Of Ghosts and Diamonds…

Of Ghosts and Diamonds…

Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II (2002).

Never before have there been so many models and makes of vehicles. Yet, amongst them all, are some brands which stand out – both iconic and legendary in their longevity and their ability to maintain consistency over all the years. Rolls-Royce is one such brand, which grew out of an electrical and mechanical business established by Henry Royce in 1884. He built his first motor car in 1904 and in May of that year met Charles Rolls, whose company sold upmarket cars in London. And the rest, as they say, is history. Let’s explore some interesting facts about this brand…

Hood ornaments, commonly known as automotive mascots, are fun to contemplate, as many of their stories, garnered from hearsay, have entered into the realm of legend. The Rolls-Royce mascot, however, lives up to the car it adorns. The Spirit of Ecstasy has been gracing the front of Rolls-Royce automobiles since 1911. But how did it originate?

As the twentieth century was dawned, a ‘motoring-set’ emerged from the Piccadilly-based ‘Automobile Club of Great Britain’ in London. Amongst the prominent lads were Charles Rolls, an aristocratic showman and partner of self-made engineering genius Henry Royce. Claude Johnson (the Automobile Club’s original secretary) and John Douglas-Scott-Montagu (a pioneer of automobile journalism) were also part of this wild crew whose thirst for experience made the London’s gentry appear timid in comparison. And at the very core of this group, filled with charisma and intelligence, was Eleanor Thornton. “She was a mercurial force that galvanised the group, allowing them to stand together at the forefront of a new frontier of motor travel”. 

The Rolls-Royce “Spirit of Ecstasy”.

As per the Rolls-Royce website, “Swapping stale members’ clubs and silent reading rooms for the roar of the racetrack and the camaraderie of the workshop, this talented collective laced their liberal attitudes with the excitement of speed and competition. Led by their muse, they mastered the art of motoring at pace, over distances never believed possible and encased them in the comfort of luxury, setting the template for every sophisticated thrill seeker since. A feeling they would define as ‘ecstasy’. In 1909, Eleanor Thornton’s presence was crystallised in the form of an ornamental figurine, by the bohemian artist Charles Sykes – a great friend of the group. A mascot that, to this day, is an exclusive addition to every Rolls-Royce motor car, to encapsulate the pursuit of personal liberty, and freedom from conformity. Challenging the social conventions of the time, her appearance became instantly iconic. Known from then on as the Spirit of Ecstasy, she leans forth towards the wind, arms outstretched, her dress billowing as if in flight. A symbol of dreams – of energy, grace and beauty – the Spirit of Ecstasy embodies the heights pursued by a unique and progressive group of friends. And it remains a tribute to their vision and everything their timeless legacy stands for.” In models built from 2004 onwards, this figurine retracts in an instant when the ignition is switched off, or if the lightest pressure is applied to her. You can also choose to raise or retract her by using a button in the glove box. 

Many of the Rolls-Royce models are named after spooky apparitions. The British automaker started out, like so many other manufacturers, with numbers. The 1907 model was simply called a ’40/50′. Claude Johnson, who was the commercial managing director of Rolls-Royce at the time, personally devised (often in consultation with the client) individual names for almost 50 cars the company produced between 1905 and 1913. ‘The Silver Ghost’ (Chassis no. 60551) was created for the 1907 London Motor Show. The car’s name was used to emphasise its ghost-like quietness. The silver paintwork and silver-plated brightwork made an impression on both the motoring journalists and the public, and ‘Silver Ghost’ was adopted as the official model name for all 40/50 H.P. chassis built until 1925. The first version of the Phantom was Rolls-Royce’s replacement for the original Silver Ghost, introduced as the ‘New Phantom’ in 1925. The Wraith introduced in 1938. 

According to an article in HotCars, Rolls-Royce stated that the eerie names “evoke a slight feeling of unease. Humans are not very accepting of ghostly apparitions, but if and when any of us experiences a close encounter of the paranormal kind, the sense of wonder remains long after the fear subsides. Like ghosts and other supernatural beings, Rolls-Royce cars create a lingering sensation of wonder.”

