THE HAWTHORN RILEYS
FARNHAM, Surrey, is a charming town, and from our point of view the Tourist Trophy Garage ranks high amongst its attractions. In a new showmom standing back discreetly from East Street we enjoied a display to make any enthusiast’s mouth water—the ex-Dobson, Brooke, Hutchison R7B E.R.A. was keeping company with a 3-litre Bentley, a 1935 “2.3” “Le Mans” Alfa-Romeo, an ex-Archer 1950 T.T. Norton, a Connaught and the two Rileys that Michael Hawthorn has raced so suceessfully this season. We cannot resist this sort of thing and went iit to get some data of these potent Rileys.
The 1½-litre car which won the Ulster Trophy Race and notched up impressive victories at Goodwood, Boreham and Castle Combe—indeed, it rather makes a habit of leading 1½-litre scratch races from start to finish—is a 1936 “works” T.T. Sprite. Before the war it was raced by R. J. Gee and about a year ago Leslie Hawthorn bought it. He and C. B. Biekell, of B.M.C.R.C. memory, pulled the engine down and re-assembled it with that especial care which pays dividends in racing, but the car was not modified, beyond throwing away the friction shock-absorbers and substituting Girling hydraulic. At the front these are mounted on the side members and the arms are attached to the front of the axle by the spring pad.
The engine is the usual famous 1½-litre three-bearing Riley unit, with a compression ratio of rather under 9 to 1, a Scintilla Vertex magneto, and two 35 mm. S.U. Carburetters on a square-section external manifold on the off side of the head. A four-carburetter set is available but, as Hawthorn says, “Why bother?” The Riley certainly thrives on a couple!
Special T.T. camshafts, special four-bolt con-rods and domed Hepolite pistons with two thin compression and one scraper ring figure in the internals, a water pump is driven front the off-side timing gears and four separate exhaust pipes leave the bonnet on the near side and merge at a Brooklands silencer. At the front, brake torque is resisted by short cables, the sump holds 2½ gallons of oil and is heavily ribbed, there is an auxiliary oil supply of about it gallon carried in a tank over the passenger’s knees, its quick-action filler cap recessed in the near side of the scuttle, the dynamo is driven from the nose of the crankshaft; and the long pointed tail of the blue racing body contains a vast 30-35-gallon tank, with a self-filling reserve tank at the apex of the main tank.
The engine is run on Esso fuel and gives a petrol consumption of about 30 m.p.g. on the road and in the region of 18 m.p.g. when racing. In addition to being outstandingly economical, it is very happy on 50/50 petrol-benzole and scarcely “pinks” even under traffic conditions. Moreover, Lodge 18-48 and 18-51 plugs stay in without oiling, being perfectly suited to “Bond Street or Brookhuals.”
This very useful Riley came with a variety of different gearboxes and its final drive ratio is varied by using 16-in., 18-in. or 19-in. rear tyres as conditions dictate. It has raced consistently successfully this year at Castle Combe, Goodwood, Gamston, Boreham, etc., yet the only preparation the car recieved before going to Dundrod for the Ulster Trophy Handicap, which it won at 77.41 m.p.h., was the removal ofthe head, so that its entrant could see, as a matter of interest, what was inside!
Mr. Hawthorn paid me the compliment of letting me drive this Riley and I took it along the Hog’s Back to Guildford, an experience I wouldn’t have missed for all the oil in Persia. Returning to to my own mode of transport, a modern car weighing about the same as the Riley and regarded as a very reasonably quick performer. I just couldn’t understand why it didn’t seem to be getting along . . . !
The cockpit of the Riley is exciting, before ever you commence the efficient engine. You sit high, both wheels, let alone the front wings with their triple bracing stays, in full view. Indeed, leaning out a trifle I could see the polished axle-end, track rod and steering arm. The cockpit floor is a drilled metal plate above the undershield. On the facia before one is a vast Jaeger rev.-counter reading to 6,000 r.p.m. (Safe revs.= 5,800 r.p.m., but Bickel! Said he guessed Michael went to 6,400 occasionally, and nothing has packed it in). This is flanked on tine left by the oil and water thermometers, Oil gauge, air-pressure gauge, a “real” pressure pump with wooden handle; the remains of a Ki-gass and the fuse boxes. On the right Of the rev.counter is the Rotax switch panel, horn button and some sorbo padding. Glimpse of a huge tubular cross-member and the presence of fuel lines (tap by right hand), brake rods and a fire-extinguisher added to the business-like aspect of the “office.” The passenger’s cushion—I won’t call it a seat—is covered by a tonneau attached to a hinged streamline flap. In the centre of the rigid, four-spoke steering wheel are the ignition and hand throttle levers, away beyond the aero screen is the shapely strapped-down bonnet and quick-action oil and water fillers, behind one, close to the right elbow, the rear mudguard over the fat back tyre.
You pull out the magneto switch, half retard, press the starter and the engine breaks into crisp life. The gear-change is effected by that delightful Riley remote control, its tiny lever, which moves with a shorter movement between third and top than between first and second and reverse covered by a safety lock, right under one’s left hand. Outside it, the brake lever is a man-sized affair, with press-button ratchet release.
