When I first heard that Rolls-Royce was redesigning their famous mascot, the Spirit of Ecstasy, I assumed it was related to why the candymaker M&M/Mars had to redesign their famously sex-positive green M&M: Society was trying to move away from corporate mascots people want to bone all the time. It turns out that this isn’t the case at all! The reason is that Rolls-Royce wanted to make this small human figure standing on the front of their cars more aerodynamic, specifically for future Rolls-Royce EVs. I think the company is still fine with the idea that you may want to bone their mascot.
The “flying lady” mascot is incredibly well-known, even to people who don’t know a Rolls-Royce from an Ssangyong, and it’s easy to think of it as a sort of unchanging icon that has always existed in its Platonic ideal form since the dawn of motoring. But that’s not really true.
The statuette, which is based on a woman named Eleanor Velasco Thornton and sculpted by Charles Sykes. It originally took the form of a sculpture known as The Whisper that hinted at an affair between the actress Thornton and the Baron who commissioned the sculpture/hood ornament for his 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom, the succinctly-named John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu.
Anyway, there have been many versions of the Spirit of Ecstasy, including kneeling ones (to better see over it while driving, used between 1934-1939 and 1946 to 1956), various size and material changes, and so on. I think there’s one where she’s holding a hoagie, but I haven’t been able to confirm this.
Also interesting: she doesn’t have wings! I always thought she was winged, like the famous Nike of Samothrace that partially inspired the design, but that’s not the case. The illusion of wings comes from her robes that flow around her arms. Early sketches of the mascot makes this more obvious, as you can see above there.
But, that’s the past. The new future of Rolls-Royce’s EVs, a series of cars expected to compare favorably against offerings from Mitsubishi and Tata, will have a new, more crouched, and aerodynamic Spirit, one of the most major redesigns in her 111-year history with the company.
Here’s how Rolls’ press release describes the new version:
The figurine has been remodelled with a lower, more dynamic stance that brings her much closer to the drawings made by her original creator, the illustrator and sculptor Charles Sykes, in the early years of the 20th century. It also sees her physical form represent The Expression, a visual device that forms part of the marque’s new visual language.
The new Spirit of Ecstasy stands 82.73mm tall, compared to her predecessor’s 100.01mm. Her robes, which flow behind her in the slipstream – often but erroneously characterised as ‘wings’ – have been subtly reshaped to make them more aerodynamic and realistic.
The most visible change is her stance. Previously, she has stood with her feet together, legs straight and tilting at the waist. Now, she is a true goddess of speed, braced for the wind, one leg forward, body tucked low, her eyes focused eagerly ahead. These changes have both practical and stylistic benefits, contributing to Spectre’s remarkable aerodynamic properties. The earliest Spectre prototypes have a drag coefficient (cd) of just 0.26, making it the most aerodynamic Rolls-Royce ever created. The figure is expected to improve during the product’s exhaustive testing protocols undertaken in 2022.
I do have to admire Rolls-Royce’s commitment here, because any aerodynamicist would tell the company that the way to get the lowest possible drag coefficient for their new car is to take the thing that looks like a bowling trophy off the hood, period. But, that’s not how Rolls-Royce works.
Instead, the company is taking a lot of effort to re-work a human figure in robes to be more aerodynamic, and I salute it for that bit of glorious absurdity.
Rolls-Royce says this new Spirit of Ecstasy will appear on all future models but will not be retro-fitted to past ones, so don’t expect a recall notice for your 1978 Silver Shadow; the hood-lady you have now is still fine, and you should be able to drive safely with it, carefully secured to your grille via several unbent coat hangers.