Road test—driving a 107 m.p.h. Riley Elf

Every so often we test a modified car which offers fantastic performance for its capacity. Such a car is the Speedwell-modified Riley Elf which we have been testing recently. Although on the face of it the Elf is one of the least likely of the Mini range to benefit from tuning treatment, Speedwell decided to market the car as the “Executive Riley,” aimed at the man who wants outstanding performance but also prefers the better appointments and slightly larger boot of the Elf. This particular car is only offered as a complete package and costs £825, although of course anyone who already owns an Elf could have much of the work done by Speedwell, but it would probably be more expensive.

Most of the cost of the conversion goes on the engine, for this is modified from its standard power output of 38 b.h.p. at 5,250 r.p.m. to give no less than 93 b.h.p. at 7,400 r.p.m. This necessitates stripping the engine, balancing the rotating parts, increasing the engine capacity from 998 c.c. to 1,150 c.c., fitting the Speedwell aluminium cylinder head with 11-to-1 compression ratio, twin S.U. carburetters, high-lift camshaft and so on. This is only about 5 b.h.p. less than Speedwell’s Formula Junior engine specification, the absolute maximum top-end power being sacrificed for better torque lower down the rev. range. It actually produces 78 lb. ft. of torque at 5,500 r.p.m., against 52 lb. ft. at 2,700 r.p.m. of the standard Elf.

This power results in the most fantastic performance on the road for the Speedwell Elf will accelerate cleanly up to 7,500 r.p.m. in the lower gears, but for performance testing we contented ourselves with using 7,000 r.p.m. as a gear-change point. An extra on the test car, costing £17 10s., was an electronic rev.-counter made for Speedwell by Weston’s which has a single slim red line marked at 7,500 r.p.m. So easily did the engine rev. to this figure in 1st and 2nd that we would recommend the rev.-counter as a safety factor to avoid over-revving. Due to the large amount of wood in the Elf facia panel the rev.-counter had to be fitted in the lid of the glove locker in front of the driver, which might upset the lovers of wooden facias, but otherwise a special bracket would have to be made up. At 7,000 r.p.m. in the gears the Elf gives speeds of 29, 49, 75 and 104 m.p.h. In fact when testing for maximum speed we found that the Elf would achieve 7,200 r.p.m. on the flat in top gear, a speed of 107 m.p.h., but this took a long while to come up, and only on a long downgrade could 7,500 r.p.m. or 112 m.p.h. be seen. However, its maximum speed is not so important as its ability to cruise along at 6,000 r.p.m. in top (90 m.p.h) for hour after hour if need be and still have some acceleration in hand to pass the odd Bentley or Jaguar. Perhaps the most pleasant aspect of driving the .Speedwell Elf is to study the expressions on drivers’ faces as the Elf goes past. These range from downright anger to incredulity, and from those with a sense of humour, amusement. A few drivers speed up to try and stay with the Elf but few keep up the pace for very long. The test car was fitted with a headlamp flasher, costing 18s. 6d., which is a worthwhile investment as the Elf passes a lot of cars and the lights need to be flashed quite a lot. The hooter is the standard one, which is not very effective.

Having had experience of other highly-tuned B.M.C. engines we expected the Speedwell unit to be temperamental, and the sight of a spare set of plugs in the door pocket did nothing to reassure us. However, this engine proved to be very tractable and gave no trouble at all. In heavy traffic it would fluff occasionally but a blip on the throttle always cleared the plug immediately. The oil pressure stayed between 50 and 75 p.s.i. according to road speed, and the needle of the water-temperature gauge seldom moved more than halfway across the dial, always staying in the ” normal” position. The engine had a “lumpy” idle but never stalled and was certainly no noisier than most standard Mini engines. If the throttle was depressed too rapidly a smell of petrol invaded the car but this could be avoided quite easily. The carburetters of the test car had no air cleaners, which no doubt aggravated the problem.

It could not be expected that the Speedwell Elf would be as tractable as the standard version but it will trickle along at 30 m.p.h. in top gear and accelerate away quite cleanly, although with the performance available in 2nd gear there is little point in doing this. The Elf is of course a superb car for traffic driving as it can be flicked in and out of the traffic and has the acceleration available to get the driver out of trouble in many situations. The performance figures in the data table show just how quick the Speedwell Elf is, compared with some other fast cars, but even these figures could be bettered by a considerable amount as we had to take the figures on a soaking-wet track. The car was fitted with the standard C41 Dunlop tyres and violent wheelspin occurred all the time in 1st gear. By letting in the clutch at 3,000 r.p.m. in 1st the car just stood still while the rev.-counter whistled round the dial, and it was only by dropping to 2,000 r.p.m. that we were able to get the car moving at all. In dry conditions with Dunlop SP tyres it should be possible to knock 2 sec. off most of the figures above 50 m.p.h. In any case a figure of 12.4 sec. for 0-60 m.p.h. will still manage to dispose of most other vehicles.

With this sort of performance the brakes of the Elf obviously needed modification and the Executive Riley is fitted with hard competition linings and a vacuum brake servo as standard equipment. The pedal pressure required is quite high for power-assisted brakes but the Elf pulls up well with no sign of fade from high speeds and there is none of the snatch or squeal sometimes associated with hard linings.

The handling of the Mini range is too well known to require detailed discussion but the Speedwell Elf differed from standard in having a rear anti-roll bar costing £7. It is difficult to evaluate the results imparted by the roll bar as the whole of our test was conducted on wet roads and the C41 tyres proved inadequate for high-speed cornering in the wet, so that we were unable to explore the limits of the Elf’s road-holding. In addition the shock-absorbers gradually weakened during our test until at the end they were almost totally out of action, having covered only 3,000 miles from new. In conditions like these one begins to appreciate the hard work done by shock-absorbers for without them the Elf floated about like an American car and was almost uncontrollable on bumpy roads.

The test car also had a couple of other interesting extras which added to our enjoyment of the test car. These were a Golde sunshine roof costing £60 and a pair of RestaII de luxe reclining front seats costing £25 each. The sunshine roof, fitted by the Allard Motor Co., is released by a roof handle and then slid backwards. A transparent plastic wind break can then be swung upwards to deflect air over the top of the car. The P.V.C. covering of the sunshine roof was finished in white to match the white roof. We regret that the weather during the test precluded its use for more than a few minutes but at least we were able to discover that it was completely waterproof.

The Restall seats are not of the bucket type, but with deep foam cushions and reclining backrests they proved to be much more comfortable than the standard Mini seats, which are decidedly uncomfortable. The backrest is lowered by means of a large knurled wheel which is rather difficult to turn and the fully reclining position cannot be reached owing to the proximity of the rear bench seat.

This Speedwell Elf shows that a highly-modified car need not be intractable, noisy or uncomfortable, and we can see this car appealing to many other people as well as “Executives.” As well as its 100-m.p.h. plus performance the Elf has a remarkably good fuel consumption, our overall average working out at 32.8 m.p.h., although the small 5 1/2-gallon tank means that the range is not much over 170 miles. £825 is a lot of money for a car which costs £575 in standard form but we can see many people placing orders for the “Executive Riley.”—M. L. T.