Motor Sport Road Test (Post-war Series) No. 6

Some Impressions of the 1947 1 1/2-Litre Riley Saloon

Excellent Performance and Roadholding. Driving Characteristics that Appeal to the Enthusiast.

One of the most popular post-war makes is the Riley, either in 1 1/2-litre or 2 1/2-litre saloon form. Consequently, we awaited eagerly an opportunity to test one of these cars, which became possible a few months ago when we collected a 1 1/2-litre model from the showrooms of Jimmy James, Ltd.

Unfortunately, early in the test, while accelerating hard in 3rd gear, No. 2 exhaust valve stuck open and, although it was easily freed, the engine seemed to lack power thereafter. Consequently, although we covered an appreciable mileage in the Riley at high speeds, we refrained from taking any performance figures, returning the car to the manufacturers for servicing before attempting runs against the stop-watch. Alas, the present restrictions on the use of petrol have made a resumption of our acquaintance with the Riley out of the question, but we have decided that our general impressions may be of interest, as this is one of the most talked-of and popular of modern cars.

From the driver’s seat both front wings are easily seen, and the pedals are well placed, although there isn’t a lot of room beside the clutch pedal or on the foot rest provided. The seats are very comfortable and leg room is entirely generous. The windscreen is in two sections, only that before the driver opening, but the central pillar and door pillars do not affect visibility, and the driver’s panel winds out fully horizontal.

Very useful is the full-width parcels shelf that runs below the instrument panel. From left to right the genuine wood facia carries: pull-out ash-tray, wiper control for passenger, combined ammeter and 100 lb./sq. in. oil gauge, panel lamp switch, screw-type hand throttle below, 95 m.p.h. Jaeger speedometer with clock, starter, choke and ignition advance and retard controls below, spot-lamp switch, combined water thermometer and fuel gauge, wiper control for driver, screen winding handle, Lucas ignition and lamps switch, and ignition tell-tale window. The spring-spoke steering wheel has the horn push in its hub. The horn, as on many modern cars, was rather more purposeful than polite, while the facia lighting was too bright for continual use after dark.

The rear-located direction indicators worked well, controlled from the wheel centre, and an effective interior lamp was provided, with its switch on the driver’s side of the car. The central mirror was rather small. The rear seat accommodates three persons in comfort, but the interior is a trifle spartan, lacking as it does door pockets or “pulls.” Admittedly there is a pocket on the back of each bucket front seat, but somehow we prefer to carry books and maps, etc., in the doors. Entry and exit does not contort the driver and he finds gear lever and hand-brake lever well placed; the rigid gear lever is spring-loaded to the high ratio side of its invisible gate.

Going round the Riley, the good lines and pleasing finish of which need no emphasis, one finds sensible fuel fillers and half-bumpers and a useful tow-bar at the rear. The rear locker is really accommodating and the spare wheel is carried beneath it. The tools live under the bonnet and are rather a motley collection; the starting handle inserts easily and normally stows under the rear seat. The bonnet is in two sections and four carriage-type locks have to be manipulated before all is revealed. The tyres are Dunlop 5.75 by 16 E.L.P.

Turning to the driving aspect of the Riley, the clutch action is fairly light and its engagement pleasantly positive, but the treadle accelerator needs fair pressure. Very soon the car is cruising effortlessly at an indicated 60 m.p.h., and it readily goes up to 70 m.p.h. with little extra effort. There is a good deal of engine noise and wind roar at these speeds, but a very good feature is that, no matter how many windows are open, no rush of air enters the body, so that one rides in comfort, adequately ventilated, yet with loose papers or parcels intact on the seats.

On “Pool” petrol the engine naturally pinks unless the ignition control is used intelligently. This pull-out control can be fairly easily operated by left forefinger and thumb, but functioned rather stiffly and could, with improvement, be transposed with the hand-throttle control. That such a control is provided at all, however, stamps the designer as someone who appreciates enthusiasts’ requirements. This observation gains further moment when one comes to consider the gear change. Although synchro-mesh is provided we were unaware of this until we returned the car and congratulated a salesman on a really good “crash” box. We had made double-declutch and clutchless changes up and down with equal facility; indeed, it pays to ignore the self-aids and really enjoy yourself on what is unquestionably an accommodating gearbox, once the driver has become used to the fairly long lever travel and restrained himself from trying to effect absolute snap-changes. The gears, like the transmission, are commendably quiet on drive and over-run. Slight vibration is transmitted through the gear lever.

