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British Industrial History

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Riley: Cars

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1903
May 1904.
November 1904.
June 1905.
1907. 9-hp V. Reg No: YU 4031. Exhibit at the Heritage Motor Centre.
1907. Exhibit at the Heritage Motor Centre.
April 1907. Advert for 9 h.p. and 12 h.p.
November 1907. 9 h.p. Riley Colonial.
1909. 10-hp V-twin. Exhibit at the Heritage Motor Centre.
Reg No. BAE 677
November 1908. New radiator.
November 1908. 10 h.p. tubular cross stay.
November 1908. 12-18 h.p. detail.
November 1909.
November 1909.
July 1912. Riley Medico.
December 1912
November 1913
1920
January 1920.
November 1922.
November 1922.
Reg No: GT 8842.
Reg No: GT 8842.
June 1923. Riley Eleven.
October 1923.
October 1923.
October 1923. Models, prices and specifications.
1925
September 1929.
May 1930. Monaco II Saloon.
May 1931.
1932. Riley Plus Ultra. Reg No: GY 8605.
March 1932.
June 1933.
October 1933.
December 1933.
Reg No: KKR 953.
1931-36. Riley Ski Lady (right view).
1931-36. Riley Ski Lady (back view).
1931-36. Riley Ski Lady (left view).
1931-36. Riley Ski Lady (front view).
December 1934.
August 1935.
October 1936.
September 1937.
Reg No: OTX 280.
Reg No. MEW 300
April 1939.
July 1939. 12 hp saloon.
July 1939. 12 hp drop-head.
July 1939.
Im201403A-Riley.jpg
April 1940.
1946
1947. Riley RMA. Reg No: FKV 817.
October 1949.
1950. Riley Roadster. Reg No: JSK 722.
April 1950.
1950. Riley Drop-head Coupe. Reg No: KNX 824.
Reg No: KBL 861.
Reg No: DPR 185.
June 1953.
December 1955. Riley Pathfinder.
January 1957. Riley Pathfinder.
1958
1959
Reg No: OYN 131.
Reg No: LGW 559.
Reg No: LGW 559.
Reg No: DUU 826.
Reg No: KAS 692.
March 1960.
July 1960.
Oct 1966.
Reg No: FHJ 962.
Im090504-Riley2.jpg
Reg No: RDV 566.
Reg No: LYD 515.
Reg No. 3852 MW
Reg No. 3852 MW
Reg No: KLH 611.
Reg No: ZD 9577.
Reg No: WHY 776.
Reg No: NYL 486.
Reg No: NYL 486.
Reg No. JNR 950.
Reg No. DUJ 818C
Reg No: 6655 FG.
Reg No: TAN 917F.
Reg No: NXP 65.

Note: This is a sub-section of Riley

1898 Percy Riley built his first car at 16, secretly, because his father did not approve. It was the first car seen on the streets of Coventry.

1899 Percy Riley moved from producing motorcycles to his first prototype four-wheeled quadricycle.

1900 Riley sold a single three-wheeled automobile, but the company could not yet be considered an automobile manufacturer.

1903 Percy Riley began the Riley Engine Co, also in Coventry. At first, he simply supplied engines for Riley motorcycles, but the company soon began to focus on four-wheeled automobiles.

1903 Percy patented a method of mechanical valve operation. [1]

1905 The Vee-Twin Tourer prototype can be considered the first proper Riley car. The engine company expanded the next year.

1907 His car was the first in the world to feature detachable wire wheels as standard. [2]

1910 May. Details of their 12-18hp car.[3]

1912 The Riley Cycle Company changed its name to Riley (Coventry) Limited as William Riley focused it on becoming a wheel supplier for the burgeoning motor industry, being an innovator of detachable wheels.

1913 Pioneered the constant-mesh 'silent third' gearbox. [4]

1913 Percy was joined by three of his brothers (Victor, Stanley, and Allan) in a new business focused on manufacturing entire automobiles. This Riley Motor Manufacturing Co was located near Percy's Riley Engine Co. The first new model, the 17/30, was introduced at the London Motor Show that year.

