An Afternoon Amongst the Gerard Rileys
by Sir Anthony Stamer, Bt.
IT was one of those afternoons when the clouds were very nearly sitting on the vast pools of mud which are sometimes termed “airfield surface,” and even the birds were walking in small, damp formations, nattering plaintively to each other as they went.
In the rest room three completely brassed-off motoring types (crude variety). sprawled aimlessly in armchairs, the topics of conversation sinking rapidly in step with their spirits. Ron, in fact, was telling us sadly how US marriage was due in another week or so, and how he had recently parted with his beloved Anzani ‘Nash as a direct result—a statement that drew from Hugh a reply that, luckily, can hardly be reproduced in mere words, and which caused the others to suggest aggressively that the rest room was not the place where he should be sitting.
Consequently, when Johnny put his head round the door and suggested an afternoon’s visit on our way home to that impressive establishment (fully oc(upied in overhauling Gardner and E.R. F. lorries) wherein reposes the fleet of quick Rileys belonging to F. R. Gerard, of Brooklands and Donington fame, there was a mad rush for the door. Sundry innocent bodies who were entering the room at that moment were severely mauled, but we had no time to worry over trifles. Somehow we wedged ourselves in a spam -like mass into the 10-h.p. mass-produced Mistake that Johnny uses purely as a means of transport, the starter wheezed grudgingly, and soon we were chamfering along at an uneasy 40 m.p.h. down the Foss Way. Squashed into a corner of the back seat, Starner was silently racked by a bad go of his old complaint, Muffled Pinking.
Gerard met us at the door of his establishment, and we were conducted straight to the splendid sight of his three racing Rileys, resplendent in their dark blue paintwork, racing numbers and Dunlop racing footwear. Morale rose with a rush, and even Ron forgot his matrimonial worries and grinned from car to car. The first car was an ex-T.T. 6-cylinder which, like all his others, has undergone much careful modification. Although fast, this model was apparently prone to shedding rods on the over-run unless the driver kept a sharp look-out, a trouble not cured even by the use of special rods
incorporating 4-bolt big ends. The amount of superfluous metal that was drilled from this chassis in the process of lightening it must have been truly impressive. Next came a very short and stubby ” ” chassis carrying an ex-Percy McClure
4-cylinder power unit which had been fitted with a special head incorporating two 14-mm. plugs to each cylinder, fired by an 8-cylinder magneto with a twinarmed rotor. The third of the bunch was the 6cylinder with. cowled radiator in which Gerard was performing just before the
war. Tills has been fitted with an E.R.A. crank and rods, and Gerard states that it is virtually indestructible, its maximum engine speed being somewhere around 7,000 r.p.m. At this point we retired into the management’s holy of holies and were provided with an excellent tea, over which everyone talked motoring furiously, regardless of whether anyone was listening or not. It was interesting to hear that Percy McClure has parted with his Rileys, and that his well-known blue car with
independent suspension at the front is now owned by Parnell. This led to much speculation as to Percy McClure’s future, and the suggestion that maybe E.R.A. have signed him up for post-war use. Surely he can’t be giving up racing ? Once every six months, Gerard told us, it used to be the custom to ” run up ” the
three racing Rileys, and a “round the houses ” course Was laid through the works, Out at the back and by devious routes back to the main entrance. The entire staff used to turn out to view this wonderful spectacle, and it can well be imagined that this invigorating sight (and sound) used to pep up production far more. than any “music while you work ” programme. What better music could one listen to ? These days the D.P.O. would frown upon such a proceeding, and so it has had to cease. We then returned to the works, and ” Sprite ” after “Sprite” call Gerard modified) was shown to us. Never have I seen such Riley enthusiasm. There was his own immaculate cream “Sprite,” used on essential business, a similar blue one, and a very special one that is being highly modified for postwar trials, and should prove itself to have vastly more than average urge. In a corner was a treasured car, his original red ” Gamecock,” which carried him many miles on the Continent to See the German Grand Prix, as soon as he Was old enough to obtain a driving licence. And there were sundry saloon Rileys, too. Filially, we came upon a blue ” Imp,” and this, we learnt, was ” Bira’s ” original Car, in which he ehtered the competition world. It has been fitted with a Centric blower, and is due for the MIMI Gerard modification. When he first obtained it, he told us, the car was most reluctant even to enter the 60’s. It must have had other owners since it left the White Mouse Garage, In due course we did a tour or the whole establishment and watched the beautifully-designed power units Which are fitted in Gardner lorries being stripped down to the last bolt and recut iditimied. The quality of these engines came as an eye-opener to most of Us ; in comparison, the pOwer unit of the average British private car is indeed an anremic affair. In the electrical service department we watched an outsize in axial self-starters do its stuff and marvelled at the power developed in comparison to its size. It became obvious why the Bosch starter on the writer’s laid-up Alfa-Romeo can fairly whip the
engine round after he has nearly wrecked himself in his efforts with the starting handle once a month.
Before leaving, Gerard took us upstairs to what appeared to be a normal garage stores, but which, on closer inspection, proved to be composed of Riley spares— and very special ones at that. This department was enough to make strong men weak with envy, and while Hugh examined special connecting rods laid out in rows, Stamer’s mouth fairly watered over the giant racing plug box and its contents. There were, to misquote the poet, “lots of little things that you’d love if you could see ‘ern, the Scintilla and many more besides.” Bits for a proposed single-seater chassis lay around, vast petrol funnels stood on shelves, and a windscreen still proudly before the notice ” Competitor.” Ron was seen to be stealthily trying to force an inlet manifold resplendent with four Amals into his overcoat pocket, but it was too big, and he reluctantly put it back on the shelf.
The four individuals who left that building were hardly recognisable as the browned-olT men who had shambled in three hours previously, though it wasn’t until half an hour after opening time that they really recovered from what they had seen in that stores, and once more found the use of their fluent—if unintelligent— tongues. From then onwards the denizens of one of Leicester’s less reputable ale houses were constantly troubled by the highly life-like impressions of fast motors leaving the starting line, conjuring up (to the initiated) visions that would make those binders, the tyre-control men, turn in their graves—if only they were in them ! Life was good once more, thanks to Mr. Gerard. •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••