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Here is a page of statistics for Rileys in Australia

Now just another entry in the list of long-gone British motor vehicles, Rileys have always held a special place in the hearts of motoring enthusiasts in Australia.  From its origins as a maker of bicycles in England to its last days before being reduced to badge engineered BMC cars, the marque has always been something special; an image of performance, character and style. 

The last Rileys to most people were the RM series that captured our imagination as high performance vehicles immediately after the Second World War and which account for a large part of the Riley population in Australia. 

AUSTRALIAN RILEY SUPPORTERS

The Riley Club members changed. The original members were those who had bought their cars new, and banded together for mutual enjoyment of these expensive and rare sporting vehicles. Eventually these owners traded their cars for newer models, often Jaguars or other modern versions of the Riley design theme. The now second-hand, or worse, Rileys fell rapidly in value, so that by 1965 a good Riley RMB (2/12 Litre sedan) could be purchased for $300, and an open version (Roadster or Drophead) for $500. Poorer versions cost far less; it was possible to buy a registered RMA or RMB for $100.

Under these circumstances the marque attracted a whole new band of followers. They were enthusiasts certainly, but generally lacked the funds or expertise to ensure that these relatively complicated vehicles received the treatment needed to keep them reliable or roadworthy. Consequently, numbers fell dramatically, and a lack of organised support meant that problems such as broken rear axles or road wheels led to the loss of many of the cars.

Today we have over 700 members in our Australian Clubs, many with multiple cars.


Rileycar

 

Rileys in Australia

Australia took many of the RM series Rileys produced for export. 1949 to 1951 saw more of these desirable cars come to this country, although we should quantify this: compared to virtually all other makes Rileys were a minor import. The table below shows new registrations of Rileys in each State, by years. You'll find more production information here

new registrations

 

Possibly as a result of the Australian distances and rugged roads, the 2 1/2 litre was favoured over the smaller car. Over the years from 1949 to 1956 when the last of the Riley engined Pathfinders was sold, 2,587 two-and-a-half litre models were registered, compared to 1,178 One-and-a-halfs.

Brooklands

 

state snapshot

NSW.
NSW saw 1,412 registrations or 37% of all Australian Rileys registered from the beginning of 1949 to the end of 1959.
This included two 1959 models, probably Four/68's, and one of the Pathfinder 2.6 litres, the last of the line with the BMC six cylinder motor shared with the Wolseley.
Records are not detailed, however 16 Roadsters and Dropheads were registered in 1950 along with 292 RM sedans.

VICTORIA.
Thirty-four percent of all Rileys, or 1,286 were first registered in Victoria in this period. This included 9 Roadsters or Dropheads in 1950.

QUEENSLAND.
Almost fourteen percent of all new Rileys were registered in Queensland in this era.

The 517 cars included 9 Roadsters or Dropheads in 1950 out of 134 cars (the only year this data split was available)

SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
Four hundred and twenty two Rileys or eleven percent were registered in South Australia. This includes another of the Pathfinder 2.6 models.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
Only 127 (less than four percent) of Rileys were landed in Western Australia in this period.

TASMANIA.
Forty seven Rileys were first registered here between 1949 and 1956. This was just one percent of all Rileys.

Reliable motoring

Of the 1,178 One-and-a-Half Litre Rileys registered between 1949 and the end of 1955, 98% or 1,155 were still registered on the roads at the start of 1956. 
A similar result occurred with the Two-and a-Half; of 2,420 sold, 2,371 (98%) were still registered in 1956. 
These numbers may seem small, however they represent a large proportion of Riley's total Right Hand Drive export production. Approximately 76% of Two-and-a-Half Litre export production between 1949 and 1955 came here, and 50% of all RHD export One-and-a-Half Litre cars.

Living in the 1950s

At the end of 1955 there were over 4,600 Rileys registered in Australia. This was just 0.3% of all cars registered.  Australia at that time had 160,275 open cars (convertibles, tourers etc) and this was almost 12% of the total of 1.35 million cars on the road. By contrast, most Rileys were sedans (92%) although at the time there were also 11 Rileys registered as Utilities, 3 Station Wagons and a couple of Panel Vans! 

Prewar Rileys

It must be mentioned that most of the Utilities and other non-standard bodies were on "Nine" chassis, and a high proportion (179) were open. There were 224 sedan "Nines" still registered then.

Interestingly, there were 8 Riley V8s on the Government records, and 37 Riley 'Sixes' registered.