The car is high geared, so that the clutch is slipped somewhat to get away (hope to goodness Michael H. confirms this!) and acceleration is just very, very impressive instead of hit-you-in-the-kidneys. Only the tiniest jab on the accelerator is necessary to raise revs, for a change down and the lever moves with absolute precision. As I accelerated wind whipped round the screen, blowing away the crisp exhaust note, which returned as a crackle on the overrun, but nothing could drown the howl of the straight-tooth back axle—exhilarating. [N.B. I’m sorry I use this adjective so often, but it is rather appropriate to so many of the motor cars I drive.]
The suspension glues the car to the road, yet is harsh only in the sense you would expect from a car of this kind, not uncomfortably so. Indeed, driving the Hawthorn Riley is a pretty effortless business. The Ferodo-lined Girling brakes, their drums nearly as large as the rims, work reassuringly with a light touch on the pedal, the clutch is light (there is a foot-rest beside its pedal) and the car steers to the proverbial hair’s breadth with mere wrist movement; this high-gearing is useful when the tail slides, as it did, rather suddenly, when I accelerated on a wet bit of the Guildford By-Pass. Air pressure, too, stays at 1½-2 lb./in. with a minimum of manual persuasion. Oil pressure was a reassuring 75-80 lb./sq. in., water temperature 50 degrees C., and oil temperature around 65 degrees C., climbing at lower speeds—an oil cooler may be added one day, apart from the ribbed filter that now protrudes from the crankcase.
I took the engine up to 4,500-5,000 r.p.m. in the gears, which it reached very promptly and got 5,800 r.p.m. in top before the horizon filled with heavies, equal, I suppose, to a few m.p.h. short of the century, ton or tun. Calculation makes it 96.5 m.p.h. on the 6.00 by 16 rear tyres (4.75 by 19s at the front) with which the Riley was shod that day.
The back axle ratio is 4.77 to 1 and at Ulster 18-in, back tyres were used, Hawthorn getting 112 m.p.h. along the straight, so that the equipe wished they had used 19-in. Dunlops, when something in the region of 120 would have shown up ; 1,000 r.p.m. in top equals 18 m.p.h. on the 18-in., 18.7 m.p.h. on 19-in. covers. At Ulster the close-ratio gearbox was used, with ratios of 1.61 to 1 on first, 1.85 to 1 on second and 1.25 to 1 on third gear. For Goodwood and English circuits generally a wider ratio box, giving 2.285 to 1 on first, 1.474 to 1 on second and 1.25 to 1 on third is employed. The Riley develops 91 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., and in sports trim weighs 16 cwt. 1 qr. Stripped, for Ulster, of road clobber, it goes 14 cwt. 2 qr., so it will be appreciated that there are many modern 1½-litre sports/racing cars lighter than this fifteen-year-old Riley. Careful assembly, not weight paring, has enabled a brilliant original design to hold its head high in 1951— no wonder Leslie Hawthorn and Ken Bickell look pleased. In Michael Hawthorn they have a young driver who is cool, calm and very quick.
Next I had a look at the Riley Nine with which Michael Hawthorn won a race at Castle Combe this year and with which he amassed some of the points that put him in the lead, with Tony Crook, for the Motor Sport Brooklands Memorial Trophy at the time of writing. This is a 1934 “works” Ulster Imp, Registration No. KV 9475, about which not a great deal is known. Leslie Hawthorn bought it from H.W. Motors and on their advice rebuilt the engine. This has a normal Scintilla magneto (vertical only because Riley mounts ’em that way) four rod-operated Amal carburetters, water taken from the back of the head to aid cooling, electron front wheels, and the brakes converted to Lockheed hydraulics, using Morris-type cylinders and pedal-gear.
The gear is an E.N.V. Type 75 self-change but the clutch has been modified to act normally, not centrifugally. The compression ratio is approximately 9¾ to 1, a standard “Ulster” Imp ribbed sump is used and the car pulls a 5 to 1 top gear, the rear tyre size being varied as required; 4.50 by 19 Dunlops grace the front wheels. The weight is 14 cwt.
I must confess I could have gone on driving the 1½-litre T.T. Riley, and listening to the nice noise it makes, until the Atom Bomb goes off. Everything has to come to an end somewhere, but perhaps Leslie Hawthorn divined how I felt, for he very decently said, “Go up the road in my ‘Le Mans’ Alfa-Romeo.” I did, but that is another story, which you’ll find elsewhere.
Racing is really a relaxation for the Hawthorns, and what the Tourist Trophy Garage particularly concentrates on is rebuilt Lancia Aprilias and spares and service for these cars. I know full well the worth of the Aprilias, and if those rejuvenated at Farnham go half so well as the Hawthorn Rileys, this is the place to go if you crave one of these economical Italians. Just to demonstrate further versatility, however, Leslie Hawthorn led me to see his 500—he hadn’t even mentioned Aprilias, but I just kept fulling over them. The 500 is the ex-Hugh Sewell tubular-chassis car, never completed. Hawthorn has the ex-Collins single-knocker Norton engine that won at Silverstone and the double-knocker out of the aforementioned motor-bicycle, when he gets time to install one of them, and if call-up doesn’t spoil Michael’s racing career. Farther diversity—before I left I was shown a very early Quadrant motor-cycle, a 1926 Rex-Acme, the ex-Judd, Arthur Dobson “Brooklands” Douglas of about the same era, and the ex-Fernihough twin-cam Cotton-Blackburn. They are also agents for Riley and Rover, and Jaguar distributors. Quite something of a place, this T.T. Garage !