Riley started out as a family concern, for many years working as master weavers. With a downturn in trade to both Germany and Austria William Riley, who had inherited the business from his father, decided he needed to diversify, and so in 1890 he acquired the Bonnick Cycle Company. Against Riley’s wishes, his five sons would experiment with engines, and in 1899 the company had manufactured their first powered tricycle.
In 1902 brothers Victor, Allan and Percy (the designer) would start the Riley Engine Company, manufacturing engines for both their fathers products, and others such as Singer. They would patent the mechanically operated inlet valve, and in 1907 the detachable road wheel. This latter invention would have almost universal appeal to the burgeoning worldwide automotive industry, with 183 manufacturers taking up patent rights so they could use the detachable wheels on their iterations.
Naturally enough the decision was made to concentrate on wheel manufacture, and in 1911 bicycle manufacture was discontinued. Enlisting the help of Harry Rush as designer, Riley would release their first aptly named “Light Car” in 1919, but the cost of bringing the car to market proved too great, and the company went into receivership. Lord Nuffield would come to the rescue, buying the company privately before later selling it to his own Morris conglomerate. In 1926 Riley took the wraps off its prototype “ Riley 9”, the “Monaco” version arguably the first small car to feature fully enclosed saloon bodywork.
The 9 used a completely new engine featuring overhead valves, and they would soon find success on the track – extremely popular for the time, approximately 6000 would be sold between 1926 and 1929. After the war Riley was only ever a shadow of its former self, the 1953Pathfinder being the last to use a Riley engine. In 1961 a Riley version of the Mini was launched – afforded a better standard of trim it was obvious that by now the company lived on by name alone. But even that was short lived, with British Leyland pulling the plug on the name entirely in 1969.
Collector Notes: The British firm brought out a series of open cars before World War 2 and established itself as a serious force in the competitive sports car business. After the company was acquired by Lord Nuffield, a number of bland convertibles were produced. The post-war production consisted of 1.5- and 2.5-litre. The 1.5 ran from 1948/9 to 1955 and the 2.5 from 1948 to 1953 and was available in open and closed models. In 1954 the closed Pathfinder was introduced and, according to Riley aficionados, marked the end of the true Rileys. They have enjoyed growing popularity and have been a sought after collector car since the early 1970s.
1926 - 1938
The Riley Nine was the most popular of the pre-war Riley’s ever made, and with good reason. Enjoying a long production run lasting from 1926 to 1938, the Nine would undergo various mechanical and body style changes along the way, under the direction of two of William Riley’s five sons, Percy and Stanley. The mechanics, particularly the engine, were handled by the older Percy, while Stanley was responsible for the chassis, suspension and body. More>>
1933 - 1935
Like the Kestrel on a smaller scale, the Riley Falcon was a stylish four seater, far roomier inside and aesthetically far superior. Sitting proudly at the front was the Riley badge, which housed the axiom of "As old as the industry, as modern as the hour," perched on the traditional honeycomb grille ahead of the louvered bonnet. More>>
1945 - 1954
These Riley RM's were at once liked for their graceful and flowing lines, well appointed and comfortable intereiors, brisk performance and good road manners - all of which impressed the motoring journalists and road testers of the time. More>>
1953 - 1957
Powering the Pathfinder was Riley's 110 hp (82 kW) 2.5 Litre 2443 cc twin-cam, straight-4 engine fitted with twin SU carburettors, an engine that had been designed way back in 1926. Performance was excellent, the Pathfinder capable of a top speed of nearly 100mph, making it very popular with British police constabularies. More>>
1961 - 1969
The Riley Elf and Wolsley Hornet were upmarket versions of Sir Alexander Issigonis's masterpiece, the Mini. The distinctive grille was the standout feature, while the tail received its own makeover, which included extending the length so that the car looked much more like a typical saloon. More>>