Speaker: Martin Collison – The Life of Riley – How (not) to rebuild a vintage Riley
Martin is a long time Riley enthusiast, and gave a comprehensive and interesting presentation.
He started with a history of the Riley company, which originated in a 19th century Irish weaving company called O’Reilly, later Reilly, and then Riley. They moved to Coventry when the weaving industry in Ireland declined. They bought a cycle company, and started manufacturing bicycles. Later they developed an engine, a small 9hp OHV unit, which went into many of their models and many are still racing today. They moved on to build motorcycles, up to 1906.
Their development as a car manufacturer was fostered by Percy Riley, an inventive genius who built his first car in 1898, when he was only 16 years of age.
By the 1930s they were a prolific producer, creating a large number of models, with many commonalities, but a bewildering array of options, including no less than 7 different engines, each with multiple stages of tune.
Many famous people owned their sporting and racing models including Raymond Mays, who went on to found ERA (using enhanced Riley 6 cylinder engines) and BRM, and Reid Railton, famous for specials involved in world-record attempts. Others were Freddie Dixon, renowned motorcycle racer, and Elsie Wisdom, wife of Tommy Wisdom, author of a famous advanced driving manual.
Between 1933 and 1935, Riley participated at Le Mans, achieving superb results in 1934, taking 1st and 2nd in the 1500cc class, and 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the 1100cc! However the company were not particularly serious about racing, not having cottoned onto the link between racing and sales, and lost interest after 1935.
Martin then moved on to his personal involvement with Riley, having owned a number of cars in his youth, starting with a 1935 12/4 (12hp, 4 cylinders) Falcon. Later in life he was keen to reconnect with the marquee, and looked for a project to restore. What he found was a 1935 Lynx 12/4 which came from a seller in Cornwall as a pile of bits and boxes. This rebuild took a number of years but when complete, Martin immediately drove it to the Le Mans Classic, where he put it into the concours competition on impulse, and won 3rd prize! The car made easy work of the journey, being capable of a 65mph cruise – pretty impressive for an 80 year old engine.
The second rebuild involved a 1933 14/6 Lynx, one of only 6 or 7 left. Ironically it came from the same seller as the first. Once again extensive work was necessary to complete it, including a complete new ash frame and body panels, re-trimming, new instruments, and sundry other items. Rather than keep it completely original Martin has fitted a new engine block from an engineer who manufactures replacements for the rather fragile originals, an alternator in place of the heavy dynamo, brand new wiring with better fuse protection, and so on. The engine has been pepped up with high compression pistons and a fast road camshaft. It sounds mad.
Notwithstanding all these modifications (subtly and discreetly done), Martin entered the Lynx in the 2013 Coventry Rally Concours event, and won 1st prize. Apparently the judges missed all the modern items!
Martin’s enthusiasm shone through throughout the evening, and the presentation was engaging and fun. Asked if he would do another restoration, the answer was “no thanks, perhaps 10 years ago, but not now”. Martin still provides expertise and advice for other enthusiasts, and is part of a busy owners’ register. We wish him many more years of enjoyable vintage motoring.