works of art on their own or else be quite ordinary. The first Rolls Royce had no hood ornamentation. However in the early 1900's many people in Great Britain were working to enhance public acceptance of the automobile. One of these was John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott Montagu who, in 1905, became the second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. He was a passionate lover of cars and an enthusiastic advocate of motoring interests.
At that time, there was an Automobile Club in Britain, which sponsored the Thousand Miles Trial to prove the safety and reliability of motorcars. The club was managed by Claude Johnson who had a very beautiful secretary named Eleanor Thornton.
Both Claude and Lord Montagu were friends and admirers of the artistic works of Charles Robinson Sykes, a graduate of the London Royal College of Art. Montagu, who owned a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, commissioned Sykes to produce a hood ornament especially for his automobile. Using Eleanor as his model, Sykes crafted a sculpture of a woman holding her fingers to her lips and named it The Whisper.
Montagu's car struck a chord with the public and people began attaching all manner of objects to their cars. By this time, Claude Johnson had moved from the Automobile Club to the Rolls Royce Company. He became alarmed at the impropriety of these impromptu hood ornaments and decided to commission a mascot that would reflect "the overall style and quality of the car." So he turned to his friend Sykes.
Johnson, as he conveyed to Sykes, had in mind something akin to the spirit of the mythical beauty Nike, whose image was on display at the Louvre in Paris. Sykes, however, disagreed feeling that the representation should be more feminine. Evidently Sykes prevailed, as he created another sculpture of Ms. Thornton. The sculpture was three inches high and crafted of white metal. Later, it would be manufactured from stainless steel. There is a myth that the ornaments are made of silver but silver has never been used. Again, the lady has her finger to her lips as though conveying a secret.
Sykes named his creation the Spirit of Speed.
But Johnson changed the name to the Spirit of Ecstasy.
In the meantime, Ms. Thornton had become secretary to Lord Montagu and they had also become lovers. Because of the mores of the time that forbade any romantic alliance between two people of such vastly different social and economic standing, their affair was a secret known only to a few close friends. Together, they had a daughter however she was placed in a foster home and knew Montagu only as uncle.
Their love story ended in tragedy. They were both aboard the SS Persia, enroute to India, via the Mediterranean when the boat was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat. Eleanor drowned but Montagu survived. Privately, he was devastated but he dared not publicly mourn her death.
However, their romance may be immortalized on the hood of the world's most prestigious automobile if indeed the speculation that has been made is true. For it is said that the 'secret' embodied in the image was actually the love that Eleanor shared with Montagu.
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