Thirty-Three Years of Car 1 uildin
HOW RILEYS HAVE PROGRESSED THROUGH THREE DECADES IN THE BRITISH AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY.
HERE often seems to be a tendency to imagine that anything which is really modern, especially among things mechani cal, must be produced by some recently
established concern. It is therefore not surprising to find that many motorists of today fail to realise that the Riley car which is so familiar to them in their travels, is produced by one of the oldest firrns in the industry, a firm whose history actually goes back further than that of motoring itself.
Not only is the Riley concern unusual in being an entirely family affair from its inception, but the same family were already in business in Coventry before motoring was thought of. It was to the remarkable foresight of William Riley, originally in the weaving business in Coventry, that the Riley motor car as we know it today is due. There have been many interesting and.:exciting developments in their history in the intervening years, and the active and resourceful co-operation of the Riley brothers, who are so very well known4 in the industry, has been the
main feature of the firm’s development. It was, however, the fact that in 1890 William Riley foresaw the decline of the weaving industry in this country, that made him look round for other projects which his sons could carry on with more hope of success, and he started by concentrating on the cycle business. .
In 1896, the weaving business gave way entirely to its more modern rival, and by getting in ahead of others he was in a fine position when the other weaving businesses died in spite of the efforts of their leaders, who had failed to see, as William Riley had done, the changes which were overtaking the age in which they lived.
In those days mechanical propulsion was almost non-existent on the roads, but by this time the brothers Victor and Percy Riley were full of enthusiasm for the new idea, and the result was the first Riley car, built in 1898, which incorporated many excellent features far ahead of others of the time. The valve gear and cylinder head design of the Riley has always been, and still is, one of its most remarkable features, but there is nothing very unexpected in this
when one considers that this firm was the first to employ mechanically operated valves in place of automatic, even the first Riley of 1898 being so fitted.
A long list of technical improvements of outstanding importance accompanied the development of this firm’s vehicles, and gave ample proof of the enthusiasm and inventive skill of its makers. The cars changed from tricars to four wheelers of more conventional type, and in 1903 the Riley works were used to produce power units for other makes as well as their own, the chief model being an 8 h.p. water-cooled unit, which was employed widely and with great success. Proof of the capabilities of this engine from the point of view of wear, was later given by the discovery in 1913 of one of these units which was still in continuous use driving the plant of a foundry in Coventry.
The Riley brothers have been motorists froni the very earliest days, and it is this which has contributed to greatly to the fact that their products have always been so well ahead of their time, for there is nothing to compete with practical enthusiasm and experience for the introduction of new ideas.
The principle of valve overlap was another of the features introduced by this concern, and the history of the firm from these early days through all the later developments, is a long list of similar innovations which cannot be set down here. One thing, however, which should be noted, is that one of the greatest boons to motoring, the invention of the detachable wheel, was developed independently by the Riley brothers and the Riley was the first car ever to have detachable wheels as part of the standard equipment.
Many interesting models were introduced prior to the War, and the 12/18 and 10 h.p. cars put up a performance in the 1909 Scottish trials, which has never been equalled, when J. Browning and Stanley Riley won their respective classes, and also every possible other award in the class.
New models in preparation in 1914 were cut short by the War and after the War came a period of reconstruction in which part of the new buildings being used for making War material were now used as the first part of the new Riley works, and the 11 h.p. and 12 h.p. Riley soon made their appearance. The ” 12″ became the established favourite of many competition men, and its successes in trials gave it a great reputation. Many present day sporting motorists will have at one time or another owned one of the famous” Red-winger” sports models of this type, and will agree that it was a sports car very well ahead of its time in numerous features.
All this time, however, the Riley brothers were planning to introduce something nearer their ideal, and it was at about this time that foreign cars were making a complete monopoly of all big races in the 1,100 c.c. class. This fact may have further encouraged them to bring the new engine within this class, and finally the new moderawas ready for the public.
Never has a new car been such a surprise or been accorded such a unanimous welcome, or filled a bigger need. The Riley Nine set a new fashion in motoring, and one which has shown its soundness by the way in which it is still holding the field. The success of the Riley Nine in open competition is now a matter of history. Both on road and track, in the hands ofiprivate owners and amateurs, it has proved itself supreme in its class. The Brooklands model has proved a firm favourite with racing men, and the long
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list of victories culminated with the wonderful effort of Victor Gillow in last year’s Irish Grand Prix, when he won the first day’s race outright under difficult conditions by a drive which will always be remembered by those who witnessed it. Always active believers in competition work as a
means of testing out and proving their products, the Riley has a full racing programme for this year. In these days when we have fewer than ever British makes to contest foreign competition in the big races, it is good to see such a firm upholding our colours, and everyone will wish them every success again this season.