This was originally published on 3 November 2011 on Motoring Middle East

Check out the ravishing Flying Ladies of Rolls-Royce fame

Renowned photographer, John Rankin Waddell, shot a series of 100 photos over a year, to commemorate the Rolls-Royce Flying Lady bonnet mascot’s centenary. They’re about to go on display at Los Angeles Auto Show (18-27 November 2011).

The ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ is often referred to as the ‘Flying Lady’ (particularly in America), but also the ‘Silver Lady’ and even just ‘Emily’ – although some have more cheekily referred to it as ‘Ellie in her Nightie’ in the past!

The reason? It’s said to be based on Eleanor Velasco Thornton, secretary to the second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu who was also editor of The Car Illustrated from 1902. The love between them had to remain a secret due to her lowly status and the Lord eventually married someone else.

However when he commissioned Charles Robinson Sykes to create a personal mascot for the bonnet of his Rolls-Royce, he chose Eleanor as the model. The figurine originally had her with a finger to her lips to signify the secret love and the sculpture was named ‘The Whisper’ (apparently it’s on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu in the UK).

Personal bonnet mascots were very popular back then, but this rather irked Rolls-Royce as some were not exactly deemed tasteful. So the company asked the very same Sykes to produce a more generic mascot asking that it should convey: ‘the spirit of Rolls-Royce, namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace…’

Sykes modified The Whisper into what he dubbed ‘The Spirit of Speed’ – ‘a graceful little goddess… who has selected road travel as her supreme delight and alighted on the prow of a Rolls-Royce motor car to revel in the freshness of the air and the musical sound of her fluttering draperies,’ he said. Brilliantly poetic!

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