Vintage Postbag, July 1978

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Vintage Postbag

Riley 9 laistorY

Sir,

It was with great interest and a keen sense of nostalgia that I read your article “The Brooklands Speed Model Riley Nine” in the March issue. My close association with Riley (Coventry) Ltd. started in 1922 when I was with Leverett, Thorpe & Keaton Ltd., New Bond Street, the London Main Dealers for Riley and Arrol Johnston. Those seasoned motor trade pioneers, Ernest E. Leverett and S. Gordon Mar

shall, were Managing Director and Sales Manager respectively, and my youthful companions were Victor Leverett and Geoffrey Salmon, son of Arthur Salmon of The Garage & Motor Agent. To we three youngsters the lively 10.8 h.p. Riley promised, and provided, far more excitement and sporting activity than the staid A. J.

Eventually Victor Leverett had an offer he couldn’t refuse and left for a spell with Lanchester, and S. Gordon Marshall joined Riley as Sales Manager in Coventry. Later Victor Leverett left Lanchester and became Manager of the Riley London showroom in North Audley Street where I joined him in 1925. By 1927 I was Trade Representative, the only one, with, believe it or not, the whole of Great Britain as my territory. You can imagine the immense mileage I covered, mainly in a 12 h.p. Special Tourer and a “Red Winger”, for the 12 h.p. models were still the mainstay of the business.

The “Nine” shown at Olympia in 1926, as a rather ordinary-looking panel tourer with artillery wheels, had indeed been a sensation, and was in great demand, but much had to be done to improve the chassis, real production had to be organised, and additional bodies designed. Thus 1927 was a year of tremendous activity. Capt. Cecil Riley and Tatlow, Test Department, during their lengthy stay in Europe, had many redesigned or modified parts sent out to them. The engine was no great problem for it was basically right. Incidentally, I think I am right in saying that Percy Riley built the prototype in 1922, and it then lay around for two years before being seriously considered as the basis for a new model. A Monaco saloon prototype, with modified chassis, appeared at the first 1927 Shelacy Walsh in the hands of A. J. Phippen, not a member of the firm, but a trials driver who was frequently a member of a works team with Victor Leverett and Victor Wallsgrove, and he was allowed a courtesy ascent. (Which solves a previous mystery — Ed.] The development of the Speed Model arose from a meeting of Percy Riley with Parry

Thomas in 1926, but as you surmised Thomas had little time to do more than initiate the project. The design can be attributed, in its entirety, to Reid RaiIton, who achieved a remarkable result in a very short time. The first “Speed Models” were certainly produced by T & T, but by 1928 production did commence in Coventry. Following the 1927 Show the demand for the Nine became overwhelming and I returned to the London showroom, and late in 1928 the few Brooklands models delivered to us came from Coventry.

My own experience with the Brooklands model tends to agreement with the theory that the very low build did make the beginnings of a slide difficult to detect, particularly with a full tank. I can well remember Vic Gillow being caught out in the Ulster TT of, I think, 1931, within my clear view from the commentator’s box, at the first corner just after the start. Whilst on the subject of the IT may I say that I think it was in 1932 that Whitcroft won, at I believe 74 m.p.h., and not 1931.

My favourite Nine was a fabric-bodied sports tourer with a high-compression engine, twin Solex, and high axle-ratio. Having a standard radiator, a water pump was not required. Turning to your suggestion that after 1928 Rileys appeared to ignore the Brooklands, I suggest one has to put the situation into perspective. At a time when other makers could offer anything off the peg the demand for Riley Nines was such that they had a waiting list that can only be compared with that of Rolls-Royce and Jaguar in recent years. In these circumstances the emphasis of production had to be upon the models in popular demand. During these years a great time was had by all. Rileys were a cult and were doing well in races, trials and hill-climbs, the newlyformed Riley Motor Club, of which I was an early member, was in great form with frequent rallies and social events, and we had finished in good time in the first Brighton Run, on a Riley Tricar despite a broken frame which we repaired with a length of gas pipe found on a scrap-heap in Crawley. Late in 1928 I was appointed London Service Manager at the

new Service Depot in The Palace of Industry, Wembley, where I had a most interesting time dealing with our many enthusiastic owners, such as the Earl of March, then with Bentley Motors, and Dudley Toon, to name but two. However, at the end of 1929, I had an attractive offer from the great Ford Motor Co. to join their Lincoln Car Division and my direct association with Riley came to an end. My interest, of course, remained, and even now we have the diamond badge, at least, in the garage for my wife has an immaculate Elf. S. WRIGHT SELLARS (Col.) Bushey Heath