Two-Carburetter High-Compression Version of the Wolseley 1500 Provides Outstanding Speed and Acceleration Combined with Good Handling Qualities and High Gear Ratios
The new Riley One-Point-Five saloon has the same engine, suspension and body-pressings as the Wolseley 1500 and virtually identical dimensions. It uses the same B.M.C. series-B power-unit but with twin instead of a single S.U. carburetter and a higher compression-ratio. We expressed our opinion about cars which are closely related yet which bear totally different make-names in the Editorial of last December and need not reiterate them here. Moreover, although it is correct to regard the 1.5-litre Riley as a warmed-up Wolseley 1500, the fact is that there are differences between these two B.M.C. permutations—apart front the greater power-output the Riley has a differently laid-out facia panel incorporating a tachometer, and it has Girling brakes (of 30½ sq. in. greater lining area) whereas the little Wolseley has Lockheed brakes. There are also differences in interior trim, and the Riley has hooded headlamps—which, the pundits claim. reduces maximum speed by a few m.p.h. Certainly the wind flow makes strange mud patterns on the bonnet top just inboard of the lamps.
However, to all intents and purposes the Riley resembles the Wolseley, about which Motor Sport published a full road-test report as recently as last month. Consequently there is no need to deal with the 1.5 Riley in detail and in matters of description and comment our account of the Wolseley 1500 can be taken as applying to the Riley unless rescinded by what follows.
The Riley has a polished walnut facia but there is no cubby hole before the driver, although a generous, lidded but not lockable cubby is provided before the front-seat passenger. The driver is confronted by three instrument dials, comprising a Jaeger 100 m.p.h. speedometer (incorporating trip, with decimal, and total mileometers), and a Jaeger 6,000-r.p.m. tachometer, these flanking a dial enclosing the oil gauge, water temperature and fuel contents recorders. The presence of a tachometer is pleasing, although there are readings every 1,000 r.p.m. only and something more elaborate would be expected on a sports car. The fuel gauge is unusually accurate, little margin being left after the reading reaches “E”; oil pressure is normally rather above 50 lb./sq. in. and water temperature does not rise above “N.”
To the right of the tachometer are two buttons, for lamps and screen-wipers, respectively, with the screen-washers’ push-button in line below them. Further buttons for fog lamp (not fitted on the test car) and panel lighting flank the detachable ignition-key. while starter and mix flue controls are located further to the nearside, below the speedometer. There is a small radio speaker, with the sensible ventilator/heater quadrants between this and the hole or glove box. The indicator lamps for full beam and ignition do not dazzle and the stalk control for the flashers is useful.
On the road this little four-door four-seater saloon is no mean performer! We drove it nearly 850 miles in four days and found it more than a match for most other cars encountered. The twin S.U., 8.3 to 1 compression-ratio engine goes up to 6.000 r.p.m. without complaint, although its peak speed is 5.400 r.p.m. High gear ratios are a feature of the 1.5 Riley and maxima on the indirect gears are as high as 29, 47 and 78 m.p.h., respectively. In practice acceleration in the 5.12 to 1 third gear tails off above 4,000 r.p.m. or approximately 55 m.p.h. and 5,000 r.p.m., or an indicated speed of nearly 70 m.p.h., represents the usable maximum. So far as absolute maximum speed is concerned, the high axle ratio of 3.73 to 1 means that a long unobstructed run is required to attain 85 m.p.h. but 80 m.p.h. is fairly frequently within the compass of this willing little car. Similarly, cruising speed is dictated by road conditions, an indicated 80 m.p.h. being quite feasible, when engine speed is below 4,300 r.p.m. The engine is comparatively silent at 3.000 r.p.m., equal to a speed of 55 rn,p.h. Above 79½ m.p.h. a piston speed of 2,500 ft per min. is exceeded.
The now well-known B.M.C. central floor gear-lever is naturally employed for the Riley and this exceedingly pleasant gear change encourages the sort of driving which results in high average speeds over give-and-take roads. The gear change is a trifle stiff and it is sometimes very difficult to engage bottom gear, with or without a crunch, but otherwise this is a delightful gearbox. The gears are quiet but considerable hum emanates front the back axle.
The Riley has the rack-and-pinion steering made famous by the Issigonis Morris Minor. This is accurate, free from lost-motion and reasonably light, with useful castor action. Very slight kick-back (less than on the Morris Minor and Wolseley) is sometimes experienced and on tight corners rather higher gearing would be an improvement. the big dished steering wheel requiring 2⅞ turns, lock-to-lock. The angle of the wheel, experienced in conjunction with the rather upright driving stance, isn’t ideal and the dish of the (sprung) wheel spokes makes operation of the horn button tiresome.
The Riley One-Point-Five inherits the notable handling characteristics of the Morris Minor but we were disappointed to find rather too supple suspension for a lively car of this nature. The Riley can be cornered fast with considerable enjoyment but there is roll which to some extent destroys the accuracy of line round fast bends and the car has a disconcerting habit of darting about, although the tyres do not protest when the driver becomes ambitious. We would sum-up the Riley’s handling characteristics as good but not so outstanding as we had hoped and which could be even more in keeping with the car’s sparkling performance with advantage.