The redesigned Spirit of Ecstasy.

In August 1910, chassis 1601 was built, which Johnson used as a demo car. Johnson named it ‘The Silver Spectre’ – the first recorded use of the Spectre name in the company’s archive. So “Spectre” became the alias given to the Rolls-Royce experimental cars that push the envelope. Now, in late 2023, for the first time “Spectre” will become an independent nameplate to their first electric car – because it too breaks the boundaries. The iconic Spirit of Ecstasy, now more than 100 years old, has recently been recreated for Rolls-Royce’s all-electric future. Previously standing with her feet together, legs straight and tilting at the waist, she is now 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. 

Effortless, Everywhere. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan.

The Rolls-Royce name and “SUV” are not generally something you’re likely to mention in the same sentence. The “Cullinan” is the first all-terrain SUV from Rolls-Royce. But, like the rest of their models, there is nothing ordinary about this vehicle. As per their website, this vehicle offers two bespoke options. “The first is the Recreation Module, a motorised drawer cassette designed to fit securely and invisibly into the luggage compartment floor of Cullinan. At the touch of a button, the Recreation Module slides open to reveal equipment, accessories and paraphernalia personally selected by the motor car’s commissioning client, each item ensconced in its own individually tailored container. 

The Recreation Module.

As well as the Recreation Module, the rear compartment can accommodate a second Bespoke feature, unique to the Cullinan, that customers can specify to enhance their explorations. With the tailgate open, a touch of a button deploys the Viewing Suite – two rear-facing sociably arranged seats either side of a retractable cocktail table. The Viewing Suite provides the perfect place in which to relax and reflect on the day’s events.” No wonder this model was named after the Cullinan Diamond – the largest gem-quality rough diamond ever found (right here in South Africa).

The Viewing Suite.

A Rolls-Royce “black badge” edition is even more iconic and rare than a ‘standard’ Rolls-Royce. Only 15% of the total Rolls-Royce cars are black badges. Each model offers enhanced performance, greater sophistication, and unique design cues (generally darker trim), and with the Bespoke Experience, you can design your Rolls-Royce Black Badge vehicle to look, feel, and perform exactly how you want it to. The Rolls-Royce models offering a black badge version are currently the Cullinan, Wraith, Ghost and Dawn.

Black Badge Cullinan ‘Blue Shadow’ Private Collection, exploring the beauty and mystery of space.

In 2018, Fabergé and Rolls-Royce joined forces to produce a new, contemporary Imperial Egg on behalf of a patron of both luxury houses. Only the second object to be commissioned in the Imperial Class – a category reserved for Fabergé’s most illustrious creations – since the fall of the Romanovs in 1917, the Spirit of Ecstasy Fabergé Egg reflects the extraordinary attention to detail and consummate craftsmanship for which both brands are renowned worldwide. Operating a discreet lever at the base of the stand opens the shell to reveal a Spirit of Ecstasy figurine hand-sculpted in frosted rock crystal. 

The Spirit of Ecstasy Fabergé Egg.

Rolls-Royce vehicles are handcrafted from roof to road with meticulous attention to detail and are often chosen as the ride of choice for the world’s elite. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei is believed to have a private collection of around 500 Rolls-Royces – the largest collection of its kind in the world. Many of the early models were designed exclusively for royalty. 

Beyond all the glamour and legend, this brand is known for its longevity. 65% of all Rolls-Royce cars ever built are still on the road. Mr M Allen Swift of West Hartford, Connecticut owned and drove his 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I for about 77 years, making him the longest owner of a Rolls-Royce in the world. The car had more than 275 000 kilometres on the clock at the time of its retirement.

This is a truly iconic brand, about which much more can be discussed. That said, we only have limited space – so we hope you have enjoyed these titbits! 

Jacqui Ikin & The Cross Country Team

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