Monday 7 February 2011

Vintage Rolls-Royces honour Spirit of Ecstasy

Vintage Rolls-Royces honour Spirit of Ecstasy by itnnews

Another car manufacturer, another anniversary. This time it is the renowned luxury car maker Rolls-Royce who are celebrating 100 years of their famous Spirit of Ecstasy, or Flying Lady, bonnet mascot.

Although Royces have been built since 1904 it was from 1911 that the Spirit of Ecstasy began to appear on that imposing Grecian grille. Like many great designs it was modelled after a beautiful woman, in this case the mistress of a Tory politician(!). It is rather fitting that the MP in question was Lord Montagu of Beaulieu (an avid motorist who is said to have introduced King Edward VII to the joys of motoring and who became the first person to drive a car to the Houses of Parliament), whose home later became the site of the National Motor Museum.

In pictures: Spirit of Ecstasy Centenary Drive

Since 1911 the Flying Lady has become one of the most well-known symbols in motoring throughout the world and synonymous with one of the most opulent brands available. It is impossible to think of Rolls-Royce without thinking of the Spirit of Ecstasy and what started out as a one-off commission for a single customer has since become a cornerstone of the whole company. A Royce just wouldn't look the same gliding to a halt outside the Savoy without the Flying Lady adorning its nose (although that is now technically possible as all modern Royces have the ability to retract the mascot into the grille to stop it from being stolen!). I think it's safe to say that for as long as there will be a Rolls-Royce there will be a Spirit of Ecstasy atop its prow. Here's to the next 100 years!

I have to admit that I've always been more of a Bentley man myself (ha! to listen to me you'd think I'd been swapping between Bentleys and Royces all my life - I wish!). However there have been a few Royces down the years that I really like, so to help celebrate here are a some of my favourite examples of cars sporting this famous Lady:

(All images courtesy of

The 1914 Silver Ghost Labourdette Skiff I have already blogged about in my post about wooden-bodied cars, but it deserves another mention here.

In my opinion some of the best Royces of the 20s and 30s were from Rolls-Royce of America Inc. with coachwork by Brewster of Springfield, Massachusetts. The epitome of Art Deco, roaring Twenties glamour!

How about a 27-litre V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin aero engine, later used in the Spitfire fighter, underneath that Spirit of Ecstasy? Then she really would be a Flying Lady! Amazingly in the 1970s a 1931 Phantom II was re-engineered to accept a Merlin engine and later restored in 2007. One can scarcely imagine what it must be like to drive a car that has 1,100 horsepower and was able to out-accelerate a 1958 Vanwall F1 racer! And what must it sound like?! Glorious, in every sense of the word.

Royces quickly became popular with the super-rich Maharajahs of India, who decorated their cars in their own inimitable fashion. Words can't do justice to this Silver Ghost, so I won't even try. I love the whole thing, but the snakes on the wings are a great touch(!).

This 1935 Phantom I Jonckheere Coupe is simply gorgeous. Its streamlined shape just screams 30s Art Deco decadence. Check out the circular door!

The body for this 1947 Phantom III Labourdette Vutotal Cabriolet cost $44,000 alone, which equates to about $325,000 in today's money! Those inserts are actually brass, not gold, in case you're wondering. My taste's not that vulgar(!).

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