For many years the Riley diamond was the symbol of an epic series of fine motor cars. Of course the Riley story was a long one, and thankfully there are enough aficionados around today to ensure the story is not forgotten. Get talking to an owner at any car show and they will tell you the story can be traced way back to 1896, when the name of Bonnick & Co was changed to the Riley Cycle Co Ltd. Victor Riley, then a boy, was to later tell motoring historians that he remembered seeing in his father's works what he described as a huge clock-spring. It was explained to him that when wound up it was intended to help the rider of a bicycle up hills and it was so arranged that any succeeding declines would wind it up again.
In 1896, when a Bolle tricycle
motor raft appeared in the streets of Coventry, the younger element of the Riley
family joined in the fray, the objective being mechanical propulsion. Percy Riley, who was on the point of leaving school and who had from infancy shown both a destructive and inventive genius in matters of steam engines, turned his fertile brain to the problem and in 1898, completed the first Riley car, every part of which was made to his own designs in the shops of the Riley Cycle Co.
By 1907, Victor, Allan and Stanley Riley were competing successfully in reliability trials and hill-climbs while Percy remained behind, the wizard of the drawing board and test bench, successfully answering the calls for more and more power. About this time their father, William Riley, managing director of the company, urged the production of a 10 hp model and in 1908 a car was produced that set the seal on Stanley Riley's reputation as one of the outstanding body designers of his day.
In the time between 1896 and 1937 the Riley car company seized with eagerness every automobile
engineering problem which confronted them. An example was the extraordinarily early use of the mechanically-operated inlet valve. That first model produced by Percy Riley in 1898 employed a mechanically operated inlet valve. Benz's first car had used it, operated as a slide, on steam principles, and Lancheister had also. But the first Riley and the 1901 6-litre racing Mercedes popularised the system.
Riley "firsts" included the independent discovery of the value of valve overlap; the introduction of the first car having detachable wire wheels as standard; the early and successful attack on the problem of making easy and driver-proof the act of gear-changing; and the almost uncanny foresight of Riley designers in producing bodies that, even after the lapse of a quarter of a century, are acclaimed beautiful and stand unashamedly alongside their modern counterparts.
In 1927 the now-famous Riley hemispherical combustion chamber head was produced and remained an outstanding feature of Riley engines to the end. This engine, incidentally, when first introduced, also incorporated the "silent third-gear-box." Trials, rallies and races not unnaturally occupied a prominent position in the pages of Riley history and the sporty flavor was brought out in most of their models be they actual sports cars like the Brooklands, the Redwing, Imp and ithe larger Sprite, or in their touring cars like the inimitable and much revered Nine, the Rakish Kestrel or Falcon.
pioneered many developments. From the first the car was designed to appeal to the discriminating few and never attempted to meet popular demands. In the takeover of the Riley Company by Nuffield-BMC in 1938 the marque began to feel the effects of big scale business and commercialisation which ruled the very concept of Riley to the point that the marque's individuality began to wane. By 1957
Riley, as far as the "Clan Riley" or Riley enthusiasts would have it, was dead. The death knell for Riley was sounded when BMC fitted their CJ type 2.6-litre engine to the Pathfinder, replacing an engine whose design dated back to 1937.
Also see: The History of Riley
| Riley - Death by Diversity
| Riley Car Reviews and Test Drives