Impressions of the Riley Two-Point-Six
We were able to gain experience of the Riley Two-Point-Six over a distance of 600 miles.
Future motoring historians, when your Editor is advertising bar a vintage bath-chair, will no doubt tell us that the last “real” Riley was the Pathfinder. The present 2.6-litre six-cylinder Riley constitutes a modest-priced comfortable five-seater saloon with a reasonable degree of comfort and dignity, no mean performance (maximum speed is, indeed, as high as 96 m.p.h.), which runs silently and effortlessly except for wind-noise at high cruising speed. That it has a Riley radiator grille may gain it a few ageing customers from the ranks of those who always have motored behind the Riley diamond badge.
As has become customary for the better-class modern cars which share with other makes a common body pressing, the 2.6 Riley has a polished walnut facia, door cappings and surrounds designed to lift it out of the common rut, and a further item of individuality is the right-hand gear change.
This big Riley relies for its performance on a delightfully smooth and quiet 2,639 c.c. B.M.C. C-type six-cylinder engine which develops over 100 b.h.p. at 4,750 r.p.m., using twin S.U. H4 carburetters and having a compression-ratio of 8.3-to-2. This pulls a top gear of 3.9-to-1; overdrive or automatic transmission are extras. The engine in the Riley has a polished valve cover.
The Riley has a separate box-section chassis with wishbone and torsion-bar i.f.s. and a body shell which it shares with the Wolseley 6/90. The interior appointments and deep wide seats are also similar but the instrumentation differs. For instance, a tachometer (reading to 6,000 r.p.m., with markings every 1,000 r.p.m.) supplements the Riley/Jaeger 100 m.p.h. speedometer, which has trip (with decimal) and total mileage recorders. The figures on these 4¼ in. dials are in green. The green needles move in the same plane and read with commendable steadiness; the tachometer figures are luminous. There are four small dials, rather widely spaced two each side of the aperture for a radio speaker, which comprise water thermometer, ammeter, oil-pressure gauge (normally reading 50 lb./sq. in.) and fuel gauge. A useful electric clock is located centrally below the speaker aperture. Before the front passenger there is a very spacious lockable lined cubby-hole, the radio (an extra) being fitted beneath this, with the sensible heater demister/defroster twin quadrants inboard of it. Minor controls consist of all-alike buttons spaced about the facia in a “fumbly ” array. These actuate the self-parking wipers, panel lighting, starter (the ignition key is separate), lamps, Lucas fog-lamp, Lucas long-range lamp and mixture control. They are lettered, which helps in daylight. Their knobs revolve unpleasantly on their spindles.
The Lucas hooded headlamps provide excellent driving light augmented by a 100,000 c.p. Lucas long-range lamp so arranged that it comes in on headlamps full-beam; it extinguishes with the headlamps dipped and cannot be used with only the side lamps alight. The lamps are dipped by means or a convenient stalk on the right of the steering-column, this being flexible to act as an admirable lamps-flasher which can be “flicked” with impunity. Panel lighting is subdued (there is no rheostat control) and does not assist the driver to insert the ignition key or see the minor controls. In the speedometer dial are full-beam and direction-flashers indicator windows giving non-dazzle warnings. The flashers are self-cancelling, operated by a finger-lever on the hub of the dialled three-spoke steering wheel, which has a full horn-ring that sounds the twin Windtone horns. The electrical system includes a snap lamp, a central reversing lamp automatically operated by the gear lever, and twin roof-lamps in the rear compartment which come on automatically when the back doors are opened (surely a throw-back to the age of chauffeurs?) or by using the switch on either side, when both lamps light.
The 2.6 Riley should be a full six-seater, for its bench seats are amply wide, but a very wide transmission tunnel below the heater unit makes the centre of the front seat suitable only for the legless. This is a pity because with the r.h. gear lever and an “umbrella-handle ” hand brake located, not inconveniently, beneath the steering column, this area is otherwise clear. There is a step in this big protrusion to take the driver’s left foot. The chassis side members necessitate the use of shallow foot wells in the front and rear compartments. It is pleasant to find that only the accelerator pedal is of the pendant type.
Each seat has a wide folding centre arm-rest, making the car snug for four occupants and there are rather hard arm-rests on each backdoor and the front passenger’s door, shaped to serve as” pulls.” The driver has no such arm-rest; his door has a small hinged metal “pull.” The front-door windows call for two turns of the handles to open them fully, the back doors 2½ turns. Triplex toughened safety glass is used here, with a Triplex plate safety glass windscreen. The Riley is upholstered in real English leather and has soft pile carpets. Smokers find a drawer-style ashtray on the heater box and another in the back of the front-seat squab. Leg room is generous in the Riley, headroom rather limited. Four trailing doors with push-button external handles make for easy entry and exit and the r.h. gear lever is so positioned as in no way to impede the driver’s doorway. Visibility is somewhat hampered by wide sloping screen pillars and a long bonnet which renders the near-side front wing invisible. The view over the bonnet is reminiscent of being in an enlarged Sunbeam Mk. III, except for the chrome centre beading, and you wouldn’t dream you were driving a Riley. There is a large inclined back window. The centre anti-dazzle flick-type mirror is of generous size but seems to have been borrowed from an M.G. Magnette, because its supporting strut does not touch the screen and use of the anti-dazzle device seriously deflects the mirror; what is an admirable arrangement on the M.G. has misfired on the Riley. The screen sill is crash-padded but the base of the facia isn’t.