 

STATE  PERCENT in 1955
NSW   35.4%
VIC  37.9%
QLD 10.6%
SA 10.6%
WA 3.0%
TAS 1.6%
NT  0.1%
ACT 0.8%

1950s Rileys


Surprisingly there were seven "10hp" Rileys still registered. These were most likely the early (1909 to 1914) 1390cc "V" twins and 5 were in Victoria, with the other 2 in NSW.
There were also eleven Riley 11hp or 11/40 models from 1919 to 1928 still registered. These were in Victoria (6) New South Wales (4) and South Australia with one. The 11hp cars were made between 1919 and 1928, with 4 cylinder side valve engines.
Of the more popular prewar models, ninety-five One-and-a-Half Litre cars were registered dating from between 1930 and 1939. Fifty two of these were in Victoria, thirty in New South Wales and the balance spread evenly in the other States.
There are some anomalies  in the old record for larger engined Rileys; I believe that eight Big Four cars were registered, with three each in New South Wales and Victoria.

Of note is the record of eight Riley V8 18hp cars being registered. Five were in New South Wales, two in Victoria and one in Queensland. These rare cars were made from 1936 in small numbers.

POSTWAR RILEYS REGISTERED IN 1955.
After the war Riley production centred on the RM series, mainly in sedans such as the One-and-a-Half and Two-and-a-Half series and Pathfinders. At the time there was also a total of 157 RM series open cars which were Dropheads or Roadsters.

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Mr Rileyshort history

The first Rileys were motor tricycles, but cars soon followed.
By the late 1930s they were building too few of too many different models and were in financial difficulties.

The Nuffield Organisation subsequently acquired Riley in 1938. They started up immediately after the war with the RM series.

In 1952 Nuffield merged with Austin to form the British Motor Corporation (BMC) - which later became BL (British Leyland) and Rileys were badge engineered versions of other models before fading away in 1969.

marque

In 1870, at a time when the weaving industry was flourishing in Coventry, William Riley Jr. became a master weaver in his family's business, which also produced weaving machinery for sale to other businesses, an activity that provided him with a sound engineering knowledge.

The weaving industry, however, soon entered a period of rapid decline, forcing William Riley to seek more profitable ventures, and in 1890 he and his associates acquired the Bonnick Cycle Co., which they re-named the Riley Cycle Co. Ltd. six years later.

At first, the small engines fitted to Riley Cycles were obtained from specialist engine manufacturers, but the desire to design and produce their own engines was strong, and in 1903 the Riley Engine Co. was established in a small work-shop close by the Cook Street Gate, the only surviving gateway of the medieval city wall.

Head of the new company was William Riley's son Percy, who at the age of 20 was already a practical and ingenious engineer who had successfully built his first car before his 18th birthday.

The first Riley car - a small voiturette with a single-cylinder engine - was completed in 1898, so it was with good reason that Riley adopted the slogan 'as old as the industry' in promoting the sale of their cars during the early post-war years.

A light 2 seater four wheel car used the same V-Twin engine as the previous Tricar and was available with an optional hood, it also used the Riley patented detachable wheel which meant in the event of a puncture the wheel could be changed for a spare (it seems obvious now but in the early days of motor transport the wheels were a permanent fixture).

These wheels became so popular that by 1913 over 183 other manufacturers where using them. This model was later supplemented by a larger, usually 4 seater with a scaled up V-Twin 2 litre 12-18hp engine and in 1908 in time for the motor show another 2 seater 10hp was introduced. Just before the First World War the "17hp" was launched using a brand new 4 cylinder 3 litre engine , production of this model continued until 1921.

The 1919 motor show saw the launch of a new 11hp car sporting the now famous V shaped radiator and diamond badge, it was this model that was first marketed with the slogan "as old as the industry, as modern as the hour"

In 1923 this car was renamed the 11-40hp. Up to 1926 2 engines were used, the 10.8hp and the 11.9hp before being superseded by the now famous "Riley 9" series.

The Riley 9 "Monaco" started full production in 1927 and caused quite a stir with its closed in fabric covered bodywork with integral rear boot and new overhead valve engine. Later in the year 3 variants arrived, a 2 seater tourer with dickey seat, a 4 seater saloon called the "San Remo" and the sporty 80MPH "Brooklands".

For the 1926 motor show the old 11-40hp was renamed the 12hp which was basically the same car with a supercharged engine. During 1928 this range was dramatically improved with 5 new body types, the "Lulworth", "Midworth", "Grangeworth", "Chatsworth" saloons and the "Wentworth Coupe" all with a revised engine. At the end of 1928 the "9 Biarritz" was introduced and the old side valve 12hp was replaced by a new 14hp 6 cylinder 14/6 range which was basically a larger version of the "9", the models included the "Stelvio","Deauville saloon" and the "Special Tourer".

