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The 1951 Riley RMB four-door saloon was about 90 per cent restored when Dave Morris bought it.
The 1951 Riley RMB four-door saloon was about 90 per cent restored when Dave Morris bought it.

Car Enthusiasts

Truly magnificent motoring Add to ...

Wonderfully evocative names - Kestrel, Falcon, Merlin and Gamecock, Brooklands, Monaco, Stelvio, Ascot and Alpine - graced cars from Britain's Riley factory in the '20s and '30s, but the best it could come up with for the two new models it began delivering to enthusiasts in the gloomy days following the Second World War was RMA and RMB, although they were sold under the "Magnificent Motoring" tagline.

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While these dull alphabetical labels were far less inspiring than pre-war efforts in the name game, the cars they described are acclaimed by the Riley faithful as being among the best it ever produced, more than meriting the new marketing slogan.

They were certainly great looking, as the 1951 Riley RMB four-door saloon pictured here attests, and still capable half a century later of attracting the attention of enthusiasts, such as Dave Morris of Belleville, who was hooked by photos of the car on eBay.

"I'd never seen a car that just took hold of me the way this one did. It's a fantastic-looking car," he says.

A western Canadian car, it had been stored for many years and was being restored by a Regina collector. But he already had his eye on his next acquisition, an Aston-Martin, which led to the Riley being sold to Morris 1-1/2 years ago, in about 90 per cent restored condition.

The car has been rebuilt mechanically, new wood fitted under the bodywork and the interior redone very nicely.

The only minor disappointment for Morris, when he saw it for the first time, was the rather hurried paint job. He says the wiring is also in need of renewal, but these things didn't bother him unduly. "I wouldn't want a concourse car anyway. I want to drive them."

Morris was born in England, came to Canada with his parents in 1948, spent some time in the Caribbean, where he first became aware of British cars - being exposed to Land Rovers, a Humber Super Snipe, a Hillman Minx and a Rover - and returned to Canada while in his teens. He has worked in a variety of administrative positions over the years, most recently managing a private island hunting preserve in Lake Ontario off Prince Edward County, until his recent retirement.

His early involvement with Brit machinery didn't create an immediate bond, as his automotive interests mainly revolved around American models, starting with a '48 Chev, followed by a '34 Ford three-window coupe and then a series of muscle cars, including Chevelles and Impalas.

His first "old" British car was a 1984 Jaguar XJ6. "I like the style of the older Jaguars, the new ones just don't have it," he says, by way of explaining the purchase of a car that most people would consider something of a challenge as it was built during a period when Jaguar wasn't exactly renowned for its build quality.

He did a considerable amount of work on it himself before handing it over to professionals for the final touches.

The downsizing that comes with retirement unfortunately means Morris has to get rid of one of his vehicles and sadly the Riley has to go, so the paintwork and sorting out its other minor problems will likely soon be up to a new owner.

The Riley name is remembered by only a handful of enthusiasts these days, but it was in fact one of the pioneering British brands.

It began as a bicycle company that was purchased by William Riley Jr. in 1890, but he and his son soon began to tinker with motorcycle and car designs. Its first powered products were two-wheelers, but it built and sold its first three-wheeled car in 1900. Car production didn't really get going until 1905, and soon thereafter Riley abandoned both the pedal and motorbike businesses.

Riley built airplane engines during the First World War, getting back into the car business at its conclusion and building a solid reputation on road and track in the 1920s and 1930s. But by late in the '30s, it had become part of Morris Motor Co. and by 1952 was just another brand seeking a way to survive under the newly created British Motor Corp. banner.

What followed under BMC was a series of badge-engineered Riley models, including the Elf, a thinly disguised Mini and the Morris-based Kestrel of the early 1960s, the last cars to bear the name.

If the RMs of the 1940s and early 1950s were Riley's swansong, at least they hit a high note. The first, the RMA, was introduced in 1946, followed by the RMB in 1946.

Their engines were the same 1.5- and 2.5-litre four-cylinder units from pre-war days, but they were slotted into new (separate) chassis with independent, torsion bar front suspensions and steering gear apparently inspired by Citroen's Traction Avant. They came with the drum brakes and live rear axle typical of the day.

The 2.5-litre "Big Four" in Morris's RMB is a twin-cam design fitted with a pair of SU carbs that produces 100 hp and can accelerate the surprisingly big car (it's 4,724 mm long) to 100 km/h in about 17 seconds and to a top speed of about 153 km/h. Fuel economy is about 14.5 litres/100 km.

The RMB sold for something over £1,200 and only 6,900 were built before production ceased in 1952. There was also a convertible version, the RMC, aimed at the North American market - 507 were built - and a two-door coupe, the RMD - 502 were made.

The RMB was replaced by the RMF and then the RMH - also known by a real name again, the Pathfinder - which was coming online at about the time of the merger with BMC and continued in production until 1957 as the last of the "real" Rileys.

The Riley name was acquired by BMW when it purchased the MG Rover Group and it still retains it.

globeauto@globeandmail.com

 

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