The performance is definitely excellent for a four-seater saloon of this engine-capacity and price-bracket. The little Riley sees off its sporting companion the M.G. Magnette, being able to attain 50 m.p.h. from rest in less than 12 seconds, increase its speed from 30 to 50 m.p.h. in third gear in under 9 seconds, from 50 to 70 m.p.h. in top gear in 18½ seconds and clock 20.6 seconds over a s.s.¼-mile.
Such acceleration, allied to good handling qualities, should make this B.M.C. Riley a notable rally car. The outstanding performance stems from installation of an engine for which 68 gross h.p. is claimed in a car weighing well under a ton. A mass-produced unit which will run up to 6,000 r.p.m. without anxiety is quite an accomplishment and considerable engine noise, of the “buzz-box” variety, when the throttles are opened wide in the lower gears, is excusable. It is an engine which starts instantly in winter without resort to the mixture control, but it does run-on somewhat after the ignition has been cut.
In order to test the new Riley thoroughly we went without a night’s sleep in order to enjoy empty roads to the West Country. On this long night run the heater was found to be fully effective. The Lucas lamps give a very powerful but rather concentrated beam. Before starting we filled the petrol tank to the brim with National Benzole Super. The dank ran dry after 177 miles, which included fast but not furious main road motoring and two ascents of Porlock, with re-start tests in the course of the second climb. (The stated tank capacity of seven gallons is optimistic.) This restricted range is deplorable. It means that for rally work a larger tank will be essential (as, we presume, will stiffer shock absorbers) and in ordinary motoring such frequent refuelling stops will be necessary that a can of petrol is likely to be carried as a matter of course, depleting the otherwise reasonable luggage capacity. A careful check on fuel consumption proved this to be 27.0 m.p.g. with some further hill-storming, including Lynton, Salcombe and White Sheet, and 29.5 m.p.g, on a long, fast main-road journey. AL the close of our 850-mile test the sump oil-level was ominously near the “minimum” mark on the dip-stick but a quart of Castrol served to restore this, representing an oil consumption of approximately 3.400 m.p.g.
Reverting to the control characteristics of the Riley, the clutch is heavy and it is difficult to avoid judder; in restarting and accelerating on rough-surface hills the back-axle tramps noticeably—the moral of i.r.s. emphasised again. The.Girling brakes, apart from the faintest squeal, are beyond reproach. They are progressive, yet deceptively powerful under light pedal pressures. The central between-seats hand-brake is well placed but only just held the car on Porlock. The pendant pedals are rather mean and set slightly to the left.
The polished-wood facia and window surrounds and the two-tone leather upholstery are intended to impart an air of sumptuousness to the Riley. To a large extent this object is attained, but nine different shades in the interior are rather overpowering to those who are not colour-blind and in minor matters the car falls sadly short of the standard its makers have attempted to suggest. For example, in pulling shut the near-side front door the plastic bar of the door pull broke and removed skin from the driver’s finger, necessitating an emergency halt to search for Elastoplast. Substitution of plastic for metal was imprudent in this instance! The cover of the rear-compartment ash-tray clattered off at a touch, the ash-tray in the driver’s door fell out, the Wilmot-Breeden ignition-key twisted after being used to lock the doors so that it wouldn’t enter the ignition lock. the throttle-linkage tends to jerky running and although the bonnet props open automatically this prop needed persuasion before it would release. Tile catches of the windows were stiff to release and the oil filler stiff to unscrew.
The luggage-boot lid remains open and doses automatically, the floor of the boot is sensibly slightly inclined upwards, and the spare wheel is in a separate compartment beneath. The front-door windows open fully with two turns of their handles, the rear windows with 2½ turns. The petrol filler lid is hinged to the filler neck and it is possible to refuel from a can. The seats are generally comfortable and the front bucket seats provide excellent support at the expense of an upright seating position and rather hard cushions.
There is not a shadow of doubt but that this Riley One-Point Five has a promising future. It will appeal to those who delight in excellent performance from small-engined, comparatively-inexpensive little cars. The Riley has this performance to a commendable degree and if its restricted fuel range exasperates keen tourists, especially on the Continent, and if its rather supple springing would be improved by stiffer dampers, the fact remains that this is one of the more interesting and exciting of Britain’s new cars. It is a car which possesses little “character,” which feels far more like a de luxe Morris Minor than a Riley, and although its “traditional” radiator grille looks genuine from the outside it becomes a crude thing seen with the bonnet open—just as the scraping of some of the red paint off the valve cover in order to write “Riley” thereon is to be deplored. Various Riley “diamonds” provide additional identification.
Yet, when all is said and done, this little Riley goes, corners, and stops far better than a car of its size has any right to do. Enthusiasts who have not yet driven one are advised, to queue-up at the doors of B.M.C. dealers, for the Riley One-Point-Five is a car that seems likely to make rally—and sales—history. — W. B.