(from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) Riley was a British motorcar and bicycle manufacturer from 1890. Riley became part of the Nuffield Organisation in 1938 and was later merged into British Leyland: ln July 1969 British Leyland announced the immediate end of Riley production, although 1969 was a difficult year for the UK auto industry and cars from Riley's inventory may have been first registered in 1970.
Today, the Riley trademark is owned by BMW.
The business began as the Bonnick Cycle Company of Coventry, England. In 1890 during the pedal cycle craze that swept Britain at the end of the 19th century William Riley Jr. who had interests in the textile industry purchased the business and in 1896 incorporated a company to own it named The Riley Cycle Company Limited. Later, cycle gear maker Sturmey Archer was added to the portfolio. Riley's middle son, Percy, left school in the same year and soon began to dabble in automobiles. He built his first car at 16, in 1898, secretly, because his father did not approve. It featured the first mechanically operated inlet valve. By 1899, Percy Riley moved from producing motorcycles to his first prototype four-wheeled quadricycle. Little is known about Percy Riley's first "motor-car". It is, however, well attested that the engine featured mechanically operated cylinder valves at a time when other engines depended on the vacuum effect of the descending piston to suck the inlet valve(s) open. That was demonstrated some years later when Benz developed and patented a mechanically operated inlet valve process of their own but were unable to collect royalties on their system from British companies; the courts were persuaded that the system used by British auto-makers was based the one pioneered by Percy, which had comfortably anticipated equivalent developments in Germany. In 1900, Riley sold a single three-wheeled automobile. Meanwhile the elder of the Riley brothers, Victor Riley, although supportive of his brother's embryonic motor-car enterprise, devoted his energies to the core bicycle business.
Riley's founder William Riley remained resolutely opposed to diverting the resources of his bicycle business into motor cars, and in 1902 three of his sons, Victor, Percy and younger brother Allan Riley pooled resources, borrowed a necessary balancing amount from their mother and in 1903 established the separate Riley Engine Company, also in Coventry. A few years later the other two Riley brothers, Stanley and Cecil, having left school joined their elder brothers in the business. At first, the Riley Engine Company simply supplied engines for Riley motorcycles and also to Singer, a newly emerging motorcycle manufacturer in the area, but the Riley Engine Company soon began to focus on four-wheeled automobiles. Their Vee-Twin Tourer prototype, produced in 1905, can be considered the first proper Riley car. The Riley Engine Company expanded the next year. William Riley reversed his former opposition to his sons' preference for motorised vehicles and Riley Cycle halted motorcycle production in 1907 to focus on automobiles. Bicycle production also ceased in 1911.
In 1912, the Riley Cycle Company changed its name to Riley (Coventry) Limited as William Riley focused it on becoming a wire-spoked wheel supplier for the burgeoning motor industry, the detachable wheel having been invented (and patented) by Percy and distributed to over 180 motor manufacturers, and by 1912 the father's business had also dropped automobile manufacture in order to concentrate capacity and resources on the wheels. Exploitation of this new and rapidly expanding lucrative business sector made commercial sense for William Riley, but the abandonment of his motor-bicycle and then of his automobile business which had been the principal customer for his sons' Riley Engine Company enforced a rethink on the engine business.
In early 1913, Percy was joined by three of his brothers (Victor, Stanley, and Allan) to focus on manufacturing entire automobiles. The works was located near Percy's Riley Engine Company. The first new model, the 17/30, was introduced at the London Motor Show that year. Soon afterwards, Stanley Riley founded yet another business, the Nero Engine Company, to produce his own 4-cylinder 10 hp (7.5 kW) car. Riley also began manufacturing aeroplane engines and became a key supplier in Britain's buildup for World War I.
In 1918, after the war, the Riley companies were restructured. Nero joined Riley (Coventry) as the sole producer of automobiles. Riley Motor Manufacturing under the control of Allan Riley became Midland Motor Bodies, a coachbuilder for Riley. Riley Engine Company continued under Percy as the engine supplier. At this time, Riley's blue diamond badge, designed by Harry Rush, also appeared. The motto was "As old as the industry, as modern as the hour."
Riley grew rapidly through the 1920s and 1930s. The Riley Engine Company produced 4-, 6-, and 8-cylinder engines, while Midland built more than a dozen different bodies. Riley models at this time included:
•Saloons: Adelphi, Continental, Deauville, Falcon, Kestrel, Mentone, Merlin, Monaco, Stelvio, Victor•Coupes: Ascot, Lincock•Tourers: Alpine, Lynx, Gamecock•Sports: Brooklands, Imp, MPH, Sprite•Limousines: Edinburgh, WinchesterIntroduced in 1926 in a humble but innovatively designed fabric bodied saloon, Percy Riley's ground-breaking Riley 9 engine- a small capacity, high revving unit- was ahead of its time in many respects. Having hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined overhead valves, it has been called the most significant engine development of the 1920s. With twin camshafts set high in the cylinder block and valves operated by short pushrods, it provided power and efficiency without the servicing complexity of an OHC (overhead camshaft) layout. It soon attracted the attention of tuners and builders of 'specials' intended for sporting purposes. One such was engineer/driver J.G. Parry-Thomas, who conceived the Riley 'Brooklands' model in his workshops at the banked Surrey circuit. After Parry-Thomas was killed during a land speed record attempt in 1927, his close collaborator Reid Railton stepped in to finish the job. Officially backed by Riley, the Brooklands, along with later developments and variations such as the 'Ulster' Imp, MPH, and Sprite, proved some of the most successful works and privateer racing cars of the late 1920s and early 1930s. At Le Mans in 1934, Rileys finished 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 12th, winning the Rudge Whitworth Cup, the Team Prize, two class awards, and the Ladies' Prize. Rileys also distinguished themselves at the Ulster TT, at Brooklands itself, and at smaller events like hill climbs, while providing a platform for the success of motorsports' first women racing drivers such as Kay Petre, Dorothy Champney and Joan Richmond. Another engineer/driver, Freddie Dixon, was responsible for extensive improvements to engine and chassis tuning, creating a number of 'specials' that exploited the basic Riley design still further, and contributed greatly to its success on the track.
For series production, the engine configuration was extended into a larger 12 horsepower '4', six-cylinder and even V8 versions, powering an increasingly bewildering range of touring and sports cars. The soundness and longevity of the engine design is illustrated by Mike Hawthorn's early racing success after WW2 in pre-war Rileys, in particular his father's Sprite. But by about 1936 the business had overextended, with too many models and few common parts, and the emergence of Jaguar at Coventry was a direct challenge. Disagreements between the Riley brothers about the future direction of the enterprise grew. Victor Riley had set up a new ultra-luxury concern, Autovia, to produce a V8 saloon and limousine to compete with Rolls-Royce. By contrast, Percy, however, did not favour an entry into the luxury market, and the Riley Engine Company had been renamed PR Motors to be a high-volume supplier of engines and components. Although the rest of the Riley companies would go on to become part of Nuffield and then BMC, PR Motors remained independent. After the death of Percy Riley in 1941, his business began producing transmission components and still exists today, producing marine and off-highway vehicle applications, as PRM Newage Limited based in Aldermans Green, Coventry. Percy's widow Norah ran his business for many years and was Britain's businesswoman of the year in 1960.
Bodywork. Length/width/wheelbase – cm : 436/13/285. RHD
Engine. Inline 4 cylinder 1496 cc, front, 8 valves, manual 4 speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive. Maximum power : 56 bhp @ 5100 rpm. Top speed : 112 km/h (70 mph).