1913-1917 For a list of the models and prices see the 1917 Red Book

1914 October. Details of the new 10hp light car with four-cylinder 63 x 88mm.[5]

Soon afterwards, Stanley Riley founded yet another company, the Nero Engine Co, to produce his own 4-cylinder 10-hp car. Riley also began manufacturing aeroplane engines and became a key supplier in Britain's build-up for World War I.

1918 At this time, Riley's blue diamond badge, designed by Harry Rush, also appeared. The motto was "As old as the industry, as modern as the hour."

Riley grew rapidly through the 1920s and 1930s. Riley Engine produced 4, 6, and 8-cylinder engines, while Midland Motor Bodies built more than a dozen different bodies.

The Riley Brooklands was one of the most successful works and privateer racing cars of the late 1920s and early 1930s, particularly in hill climbs and at Le Mans, providing a platform for the success of motorsports' first women racing drivers like Kay Petrie and Dorothy Champney. It was based around Percy Riley's ground-breaking Riley 9 engine, a small capacity, high revving engine, ahead of its time in many respects. Its longevity is illustrated by Stirling Moss's early racing success after WW2 in pre-war Rileys.

1931-1936 The Riley 'Ski Lady' mascot (as pictured) was available for many models including the Sixes and Lynx-Sprite Tourer.[6]

By about 1936 the company had overextended, with too many models and too few common parts, and the emergence of Jaguar at Coventry was a direct challenge. Victor Riley had set up a new ultra-luxury concern, Autovia, to produce a V8 saloon and limousine to compete with Rolls-Royce. Meanwhile, Riley Engine Company had been renamed P. R. Motors (after Percy Riley) to be a high-volume supplier of engines and components. Although the rest of the Riley companies would go on to become part of BMC, P. R. Motors remained independent. After the death of Percy Riley in 1941, the company began producing transmission components and still exists today as Newage Transmissions.

1937 Riley began to look to other manufacturers for partnerships. It had withdrawn from works racing after its most successful year, 1932, although it continued to supply engines to ERA (which was an evident derivative of the Brooklands). BMW of Munich, Germany was interested in expanding its range into England. But the Rileys were more interested in a larger British concern, and looked to Triumph, also of Coventry, as a natural fit.

In February, 1938, all negotiations collapsed as Riley (Coventry) and Autovia went into receivership. Both companies were purchased by Lord Nuffield for £143,000 and operated by Victor Riley as Riley (Coventry) Successors. It was quickly sold to Nuffield's Morris for £1, with the combination coming to be called the Nuffield Organisation.

Nuffield took quick measures to firm up the company. Autovia was no more, with just 35 cars having been produced. Riley refocused on the 4-cylinder market with two engines: A 1.5 L 12 hp engine and the "Big Four", a 2.5 L 16 hp unit (The hp figures are RAC Rating, and bear no relationship to bhp or kW). Only a few bodies were produced, and some components were shared with Morris for economies of scale.

After World War II, the restarted Riley Motors took up the old engines in new models. The RMA used the 1.5 L engine, while the RMB got the Big Four. The RM line of vehicles, sold under the "Magnificent Motoring" tag line, were to be the company's high point. They featured a front independent suspension and steering system inspired by the Citroen Traction Avant.

Victor Riley was removed by Nuffield in 1947, and the Coventry works were shut down as production was consolidated with MG at Abingdon. Nuffield's marques were to be organised in a similar way to those of General Motors: Morris was to be the value line, MG offered performance, and Wolseley was to be the luxury marque. But with the luxury Vanden Plas marque, and sporty/luxurious Riley also fighting for the top position, the range was crowded and confused.

1951 Exhibitor at the 1951 Motor Show in the Car Section.

1952 The confusion became critical with the merger of Nuffield and Austin as the British Motor Corporation. Now, Riley was positioned between MG and Wolseley and most Riley models were, like those, little more than badge-engineered versions of Austin/Morris designs.

