One of the greatest ever makers to be a part of the British Car manufacturing scene is Riley. You might well see one of these fantastic cars nestled in a museum at Gaydon or the Cotswold Motoring Museum. However, to see one up and running is a magnificent sight and there are a few still around that come out for shows. Their owners know that such fine cars need to be protected, and the best way to do that is to keep them in a garage. Garage Doors Bath based company www.upandoverdoorsltd.co.uk/garage-doors/garage-doors-bath provide some pointers on this. So what is the story behind the Riley marque, and what happened to it?
Riley began life in 1890 as the Bonnick Cycle Company based in Coventry. As was the case with many pre-war manufacturers, they built both cars and bicycles. William Riley Jnr bought them at the turn of the 20th Century and began the Riley Cycle Company. The middle son of the family, Percy, was interested in motoring and wanted the company to shift some focus to this. William was against the idea, but the 16-year-old Percy persisted in secret. Percy Riley’s engine designs were innovative and started to push the boundaries of what it was believed an engine could do.
The Riley Brothers continued to produce engines until their father finally relented and let them focus on cars instead of pedals and motorcycles. By 1913 Riley limited was founded, and cars would be the only focus of the company.
Percy Riley’s Riley 9 was the first engine to be used solely by a British manufacturer for racing and residential use. It was tested in their saloon cars at the famous banked circuit at Brooklands. The nine-speed model was renamed after the famous track. These were pre-Formula one days, but the 24 Hours to Le Mans was the gold standard, and Riley acquitted themselves admirably, gaining the top 6 positions except first. They were impressive in hill climb competitions and also championed female drivers like Joan Richmond, Kay Petre and Dorothy Champney.
A vast array of sports and touring cars were introduced, and, if things had been different, it would have been the name Riley and not Jaguar or Aston Martin that would be the top producer today. Disagreements on the company’s future focus and then merging into the British Leyland Motor Corporation put paid to this coming about.