The Riley Motor Company was formed by William Riley towards the end of the Nineteenth century to compete in the rapidly growing pedal cycle industry.

Before getting into the bicycle industry, Riley had already proved that he was no slouch in the business world, having accumulated considerable wealth in the textile industry and was interested in diversifying his business activities.

Despite being a busy man, Riley found the time for his family, which included a few offspring, most of them sons.

One of these sons, Percy, joined the Riley Motor Company immediately after leaving school at the age of fifteen.

Percy was not a fan of the bicycle, and it soon transpired that Percy Riley had aspirations to build a car of his own.

A task he succeeded in completing by the time he was just sixteen years old, using some relatively imaginative and innovative engineering techniques in the process.

In 1902, Percy succeeded in convincing Victor, and another brother Allan to establish a company, that would trade as a separate entity to produce cars and engines.

The new company was to trade as the Riley Engine Company, from premises situated adjacently to the cycle factory in the Midlands city of Coventry.

Under considerable pressure, disagreements between the Riley, brothers had reached a level that the company, at least in its current format, would be unable to continue.

Riley found the solution to their problems by tacitly allowing themselves to be absorbed into the Nuffield Organisation.


iscount Nuffield, never one to let sentiment stand in his way, renamed the company Riley (Coventry) Successors Ltd although continuing to produce a reduced range of models in the Riley mould.

Gradually, after the 1952 merger of the Nuffield group with the Austin Car Company to form the British Motor Company (BMC0, Riley increasingly became a victim of the UK car giant’s policies of badge marketing.

Badge marketing described a practice used in the Fifties and Sixties, in which the same body designed was shared by as many as four or even five brands in the group.

From then onwards, the few Riley models introduced during the Fifties and Sixties were virtual clones of other models within the BMC range, with often the only external differences between these cars were the Riley grille.

In this decade Riley became merely a name on fast, well-equipped versions of the basic BMC saloon models, part of the flood of Mini and 1100 transverse-engined fwd vehicles which appeared after 1961.

The Riley 4/72 came fitted with a 1622-cc single carburettor unit, with an enlarged bore and slight suspension modifications, including a front anti-roll bar and rear stabiliser. Power was up to 68 bhp.

Automatic transmission was optional, and even in this form, the 4/72 returned a top speed of 86 mph, a 0-50 mph time of 13.5 sec and economy of about 25 mpg.

To add a touch of colour to the Riley 4/72 in October of 1962 duotone paintwork was offered as standard.

Also making its debut at the October Motor Shows was the Riley equivalent of Mini variant, the Elf.

The Riley Elf differed from the basic mini of the era in having an extended boot with tiny tail fins and the traditional vertical Riley radiator grille grafted on to the restyled nose.

Wooden veneer was an interior refinement, and with the standard 848-cc transverse engine, front-wheel drive and four-speed gearbox with its weak synchromesh, the new Elf carried a hefty price tag making it the most expensive Mini variant on the market at the time,

By the mid-Sixties, the 1100 models in the BMC ranges were steadily gaining popularity, and it was almost inevitable that a Riley variant should appear; which it did in September 1965 under the Kestrel label.

Once again the Kestrel was fitted with the 1098-cc transverse engine backed up by twin SU 1152 carburettors, enough to produce 55 bhp.

Without any other significant updates, the Riley range continued into 1967. For the Motor Show in October a new Kestrel 1300 was announced,fitted with an all-synchromesh gearbox and more robust brakes, available in standard four-door manual or AP automatic transmission trim.

By the late Sixties, the Elf, Kestrel and 4/72 models were now the only cars left carrying the once-proud Riley badge, and in mid-1969 it was decided to phase out production of these models by the end of the year.

So the Riley marque, the 'genuine' versions of which went out of production thirty years previously, finally came to the end of the line.

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