The steering is heavy and inclined to be flabby at traffic-speeds, and, on the car tested, pulled somewhat to the near side. But at higher speeds it becomes light and very accurate and there is strong castor action. Slight return motion is felt through the wheel at times, but the column is absolutely rigid. Telescopic adjustment is provided and the ratio is such that 2 1/4 turns take one from one generous lock to the other. The car generally corners and handles in a safe and excellent fashion and really fast cornering gives rise to preliminary warning from the tyres before the tail slides. Front i.f.s. is by torsion bars. Although providing a comfortable ride, the suspension is not unduly supple, so that under cornering or heavy braking the car remains stable.

The Girling hydro-mechanical brakes are entirely adequate to the performance and, moreover, are a pleasure to use, being silent and truly progressive for a moderate pedal pressure, yet fully able to lock the wheels. For motoring at night the Lucas lighting, as we expected, is, again, entirely adequate, although the foot dipper control is most awkwardly placed on the propeller-shaft tunnel. The hand-brake holds the car well and releases nicely.

Oil pressure varies with engine speed, from 40 to 65 lb./sq. in., and the water temperature did not exceed an indicated 70 degrees C., although the engine ran-on badly after switching off. The facia clock has an irritatingly loud tick.

As we have said, we did not take performance figures, so we were unable to check the speedometer readings, and the folowing speed figures need to be studied with this in mind. Acceleration is a trifle sluggish from really low speeds, but the engine begins to pull well from about 35 m.p.h. in top gear and, as we have observed, 60 m.p.h. is the normal cruising speed. In normal driving one would change-up at approximately 15, 25 and 40 m.p.h. on the indirect ratios, but extreme readings of 22 m.p.h. in 1st, 37 m.p.h. in 2nd and 58 m.p.h. in 3rd were obtained before bad valve bounce intervened. An indicated 60 m.p.h. in 3rd gear was possible without undue distress from beneath the bonnet. The maximum indicated speed attained was 70 m.p.h., but another driver saw 80 on the speedometer under favourable conditions. The weight, unladen, with about two gallons of fuel, was 23 1/2 cwt. Fuel consumption came out at 18 to 19 m.p.g. over a mileage of 300, driving hard, but the car was obviously out of tune, a tappet refusing to hold its setting after an exhaust valve had stuck down, and water collecting in the plug recesses. The fuel gauge was not particularly accurate, incidentally. In spite of this lack of tune the car always started impeccably after a night in the open.

After the Editor had covered 212 miles in the Riley he handed it over to the proprietor of Motor Sport, who decided to use it for a quick journey to the coast from his home and back, over a route he knew exceedingly well. On a run of 57 miles the Riley showed a saving of nine minutes compared to a popular “Ten” driven hard by its owner, who obviously knows it far better than he knew the Riley. The speedometer showed 72-75 m.p.h. for appreciable distances, and 80 was recorded on two separate occasions.

In conclusion, the 1947 1 1/2-litre Riley is contributing its bit to the present Crisis, offering as it does fast, safe, yet economical transport to V.I.P.s., and making mouths water on the export front. The price, including purchase tax, is £863 5s. 0d., and the dimensions are 5 ft. 3 1/2 in. by 14 ft. 11 in., with 4 ft. 4 1/2 in. track and 9 ft. 4 1/2 in. wheel base.

1 1/2-Litre Riley Saloon

Engine: Four cylinders, 69 by 100 m.m. (1,496-c.c.) R.A.C.-h.p. 12: 55 b.h.p. at 4,500 r.p.m.
Gear Ratios: 1st, 19.4 to 1; 2nd, 11.2 to 1; 3rd, 7.22 to 1; top, 4.88 to 1.
Tyres: 5.75 in x 16 in Dunlop E.L.P.
Weight: 23 1/2 cwt. (in road-trim with approximately 2 gallons of petrol but less occupants).
Steering Ratio: 2 1/4 turns lock to lock.
Fuel Capacity: 12 1/2 gallons.