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Fordie's Favourites; Riley Family Lynx – The Pre-war ‘Nine’

Fordie's Favourites; Riley Family Lynx – The Pre-war ‘Nine’

FOUNDER WILLIAM RILEY BEGAN HIS bicycle business in 1898 and from there his five sons expanded the company in most automotive directions.

Allan, Percy, Stanley, Cecil and Victor each specialised in their own field and post war through the twenties saw the dawn of great growth for the Coventry factory. Allan had a son Richard and his daughter Christine McGuire (nee Riley) was happy to join us, enjoying time with a ‘Nine’ Lynx and owner Nick Harding. Christine pointed out, ‘My father really appreciated this era of production; he called them ‘real Riley’s’ never really accepting the BMC offerings whilst my mother and I both drove the Elf dad preferred the pre-50s models’. It would be the all new Riley 9 that offered engineering innovation and beauty, arriving on the scene in 1926.

Percy and Stanley collaborated on the design of the ‘Nine’, Stanley charged with the chassis and body whilst Percy designed an engine that would form the basis for all Riley’s for the next two decades. The 4 cylinder, 1087cc unit offered hemispherical combustion chambers with two camshafts mounted high in the crankcase and valves operated by short pushrods; state of the art at the time, producing 32bhp. Brooklands celebrated its 60th anniversary in June 1966 bringing together a host of Pre War race machines to entertain the huge crowd gathered to enjoy and reminisce the ‘heyday’ of the banked circuit. Nick Harding remembers the mighty Bugatti GP cars of the 20’s alongside Riley race machines that took TT victories during that era and the marques Le Mans machines of the 30’s. ‘I made up my mind there and then I would have one or the other’ Nick told me, ‘and let’s be honest it would be most unlikely I could ever afford a Bugatti, so Riley became the marque I hankered after’ and that continues today. Nick looks after Vintage Sports Car Club interests on the Sussex-Hampshire Borders and has a passion for pre-war sports cars that is addictive.


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Jaeger dials inset beautifully with solid wood surround and the steering wheel centre pulls out for the choke.

The Riley 9 Lynx from 1933 is considered by many to be the most attractive of the touring range with its disappearing hood, made more desirable by the fact they were only produced for one year in this format. This is one of four Riley machines in Nick’s collection and is named Lucy. Spending time looking over the car certainly offers an understanding of why it became one of the marques most favoured models. Whilst there is no doubt it does enjoy some lovely lines that is just part of the story as there are some technical features that still impress eighty years after it left the factory. Under the folding bonnet the unique engine looks compact. Minus the belts that frequent most modern cars this engine features a dynamo out front which runs directly off the crank all cooled using the thermo-syphon system. Nick pointed out that the engine runs perfectly on today’s unleaded fuel, as he said ‘when Percy designed it they hadn’t started to use lead in fuel’. Twin SU carbs filled via a standard 12v pump with straight forward ignition and single coil ensures basic maintenance is easy. The front engine mount to the chassis is very different with a rubber bushed bar running right through the engine block to connect the other side, then a single mount to the 4 speed crash gearbox secures at the rear. The suspension is leaf spring front and rear, all governed by Hartford adjustable shock absorbers.

The interior contains what one would expect from the period with leather and wood; a sporty feel bearing in mind it is a four seat tourer. The instruments include a Jaeger speedometer that operates backwards compared to modern units and the car shows nearly 26000 miles. Oil pressure gauge and amp metre sit alongside a timepiece from the same supplier. The fuel gauge is known as a Hobson’s Telegauge where the dial is filled with a liquid (Tetra bromo ethane); very popular during the 1930’s and used by other manufacturers including Daimler and Lanchester. Nick considers its accuracy as more of an indication than a science, not always correct but impressive as the centre of the dial is filled with a red solution.

The floor features a pair of chrome plated handles which are used to adjust hand and foot brake severity as both are cable operated. The steering wheel has advance-retard, headlight operation and a hand throttle whilst the centre button is pulled out to activate the choke for cold starts. Understanding the workings of cars of this vintage takes time, you cannot just jump in and blast away. One thing of note, the crash gearbox is back to front ie 1st is where 3rd should be and 2nd replaces 4th. The windscreen folds flat against the bonnet for those exceptionally hot days as air conditioning is a chromed vent, manually operated just behind the bulkhead to cool ones feet. On the move the Lynx is happy enough alongside modern traffic as performance is brisk and handling agile; perfect for the country lanes of the South Downs where the admiring glances are endless.

This Riley still features its original selling dealer’s badge; Masons Garage, Southwater near Goodwood affixed their plaque inside the passenger door prior to registration January 1933. Nick has an original buff logbook which starts from 1949 and a continuation example, so it didn’t take long to realise this Riley has been homed all around the UK. Peterborough, Northampton and Central London before heading south into Hampshire; during the 1950s it spent most of the decade in Surrey. Southwest to Bristol into the early 60s, the last stamp is Devon in 1974 around the time the Riley enjoyed a 15 year restoration which explains the low 8000 miles it has covered since.

This must have been to a very high standard as today the Riley still enjoys the benefits from that time; an honest car that is totally in tune with its era.

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From Fordie's Favourites; CMM p. 19 of April 2016, issue 325
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