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Dixon Riley

Cars in 1955

Now that you are remembering those days (probably with a mix of nostalgia and horror) lets look at the cars.
In 1955 Rileys were still seen as sporting. A RME weighed 24 cwt yet could still do 81 mph and produce 26 mpg. In context, a Singer (1497 cc) could only do 74 mph and a Hillman Minx 68 mph. A 1955 Daimler Conquest (2433 cc) was flat out at 81 mph and an Austin Cambridge (1622 cc) could do 80 mph. A Wolseley 4/50 (1476 cc) managed 78 mph.

A 2 1/2 weighed 28 cwt and was good for 90+ mph, returning around 20 mpg. A new Humber Hawk (2267 cc) would do 80 mph flat out and a Ford Zephyr 6 with a similar capacity could do 81 mph, much like the Holden of the day. You can see why Rileys appealed to certain type of enthusiast, members who saw the value in a car which was faster than a 3 1/2 litre Mark 5 Jag yet cost much less.

And so the Riley Motor Club of Australia began, in humble surrounds as you will see on the next page. I hope you enjoy this Anniversary edition of the Gazette; there were so many wonderful tales, adventures and ideas over the years that this is just a tiny sample….


motor show

The first Riley Car Club in Australia started in 1955

Think about it. In 1955 Holden was only seven years old and our lives were very different from today. In 1955 -

Work was proceeding on the Snowy Mountain scheme which had started in 1949. This work was to continue through to 1972.

!n 1955 people were talking about the new play, "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, directed by John Sumner and written by Ray Lawler. Dame Edna, the Moonee Ponds widow invented by Barry Humphries, also made her debut (although not in the same show)

People worried about this terrible new music, Rock'n'roll', although they flocked to see the big acts from America at the Stadium at Rushcutters Bay.

People were also talking about the coming of television, which started on September 16, 1956. We were also anticipating the forthcoming Melbourne Olympics, although most Riley owners would not readily consider the two day trek down the Hume Highway in their cars. In those days the 'Spirit of Progress' was the way to travel interstate…

Imagine a world without shopping centres. The first to open in Australia was Chermside in Brisbane, and that was not until 1957. People flew overseas on propeller planes as the Qantas 707 jet was not to arrive until 1959.

The Riley marque was still in the dealerships, and in 1955 106 new Rileys were sold in NSW, 295 Australia wide. This was the best result since 1952 when Australia took 309, but was unfortunately the beginning of the end. After 1955 only 169 new RM series Rileys were imported. However, right through the 1960's the Riley signs still stood proud at dealerships such as Lancaster Motors at Chatswood (Now a Toyota dealer)

Life in Australia
Most wives didn't work. A man's income was almost sufficient to support his family, a modest bungalow and an occasional night out at the pictures by tram, train or bus. A taxi ride from the city to Bondi cost less than 5/-. As for dinner out, there were few places to go. Hotels were not open on Sunday and neither were the cinemas. Sunday nights meant settling down around the wireless set to listen to the 8 p.m. radio-theatre productions.

In increasingly boom times, with full employment, and overtime sometimes so plentiful one could pick and choose for it between employers, the 1950's was a period of burgeoning consumerism. This was particularly evident in the area of labour-saving household appliances.

Even in Melbourne and Sydney, let alone rural communities, around a quarter of all families still did without a refrigerator. More than half of all homes were yet to have hot water on tap, and while they may have had it available in the kitchen they were much less likely to in say the laundry or bathroom. Most clothes washing was still done by hand, with the water heated in a copper.

So the increasing availability of things like (electric) washing machines, refrigerators, and vacuum cleaners had a big and immediate impact on quality of life. They remained expensive however.

Raised on principles of thrift and savings and avoidance of debt, most folks worked extra and saved up for such things. But at the same time hire-purchase really took off. Hire-purchase created a means turning the potential of the future into the reality of the now. By 1955 30~40% of Australians had had something on hire-purchase at one time or another, including such other items as furniture or a car. The introduction of television itself probably was a significant contributor to the increase in hire-purchase usage - a purchasing method we take for granted today, but which at the time could only occur with a change in social values.

At the top end of the scale, carpets through the house, or a radiogram (though almost all households otherwise possessed a radio already), and certainly a television, were clearly luxury items.

Meanwhile, the "6-O'Clock Swill" had ended at the start of the previous year, following a narrowly won referendum in 1954. The pubs could now stay open until 10.00p.m., and beer consumption had now become a tad less frenzied if nothing else.

Lolita, the novel, was first published on September 15, 1955 and went on to great controversy; thankfully its author Vladimir Nabokov never drove a Riley.