Like the Austin Seven, the Riley Nine remained in production for a long spell with no major changes in its basic design, and therefore parts from different models are readily interchangeable and spares are comparatively easy to find. Consequently these cars are much sought-after by enthusiasts and certain firms have begun to specialise in supplying spares and re-builds.
The Riley Nine first appeared in October, 1926, at a time when Rileys were making their well-established 12-h.p. side-valve car. The first cars had cone clutches and a r.h. gear-change and carried open four-seater coachwork. In June, 1927, the famous “Monaco” fabric four-door saloon body was introduced, with rear luggage boot, close-coupled seating, and a high waistline suggestive of Continental practice. The price was fixed at £298, and with its high-efficiency 60.8 x 95.2 (1,089 c.c.) engine with o.h. valves in hemispherical combustion chambers, actuated from two high-set, gear-driven camshafts via short push-rods, E.R.A. fashion, magneto ignition, three-point rubber mounting, unit four-speed gearbox with constant-mesh silent third gear, and effective four-wheel brakes, the Riley Nine “Monaco” was an instant and established success. In those days it gave approximately 32 b.h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m., or 38 b.h.p. with raised compression-ratio and twin S.U.s, pulled a 5.2 to 1 top gear and weighed 17 1/4 cwt. in saloon guise.
Almost at once a plate clutch and central gear-change were adopted. Early in 1928 the “Brooklands” Speed Model was introduced, based on the racing two-seater evolved by the late J. G. Parry Thomas and the “Monaco” saloon was supplemented by the “Nine Biarritz” which had no waist rail, lower windows and a divided rear window, the appearance being more comely. Minor technical changes were also made, cable in place of rod brake-operation being introduced in March, 1929.
Late in 1929 came the Mark IV, with larger brakes, “cockpit” brake adjustment, a stiffer chassis and softer springs. The luggage boot was less angular and the lid opened outwards. The “Special Series” engine was also introduced for 1930, this having h.c. pistons, stronger single valve springs, and two carburetters, whereas the standard engine had a single carburetter, at that time situated towards the rear of the inlet manifold. Thus, already, various induction systems were available to the enthusiast. Incidentally, don’t assume that every two-carburetter car offered to you is necessarily a “Special Series”!
For 1931 the Riley fabric body gave way to genuine Wernann fabric coachwork, recognisable by greater rear-seat width, and arm-rests. Mechanical changes (from chassis No. 60110113) were a 7 1/2-gallon rear petrol tank, Silentbloc bushes, central chassis lubrication, single-pole wiring, and batteries now located beneath the rear seat.
The year 1932 saw important alterations, with the introduction of the “Plus Ultra” series, at chassis No. 60150000. The frame was redesigned, being stiffer and six inches lower, while bodies half-panelled in aluminium with ribbed wings, were adopted. Alas, the “Monaco” saloon now weighed over 19 1/4 cwt.
The next year no alterations of note were made except for coil in place of magneto ignition at chassis No. 60190000 but 1934, saw changes in the engine mounting, the pedals being mounted on the chassis, and centre-lock hubs introduced front chassis No. 60226010. The “Monaco” saloon still cost £298. It was continued virtually unchanged for 1935, but the “Special Series” cars now had Wilson pre-selector gearboxes and the Newton centrifugal clutch, which makes a noise like an air-raid siren. In two-carburetter saloon form these cars were known as the Kestrel,” distinguishable by their sloping rear panel.
By 1936 the famous “Monaco” saloon was absent from the range, but the “Kestrel” was supplemented by the “Merlin” all-steel saloon, with bulkhead dash and spare wheel sunk into the lid of the boot, it being larger than the 1935 “Monaco.” Indeed, it was the same body as that on the 1 1/2-litre chassis. Technical changes included a new box-section frame with tubular cross-members, open propeller-shaft in place of enclosed shaft, Girling brakes and a 9 1/2-gallon fuel tank.
In 1937 an attempt was made to reintroduce the “Monaco,” still at £298, as a six-light, four-door coachwork saloon on the “Special Series Nine Merlin” pre-selector chassis. Unfortunately the weight had increased to 22 1/4 cwt., and maximum speed scarcely exceeded 62 m.p.h.
It will be seen that between 1928 and 1938, during which time some 30,000 were made, the Riley Nine was altered sufficiently frequently to make the range an interesting one and to offer appreciable scope to the enthusiast and “special” builder. Apart from the aforementioned saloon models, the Nine was listed as a short-chassis sports two or four-seater (“Imp”), a two-seater with large boot (“Gamecock”), a tourer (“Lynx”), a sports tourer (“March Special”), a fixed-head coupé (“Lincock”), a drop-head coupé (“Ascot,” with dickey, and “Trinity”), and also in “Falcon,” “Touring” and “Victor” saloon forms. The Riley Nine is a willing, economical car that holds the road well, has good brakes and is technically intriguing. No car is perfect, and the earlier models have been known to suffer from oil on the points of the trunnion-mounted vertical magneto and to have occasional bouts of back-axle trouble, while the rather flexible chassis and stiff springs gave the closed bodies a bad time (even to doors flying open), and, as we have shown, later models were too heavy for the modest engine size. But they were great little cars and their present-day popularity is not in any way surprising.