Only 1 new model was launched in 1929 - the "14/6" light saloon this helped them achieve sales worth over £1,000,000 for the first time.
1930 saw the introduction of the 9 Plus range - the "Monaco","Biarritz" saloons and the "Brooklands Sports","open Tourer" and "2-seater Coupe", the 14/60 was improved with the 6-light being renamed "Alpine". The founder William Riley was 80 in 1931 the year the "WD or Army Tourer" was introduced, this being a civilian version of the War Offices Riley 9 tourer.

The 1932 range of cars consisted of 9 cars - the "9" range of "Monaco","WD","Brooklands","Gamecock Sports","Ascot Coupe", and a 2 and 4 seat tourer and 2 X 14-6's the "Alpine" and "Stelvio".
1932 saw the first official cars exported by the company although many had already been built abroad under licence using Riley supplied parts. The "9" range now included the "Kestrel", "Falcon"4-seater saloons, "Lynx"4-seater tourer, "Linock"2-seater coupe, "March Special" and "Trinity" tourer, the "Winchester" and a 5-seater limousine the"Edinburgh" were added to the 14/16 range.

Many improvements to the range occurred in 1934 but only 1 new car the "Imp", a 2-door, 2-seater sports tourer, a long overdue replacement for the "Brooklands". All the fabric bodied cars had now become "all metal" and testing had started on the "MPH" which was basically a 6 cylinder 2-seat "Imp". 1935 saw a completely new "Falcon" and a modified "Kestrel" and 2 new engines - the 12/4 which replaced the 12/6 and the 15/6 which replaced the 14/6. The 1936 range consisted of 23 cars some of which were "Specials" - standard models with uprated engines, suspension and gearboxes but also included a modified "Falcon" and the new "Merlin", the 12hp "Mentone" and the all new 85 MPH "Sprite", a 2-seater streamlined sports car with a "12/4" engine. Also available was a not very successful V-8 engine - the 8/90, of which only about 25 were made.

1937 saw the "Kestrel 9" and 12/4 discontinued to be replaced by the new "Monaco". The only completely new car was the "Continental Touring Saloon". A new 2.5 ltr engine was also now available, called the "Big Four" for use in the "Kestrel" and "Adelphi" amongst others and replaced the unsuccessful V-8. The November AGM saw the first hint of financial troubles and in early 1938 the chairman Victor Riley was forced to call in the receivers.

The motor show saw the unveiling of 1 new model the "9hp Victor" the cheapest car in the range, the others all now having a vertical grill over the honeycomb radiator, bumpers and steel covers over the spare wheel. Lord Nuffield bought the company in September for £143,000 and immediately sold it to Morris Motors which soon became the Nuffield Organisation - a combination of Morris, MG, Wolsley and Riley.

By 1939 the range of cars had been trimmed to only 2 - the best selling "Kestrel Saloon" and "Lynx Tourer" which now used as many standard Morris parts as possible. The outbreak of the 2nd World War saw production turned over to war materials. In 1944 the founder William died.

Earlier Rileys of the 1920s and 1930s were notable for flowing, sporting lines as much as for a sprightly performance which earned them such an illustrious competition career, but new standards of elegance and affordable luxury were set with the introduction of the first 1-1/2-litre RM saloons in the late 1940s.
Featuring four-door bodywork flanked by flowing wings and topped by a stylish fabric roof, they represented one of the last as well as one of the most successful examples of the traditional method of car construction, which was fast disappearing as the industry became wedded to the monocoque.

The RM saloons were soon to be joined by drophead-coupe and roadster variants, but the Rileys of the time were also manufactured in chassis-only form, to be used as a basis for many alternative body styles, notably some estate cars and utility vehicles of, perhaps inevitably, widely varying quality and appearance. The total number of 1-1/2-litre, 2-1/2-litre, Roadster, Drophead Coupe, Pathfinder Rileys produced between 1945 and 1957 were 28,065, of which 13,950 were 1-1/2-litre models.

1953 saw the new "RME" and the 2.5 ltr "RMF" launched but sales of this model were slow so it was soon replaced by a variant of a Wolsley the "RMH - Pathfinder" the "missing" RMG model never materialised, the Pathfinder was replaced by a similar car the "2.6" which was almost a "Wolsley 6/90" with a Riley badge. Another 2 models - the "1.5 Farina" or 4/68 and the 1622cc 4/72 were basically a "Austin Cambridge " with a Riley badge.

The BMC "Riley 1.5" was very successful with over 30,000 sold, the "Mini" "Riley Elf" was another good seller. The last in the range the "1300" "Riley Kestrel" ceased production in 1969.

