Kevin and his then fiancee

Dad’s first car was a Riley — no kidding!

Riley Riley

NOT too many people share a surname with a car.

Fewer still can say the first car they owned was actually one of them.

I’m not talking about a garden variety Ford or Holden, but a little known British marque that has not been seen on Australian roads for more than 50 years.

As a motoring scribe, I was tickled pink to discover that my old man’s first car was in fact a Riley sports car.

How cool is that?

I found a photo of Kevin and the car with his first girlfriend (not my mother).

He bought the 1929 Riley 9 Tourer for £90 at age 19 from a girl in Goulburn.

It was money that he had saved working as a professional singer and performer.

My father, who recently turned 96, was a man who changed cars almost as frequently as his undies.

As a child I have fond memories of an endless stream of automotive treasures that graced our driveway, my earliest memories populated by a huge slope-backed Peugeot (everything seemed big back then).

Kev has fond memories of the two-seater tourer which featured a pop-up ‘‘dickey’’ seat like the cars in old black and white movies.

There’s a couple of stories that go with the Riley too, like the time he rescued his then girlfriend from falling out of the car by grabbing her hair as the ‘suicide’ style door swung open as he rounded a corner.

Or there was the time the car caught fire in the middle of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The first Riley automobile, a small voiturette with a single-cylinder engine, was made in Coventry, England in 1898.

Production, however, didn’t begin until about 1905.

Riley automobiles were marketed under the banner ‘‘as old as the industry, as modern as the hour”.

Percy Riley, who was responsible for the first Riley, patented many engineering features later incorporated by other manufacturers, as well as designing the famous Riley ’9’ engine first seen in 1926.

He patented the detachable wheel used universally today that meant in the event of a puncture, the damaged wheel could be changed for a spare.

You see in the early days of motor transport wheels were a permanent fixture.

The idea caught on quickly and Rolls-Royce took out a licence to manufacture it, along with at least eight other manufacturers.

Lord Nuffield bought the Riley company for £143,000 after it went into receivership in 1938.

He immediately sold it to Morris Motors which soon became the Nuffield Organisation – a combination of Morris, MG, Wolsley and Riley.

Earlier Rileys of the 1920s and 1930s were noted for their flowing, sporting lines as well as sprightly performance which earned them such an illustrious racing career.

Production continued into the 1960s but later cars were Rileys in little more than name, with a Riley grille and higher level of specification.

BMC even produced upmarket Riley versions of the Morris 1100 — called the Kestrel and — get this – a version of the Mini called the Elf.

The latter was billed as ‘‘magnificent motoring in miniature’’.

Don’t know whatever became of Dad’s Riley?

He said he sold the car to two brothers who had plans to convert the roadster into a utility of all things.

Guess Dad’s love of cars must have rubbed off on me.

The first time I wrote about this car the story was spotted by a reader way up in country Queensland.

A former ballet teacher, she was the woman pictured in the photograph and hadn’t seen my father in 60 years.

It just goes to show, you should never underestimate the power of the Press. 

1929 riley tourer sportscar
Kevin and his then fiancee


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