Luxury car hood ornaments are not as popular as they used to be.
They started out as functional features when cars had radiator caps and thermometers poking out of the hood. They endured as purely decorative artifices for decades — think the Kaiser Virginian’s rocket ornament of the late 1940s, or the AMC Rambler Marlin’s 1960s sailfish mascot.
Today, hood ornaments have been largely replaced with vehicle badges, like the stylized Honda “H” or BMW’s circle in the blue and white colors of the Bavarian flag. But a few high-end luxury cars retain the regal hood decoration, such as Jaguar’s leaping jaguar and, perhaps most recognized, the Spirit of Ecstasy of the Rolls Royce, the statuette of a woman with her arms out behind her.
The figure's model was Eleanor Thornton, the mistress and personal assistant of an early British auto enthusiast, the second Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. It was created by sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes for the baron’s 1909 Silver Ghost. It has remained the brand's mascot in one form or another on all Rolls Royce cars since the Roaring 20s.
It’s widely believed that Sykes' original Spirit of Ecstasy was simply adopted later as the Rolls symbol, but in fact the statuette has been modified over the years. The original, dubbed the “Whisperer” because the figurine is holding a finger to her lips to signify the secret love between the baron and his secretary, was used on only about 60 Silver Ghosts made between 1909 and 1914. The Whisperer version of the figurine is worth about $2,700, according to the British classic car collector site H&H.