Other BMC Riley models included the Pathfinder with the Riley 2.5 L four which replaced the RM line. With a slightly restyled body and a different engine it was later also sold as the Wolseley 6/90. The Riley lost its distinct (though subtle) differences in 1958 and the 1958 6/90 was available badge engineered as a Riley 'Two-Point-Six'. Although this was the only postwar 6-cylinder Riley, its C-Series engine was actually less-powerful than the Riley Big Four that it replaced. This was to be the last large Riley, with the model dropped in May 1959 and the company refocusing on the under-2 L segment.

1957 Riley and Wolseley were linked in small cars as well. Launched in 1957, the Riley One-Point-Five and Wolseley 1500 were reworked Morris Minors. They shared their exteriors, but the Riley was marketed as the more performance-oriented option.

1958 Advert on this page for the Two-Point-Six. [7]

1959 At the top of the Riley line for April 1959 was the new Riley 4/Sixty-Eight saloon. Again, it was merely a badge-engineered version of other BMC models. This time, it shared with the MG Magnette Mark III and Wolseley 15/60. The car was refreshed, along with its siblings, in 1961 and rebadged the 4/Seventy-Two.

1959 Advert on this page for the 4 Sixty Eight. [8]

A final Riley model of the 1960s was the Mini-based Riley Elf. Again, a Wolseleymodel (the Hornet) was introduced simultaneously. This time, the Riley and Wolseley versions were differentiated visually and identical mechanically.

1963 Motor Show exhibitor. Showed Elf, 4/Seventy-Two and 1.5 models. [9]

Riley production was ended with the 1960s, and the marque went dormant. The last Riley badged car was produced in 1969, a shadow of its engineering heyday. However, the 2000 divestment of the MG Rover Group by BMW brought some renewed attention to the marque. Along with Mini/MINI, BMW retained the rights to Triumph and Riley.

List of Models

  • 1907–1911 Riley 9
  • 1907–1907 Riley 12
  • 1909–1914 Riley 10
  • 1908–1914 Riley 12/18
  • 1915–1916 Riley 10
  • 1913–1922 Riley 17/30
  • 1919–1924 Riley Eleven
  • 1925–1928 Riley Twelve
  • 1927–1931 Riley Brooklands
  • 1928–1937 Riley Six
  • 1929–1934 Riley 14/6
  • 1933–1935 Riley 12/6
  • 1934–1935 Riley Imp
  • 1934–1935 Riley MPH
  • 1935–1938 Riley 15/6
  • 1935–1938 Riley 1.5 litre (1935-1938)
  • 1936–1938 Riley Sprite
  • 1936–1938 Riley 8/90
  • 1937–1938 Riley Big Four
  • 1938–1938 Riley Victor
  • 1939–1940 Riley 12
  • 1939–1940 Riley 16


Post-war Riley models

Riley 1½-litre RMA 1945-1952

Nuffield's first post-war Riley was the new 1½-litre sports saloon, which retained the pre-war 1496cc twin-camshaft Riley engine. Its elegant, flowing lines concealed a timber-frame construction, and were complemented by an advanced specification in the Riley tradition, including independent front suspension (IFS) and a hydro-mechanical braking system. It was replaced in 1952 by the RME series saloon.

Riley 2½-litre RMB 1946-1952

The following year the 2½-litre RMB was added to the range. Built on an extended RMA chassis, and having a light-blue (rather than dark-blue) Riley badge, it used the pre-war 2443cc 4-cylinder Riley engine so, like its smaller sibling, can be seen as a proper Riley. Originally launched with 90bhp on tap, this was increased to a full 100 in 1948, giving the car a near-100mph top speed. Gave way to the short-lived RMF in 1952.

Riley 2½-litre RMC 1948-1951

Curious three-seater roadster derived from the uprated RMB and aimed mainly at the US market. Lighter and slightly lower bodywork allied to the same 100bhp engine brought the magic 100mph top speed within reach. Just over 500 were built, with only a handful of those finding UK homes.

Riley 2½-litre RMD 1949-1951

A classic four-seater drophead coupe in the Riley tradition, this is one of most desirable cars of the RM series. Again based on the uprated RMB, and like the RMC, barely more than 500 examples were produced. This was also the last open-top Riley to be built.

