Monday, 3 January 2022

 Motor Car Mascots

Two of the most famous motor car symbols in the world must surely be Rolls Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy, and Mercedes-Benz’s Three Pointed Star. Each of them has a much less than obvious origin.

Rolls Royce

The first Rolls Royces were delivered without any radiator ornament at all. However, in 1909, an early motoring enthusiast, John Douglas-Scott-Montagu, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, commissioned artist and sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes to sculpt him a mascot for his own Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. Sykes took as his model Eleanor Velasco Thornton, who had risen from modest origins, and had been Montagu’s secretary, since 1902, on the staff of Montagu’s magazine, The Car Illustrated, appearing on the cover, and in skits as ‘Alice in Motorland’, and she very probably became Montagu’s mistress. 

Eleanor was already in a clique of early motoring enthusiasts, including Montagu, Sykes, Charles Rolls, Henry Royce, and Claude Johnson. She had even been involved in organizing the 1000 Mile Car Trial in 1900, in which Montagu had competed, as well as being a model and inspiration for some of Sykes’s earlier art works. From this commission, the prototype of the eventual Spirit of Ecstasy resulted – with a female figure in exiguous, windswept clothes, one leg raised – and with a forefinger pressed to her lips, which was easily interpreted as a symbol of secret love, and this mascot became known as The Whisper.

Owing to early Rolls Royce owners’ inclination for privately commissioning radiator adornments which Claude Johnson, the chairman of Rolls Royce, sometimes saw as inappropriate, he decided in 1910 that the company should produce its own mascot, to discourage such practices, and turned to Sykes, with the instructions to produce a symbol that would convey: “...the spirit of the Rolls Royce, namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful, living organism of superb grace.” Johnson wanted an evocation of classical beauty, in the form of Nike. Sykes then adapted the design of The Whisper into what was, at first, called the Spirit of Speed, and which became, from February 1911, the enduring symbol called the Spirit of Ecstasy; incidentally, many say still bearing Eleanor Thornton’s features. 

Indeed, it became her unofficial memorial after she was lost at sea in 1915 when, travelling with Montagu, their ship, SS Persia, was hit by a torpedo from a German U-boat in the Mediterranean. Swept out of his arms by a surge of water on deck, she was lost, but Montagu survived.  Sykes’s signature, and the date February 6th 1911, appeared on the plinths of the castings of the Spirit of Ecstasy until 1951. Originally fitted as an optional extra (and rather disliked by Henry Royce), it became standard by the 192s. 

Originally, it was silver plated, until 1914; after that nickel or chrome was used; although it has also been made in gold plate and, sadly, even studded with diamonds. The need for clearer driving vision from the windscreens of later, lower cars first gave rise to the Kneeling Lady (also designed by Sykes), which was used between 1934-1939 and also between 1946-1956; until a standing version, in a reduced size, was produced for modern vehicles.  The modern version, a mere three inches in height, retracts on impact but, despite this mundane practicality, carries with it still the romantic aura of its origins. 

Another, much less known but interesting, mascot design appeared in 1957, in Rolls Royce’s sister company. Owing to a demand for a lower, sportier Bentley saloon, the coach builder H J Mulliner (later merged with Park Ward), introduced a streamlined four-door saloon, designed by Herbert Nye, on the Bentley S1 Continental chassis. The chairman of Mulliner’s between 1944-1960 was Harry Talbot Johnstone, and the crest of a ‘winged spur’ on his arms was adopted as the Flying Spur on the radiator cap of some examples of this innovative model of Bentley. Other coach builders, such as James Young, copied the sleek four-door Continental design – and it also appeared in a Rolls Royce version - but these others are not true Flying Spurs at all; although they are often innocently misdescribed as such. 

Daimler and Mercedes Benz

Gottlieb Daimler originally founded Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) in 1890, while Carl Benz began Benz & Cie in 1883. Both businesses helped lay the early foundations of motorized vehicle transportation, and Benz is widely credited as the inventor of the internal combustion engine, while Daimler delivered the first production-line, four cylinder street cars. The British Daimler Motor Company Limited, founded by H J Lawson in London in 1896, was entirely separate; Lawson just having bought the licence to use the Daimler name from Gottlieb Daimler. In fact, amongst the first cars collected and driven by John Douglas-Scott-Montagu were German Daimlers and, as a result of him driving the then Prince of Wales in one, the first horseless carriage soon owned by the British royal family was a German Daimler.

After Gottlieb Daimler died in 1900, chief engineer Wilhelm Maybach took over and  formed an association with racing enthusiast Emil Jellinek. It was the name of Jellinek’s daughter Mercédès – a Spanish girl’s name, meaning “mercies” (deriving from the Spanish name for the Virgin Mary), which was the inspiration for the later, enduring trade name of the merged companies, Daimler and Benz. In 1900 Jellinek had bought and modified a Daimler car, which he called ‘Mercedes’. When the Daimler and Benz companies merged in 1926, the joint brand name became Mercedes- Benz.

Daimler’s sons Paul and Adolf recalled an 1872 picture postcard sent by their father to their mother with a three-pointed star, marking the location of his house in Germany, with the explanation that, one day, the star would shine over his factory and bring prosperity to it. DMG took the star as the company’s logo, trademarking three and four-pointed stars, but only actually using the now familiar three-pointed one. The logo began in a blue colour but was changed to its signature silver after the company’s involvement in the first Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in 1934.

Meanwhile, Benz & Cie trademarked its own logo: originally, a laurel wreath surrounding the company’s name. On merger of the companies in 1926, the name became Mercedes-Benz, which first appeared in a laurel wreath, around Daimler’s three-pointed star. Accordingly, in the modern logo, which is just the three-pointed star, there is Daimler’s original concept, and in the name Mercedes-Benz there is the name of a little girl, who had no more association with either company than that her father had had an association with the Daimler company.

 According to the modern Mercedes-Benz company, the three-pointed star has always represented the company’s drive towards universal motorization; with its engines dominating all means of transport in the three elements of land, sea, and air. 

Whether the symbol of the Three Pointed Star or the symbol of the Spirit of Ecstasy now holds more sway in the imagination of the world, I leave to the reader to judge.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

Well, I suppose that I might as well restart this

I find this performance, by Elis Regina, of her own song, just the most moving performance of anything that I have ever watched. It also coincides with tremendous saudades for Brasil, and my own feelings at this time.