After a frosty night in the open the engine commences readily and soon warms to its task. Liberal use of the gearbox provides good acceleration and the r.h. gear change is quite delightful, the lever nicely placed, short and rigid, with short movements. The synchromesh works admirably and this excellent change is spoilt only by the crunch which results from rapid movement out of third gear into top. The lever has no visible gate, its base being covered by a draught excluder, so the ham-handed sometimes fumble for the lower ratios when changing down in a hurry and in a certain position the window winding handle can bark the knuckles as the hand is removed from the lever. Bottom gear occasionally refuses to engage or does so with a crunch but this shortcoming isn’t so pronounced as on other B.M.C. gearboxes. The gears are commendably quiet, first alone emitting an “expensive” hum, and it is possible to proceed in third gear under the mistaken impression that top has been engaged. The engine also is very quiet up to normal cruising speeds and the Riley cruises silently, except for wind noise. The engine ran with its thermometer needle manly just off “C” but the Smiths heater and defroster worked efficiently so far as the front passengers were concerned; it was rather cold in the back of the car. We could find no means of stopping the noisy heater fan, even with the quadrant controls set to “off.”
The pleasant gear change and positive but somewhat fierce hydraulic clutch are not backed up by steering and roadholding to the same standards. In spite of being too low-geared the Bishop cam and lever steering is heavy, “dead” and spongy in action and is far from accurate; it calls for four turns, lock-to-lock. Although no column vibration is transmitted, there is occasional very slight kick at the wheel. There is reasonable castor action, which, however, doesn’t entirely return the car to the straight after a corner. The car tends to yaw slightly on straight roads, and the wheel is slippery to ungloved hands, the under-ring serrations not being sufficiently pronounced to help much.
The suspension is supple, which provides a “luxury” ride, apart from some up-and-down motion, but results in roll and instability on corners, so that, coupled with the low-geared steering, fast cornering is apt to be untidy, accompanied by protest from the Dunlops. Higher geared steering and rather stiffer suspension is required for driving of the kind enthusiasts indulge in and to render the Riley safe on ice and snow.
The Lockheed brakes are assisted by a vacuum servo and are outstandingly powerful without calling for abnormal pedal pressures. These excellent brakes give great confidence in fast driving and are also progressive in normal use. They squealed faintly at times under light application. The brakes function satisfactorily when coasting with the engine dead.
The Riley 2.6 can be driven almost all day as a top-gear car, pulling away in this gear from 1,000 r.p.m., or, by using the gearbox, it becomes endowed with unobtrusive performance which enables deceptively fast average speeds to be maintained in heavy traffic. During such fast-driving conditions a careful check showed fuel consumption to be 17 m.p.g. The makers claim a tankage of 13 gallons. If this is correct the gauge reads “E” when some two gallons remain. Thus, although the fast-driving range may be 220 miles, the owner is likely to refuel after covering only about 180 miles. Either way, this is an absurdly restricted range for a fast car likely to be used for long Continental journeys. The fuel filler has a hinged bayonet cap; beneath a lockable flap in the nearside back wing.
The engine of the Riley 2.6 runs readily up to 5,300 r.p.m. before valve bounce. sets in; 5,000 r.p.m. represents maxima of 30, 50. and 75 m.p.h., respectively, in the indirect gears. There is no trace of “pinking” or running-on but after a fast drive coolant is heard surging into the heater tank. A little oil was required after 500 miles.
On long runs the seats become rather “hard” and more support should be provided under the occupants’ legs. The back seat squab is too shallow to provide a head rest. Behind it there is a useful parcels shelf but no door pockets or under-facia shelf are provided, and thus accommodation of maps, chocolate, madam’s handbag, etc., is confined to the cubby-hole. The driver’s door has a convenient lock, the interior handles locking the other doors. The doors shut “tinnily” rather than noisily and tend to bounce onto their safety catches unless slammed. There are ¼-windows, with non-thiefproof catches at the front. The wipers tended to smear the curved screen on a wet night, in spite of the provision of push-button screen washers.
The luggage boot has a lockable over-centre lid and its capacity of 11 cu. ft. is not impaired by the spare wheel, which is carried in a special carrier under the boot. The heavy bonnet lid has to be propped open and the prop is awkward to release. The twin S.U.s are fed by an S.U. pump at the rear of the car to obviate vapour locks. Accessibility of dipstick, brake reservoir, plugs, distributor, Trico screen-washer reservoir, Lucas battery, etc., is good. The two horizontal S.U.s have a big Vokes air cleaner above them.
The body had only very minor rattles. There was a rattle from the steering column and the brake pedal squeaked when depressed. Although the Riley had ran less than 5,000 miles, the passenger’s anti-dazzle visor was about to fall off, and one back door could not be opened from inside the car. These visors are of the swivelling kind, with vanity mirror in the passenger’s, but are rather cheap, and non-transparent.
1,000 r.p.m. equals 20.4 m.p.h. in top gear; the speedometer was about 4 m.p.h. fast at 60 m.p.h.
Although the steering and road-holding of the Riley 2.6 are not in keeping with its very considerable performance—an indicated 100 m.p.h. is easily seen without waiting for a particularly long stretch of straight road—it is a well-appointed car which is notable for powerful brakes, excellent lamps and a gear change as pleasing as it is unusual. Driven sedately the new big Riley is pleasant to handle but we can imagine only too vividly what the late Fred W. Dixon would have said had he been forced to hurry in one!
Equipped so that few “extras” are required (the only one available, apart from automatic transmission and overdrive, is radio), the Riley Two-Point-Six apes far more expensive vehicles in quiet and swift progression and cannot be considered an expensive car at an all-in price of just over £1,400 inclusive of p.t. — W. B.