Riley 1½-litre RME 1952-1955

Updated version of the RMA saloon, featuring various mechanical and minor styling refinements. A mid-term revision brought further styling tweaks, including the loss of the running boards and the addition of rear wheel spats. Despite rumours that 1955 would see a Wolseley 4/44-based "RMG" follow-up, the RME was not directly replaced, although its rôle was adopted by the smaller, duller One-Point-Five two years later.

Riley 2½-litre RMF 1952-1953

Launched alongside the RME in October 1952, the RMF was an updated version of the RMB, with a similar range of improvements as had been applied to the 1½-litre model, such as a hypoid rear axle and a fully hydraulic braking system in place of the previous hydro-mechanical arrangement. Also notable for the fact that most of the 1050 examples built had metallic paintwork. Replaced by the Pathfinder under BMC.

Riley Pathfinder 1953-1957

A romantic name for an evocative car. Generally regarded as the last 'real' Riley, the Pathfinder (or "type RMH" in Nuffield-speak) carried forward the 2443cc engine (now producing 110bhp) and IFS from the RMF, clothing it in a sleek and thoroughly modern body. The car also featured a variety of small refinements (such as self-cancelling indicators), in order to satisfy the more demanding 1950s motorist.

Riley One-Point-Five 1957-1965

The first of the Darby and Joan models. This is perhaps a little unfair, as the One-Point-Five belied its staid appearance by turning in a respectable performance from its twin-carb, 62bhp B-series engine, and was certainly a better prospect than its 43bhp Wolseley 1500 twin. All in all, a brave but ultimately futile attempt at reviving the spirit of the traditional Riley sporting saloon. Finally gave way to the Kestrel in 1965.

Riley Two-Point-Six 1958-1959

Rationalisation begins to bite hard, as the Pathfinder is replaced by this badge-engineered Wolseley 6/90, complete with its (less powerful) BMC C-series engine. It did at least retain some of its predecessor's style, although the 6/90's shape was noticeably more upright. Discerning Riley customers stayed away in their droves, and the 2.6 was never directly replaced; instead, the 1489cc 4/Sixty-Eight was left to fill the breach...

Riley 4/Sixty-Eight, Riley 4/Seventy-Two 1959-1969

The 'Farina'-styled Riley was something of a surprise hit. One might have thought it wouldn't stand a chance after the 2.6 debacle, but it seems that it found a ready new market due to its winning combination of a plush specification and reasonable price. Revised 4/Seventy-Two version arrived in 1961, with better handling and a little more power; it was later marketed in Austria as the Riley Comet.

Riley Elf 1961-1969

Riley counterpart to the Wolseley Hornet, with little more than a veneered dashboard to distinguish it. As with the Hornet, the 1963 Mk II got the 998cc engine, Hydrolastic was added in 1964 and the 1966 Mk III version gained wind-up windows and concealed door hinges. Why Elf? Well, one suspects that BMC would rather have revived the Imp name from Riley's past, but that was already being used by Hillman...

Riley Kestrel, Riley 1300 1965-1969

Replacing the One-Point-Five, the Kestrel shared its twin-carb 55bhp engine with the similar Wolseley 1100. Development mirrored that of the Wolseley, with 1275cc option in late Mk I cars, followed by revised Mk II model in 1100 and single-carb 1300 (58bhp) versions. 1100 discontinued in January 1968, 1300 got twin-carb 65bhp unit in April, and was further uprated to 70bhp in October, when the Kestrel name was also dropped.

See Also

Sources of Information

  1. British Motor Cars 1950/51
  2. British Motor Cars 1950/51
  3. The Autocar 1910/05/14
  4. British Motor Cars 1950/51
  5. The Autocar 1914/07/07
  6. Automotive Mascots - A Collector's Guide to British Marque, Corporate and Accessory Mascots by David Kay and Lynda Springate
  7. [1] History World
  8. [2] History World
  9. 1963 Motor Show
  • [3] Wikipedia on Riley Motorcars