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Tradition

Before the Second World War Australians bought cars from around the world, and tried to match the oddities of British taxation formulae, European climatic differences or American petrol prices to local needs.

The variation in Australian road standards was enormous; vast distances were spanned  by little more than tracks. climatic changes could vary these from deep red dust or gravel to unpassable mud. The the distances meant that help was rarely available when needed, especially for repairs beyond the capabilities of the local smithy or a bush mechanic.

Earlier Rileys in their many sporting and saloon manifestations from the 1920's and 30's are  in demand in Australia. Apart from a long history of sporting successes, these cars with their innovative and efficient mechanical design were destined to provide reliable and enjoyable transport for many Australians and for many decades.

THE LAST ERA: AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR.
After the War cars of any description were valued in Australia. Most prized were the big unstressed simple vehicles from America; a 1939 Chevrolet, for example, was worth more than it cost new. Any new cars were eagerly sought as the world attempted to rebuild its car factories after years of neglect and damage, and raw materials such as steel and chromium were scarce. 

Lord Nuffield allowed the development of the famous RM series, noted for their excellent performance and beautiful lines. 

the Australian car industry was in its infancy. Australia was a major export market after Europe, so the car-starved and   growing population took a large part of the production of the new 1 1/2 litre and 2 1/2 litre models. However, two factors limited their numbers; Rileys were never mass production models and their cost inhibited sales to a country which had discovered the relative value of cheaper cars such as the Holden. 

THE POST-WAR 1 1/2 LITRE.
This was the final development of the pre-war 12hp engine, clothed in a sleek new body. The car handled impeccably with its new independent front suspension, good brakes and sophisticated suspension. A maximum of 80mph came from 54 BHP.

 Only 13,950 of these new cars were made between 1945 ( the RMA) and 1955 (RME) and of these 8,661 were exported.  As only a quarter of the total production were thought to have been exported in Right Hand Drive form, the 1,100 registered in Australia in the early 1950's demonstrates their relative popularity here.

THE POST-WAR 2 1/2 LITRE.
Between 1946 and 1953 just 7,956 2 1/2 litre cars were made. Of these, 5,215 were exported, and by the early 1950's over 2,000 were registered on Australian roads. Maximum speed was well over 90 MPH from 100 BHP.

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 THE ROADSTER.
This rare version of the 2 1/2 litre (the RMC) was designed primarily for export, with the American market in mind.

Only 507 were built between 1949 and 1951. Of these, just 147 were marked for Right Hand Drive export, and it is believed that 134 came to Australia. According to RM Club records, around 146 complete cars remain worldwide.

THE 2 1/2 LITRE DROPHEAD.
Again, these were rare. Only 500 were made between 1949 and 1951 and of these 172 were exported as Right Hand Drive models. Between 80 and 90 arrived  in Australia.

THE PATHFINDER.
This was an attempt by BMC to utilise their new family saloon body (shared with Wolseley, for example) but did include the 2 1/2 litre engine in an updated form. A production run of 5,152 cars in total (1953 to 1957) did not see this badge engineered version  fully developed and they were never embraced as "real Rileys" however the remaining examples in Australia are remarkably pleasant vehicles. Only 1,016 were exported in Right Hand Drive format; and around 300 were thought to have come to Australia. From 1956 even the famous Riley four cylinder engine had gone, replaced with a 2.6 litre BMC "six" with less power.

BADGE ENGINEERING.
Other Rileys were sold after the Pathfinder. These were simply clones of current BMC models with a Riley grill and higher level of specification. The Riley One-point-Five was released in 1957, followed by the Four-sixty-eight (the 68 being bhp in a largish Farina body) and a later version in 1962, the Four Seventy-Two. Even the Mini had a Riley version from that era, horribly called the Elf, and the Morris 1100 version became the Kestrel.

Australia  

 

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rare cars

What was really surprising was how few Rileys there were on the road. The marque has always had restricted production runs, and the number exported to Australia meant that at no time were there more than 5,000 registered in all States or Territories.

The Motor Vehicle Census (Australian Bureau of Statistics, December 30th, 1955) showed that there were just 4,624 Rileys registered (see graph). That year corresponded to the final decline of sales in Australia; the handful sold  or imported subsequently had no effect on the falling numbers from then on. 1955 also saw the banding together of Riley enthusiasts, whose common interests resulted in the founding of the various Riley Owners Clubs in each State.

The Riley badge was still visible in the mid sixties on various BMC or Leyland outlets, but only for a diminishing number of parts and services. Overall, a rapid change in the price and availability of new cars plus the peculiar iconoclastic disregard of old machinery  in the '60s meant that Rileys became almost valueless, apart from a small band of loyal followers.

 

 

 

 

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