The Spirit: Celebrating 75 Years of the Rolls-Royce Motor Car

by Ken Dallison

Where to begin? Ken Dallison’s reputation as an automotive artist is irreproachable and enduring. His work has appeared on postage stamps and automobile advertisements; it has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Car and Driver.

Watercolor is a demanding medium, and few can match Dallison’s strength of crisp line, the depiction of metallic surfaces, and the charm he evinces with his understated combination of sharp, realistic rendering and subtle whimsy. Lord Montagu is the founder and director of the National Motor Museum—a magic place on the grounds of Beaulieu, his ancestral grounds; he is also the president of the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs. His father is known for his early automotive advocacy, his respect and admiration for Rolls-Royce motorcars and his mistress, Eleanor Thornton, who is reputed to be the inspiration and model for The Spirit of Ecstasy, the renowned Rolls-Rolls mascot. The latter aspect is outlined in the fairly extensive Foreword by Lord Montagu which also extols the history, mechanical excellence, and mystique of the Rolls-Royce.

To call this 18 x 14˝ book “oversize” is an understatement. It is itself as much a work of art as the drawings it contains and is bound in tan Connolly leather (Connolly leather is what was used to trim the cabins of Rolls-Royces and many other luxury marques) with the embossed silhouette of the hood of a vintage Rolls-Royce car on the cover. Each book is autographed and individually numbered, the whole edition being limited to 2000 copies. All the illustrations were specifically done for this book, in 1979, the year the firm founded in 1904 turned 75.

Spirit is a collection of twenty-four watercolors that depict twenty-four classic Rolls-Royce automobiles, from the car that gave the name Silver Ghost to the 40/50 hp model to the car that was current at the time the book was published, the Pininfarina-designed, two-door Camargue. In between are found the Phantoms I, II, III and IV along with the Wraith, Silver Wraith, Corniche and others. With the exception of the Silver Cloud, Corniche and Camargue, each car is a specific automobile (although chassis numbers are not given) with custom coachwork. All cars are individually described in a few sentences at the beginning of the book.

Although, naturally, the car is predominant in each drawing, the backgrounds are appropriately selected, peopled, and rendered: polo grounds, the golf course, the foxhunt, the tiger hunt, or London traffic. The illustrations only list the name of the model. Each car is given a full page and each page is printed on one side only. The colors are reproduced with skill and care, and, as mentioned, the sheet metal of each car body is particularly well done—glinting in the rich sunshine. Book collectors may groan, but the makers of this book fully expect it to be taken apart and therefore gave it a binding of the metal post-type that can be unscrewed so as to facilitate easy removal of those pages the owner might wish to frame.


Copyright 2011, Bill Wolf (

The Spirit
Celebrating 75 Years of the Rolls-Royce Motor Car
by Ken Dallison
The Spirit Group Inc., 1979
35 pages, hardcover
List Price: $240

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