Rolls-Royce: Capturing the Spirit of Ecstasy

As the story of the motoring marque is told anew on celluloid, CEO Torsten Muller-Otvos talks about the passion its iconic cars inspire


We're launching a new series of films to tell people about our history, our myth and our stories. The first one is about the Spirit of Ecstasy, the famous statuette that sits on the grille of our cars. Of course, everyone knows this figure, but not many know the full story behind her.

The Spirit of Ecstasy is our mascot and has accompanied every Rolls-Royce for over 100 years. She is called the 'spirit' for good reason – because both founding fathers, The Rt Hon Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, were clear in their belief that machines need a soul. They take on the soul of the people who are creating them and I say that is still true here today. And every soul of every car we make is unique.

At Goodwood, where we have our manufactory, 60 pairs of hands are involved in the making of every car, and it takes more than 800 hours to finish each one. I believe that with a Rolls-Royce you feel the human component that has been at work in an intense way – through the quality, the materials, the design, the engineering. The Spirit of Ecstasy embodies that human element and the passion the cars generate. When you own a Rolls-Royce, you should feel the passion that drove the founders to create what became known as the best in the world, and the passion – ecstasy, even – stirred by motoring.

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The Spirit of Ecstasy was originally called the 'Spirit of Speed', unofficially, and she still looks like she is guiding our cars. There is passion too in the story behind her – she is believed to be modelled on the actress and artist's model Eleanor Velasco Thornton. Sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes was commissioned by his friend the 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu to make a personal mascot for the bonnet of his 1910 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost. Eleanor was allegedly the Baron's secret lover.


The mascot was adopted by Rolls-Royce as the perfect symbol for the spirit of motoring the cars embodied, and this is the story that the new film expresses. The fact that the statuette was a commission is also significant, as many of our customers now come from all over the world to the home of Rolls-Royce at Goodwood to sit with our designers and commission their own car. Nobody needs a Rolls-Royce to get from A to B – our customers tend to already have enough cars in their garages, but this is what I'd call a piece of art, like the Spirit of Ecstasy sculpture.

Being part of the creation of a masterpiece is integral to true modern luxury, and you can feel that here at Goodwood. All our cars are made to order, so every one that goes down the line is unique. When the customers who come here see the craftspeople working on our cars, they are able to see how each one captures certain elements of its owner, whether that is expressed through the choice of marquetry, embroidery, materials, pattern, outside and inside colour combinations or whatever. You tell us what you want to have – your imagination is our limit – and we build a car for you.

For us, this is luxury: the craftsmanship, the integrity of the finished product; it needs to have the finest intricate details; it should be extremely rare, or unique. Nobody wants to buy something his or her neighbour or friend could easily acquire. We need to offer a genuinely bespoke service, so you are part of the design process from the beginning, which allows you to be part of the crafting process, too. This is what happens here at Goodwood.

But as well as all this, great luxury items often come with great stories, and this is certainly true of Rolls-Royce. Over our 113-year history, we have been part of, and created, many wonderful stories, and our new film series will tell these. We will be releasing a film every quarter to make up a 'book' that will tell the tales of Rolls-Royce chapter by chapter. This first one, about the Spirit of Ecstasy and narrated by Kate Winslet – who happens to live in West Sussex where Rolls-Royce motor cars are made – is just the start.

TORSTEN MULLER-OTVOS has been the chief executive of Rolls-Royce since 2010;

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