Rileys 1896 - 1939 The Pre-Nuffield Years.
The End of the Era - 1936-38/9
For 1937, the Riley Monaco reappeared, although with very different styling. The new design was very much similar to the larger Adelphi. In addition, the Kestrel 9 and Merlin 12/4 were discontinued, as they were effectively replaced by the new Monaco. All models now had bumpers, Trafficators and interior lights (even the Tourers). Throughout 1936/7, Rileys sporting excellence continued, although less outright wins were recorded, they were still a team to be reckoned with. Late in 1936, a new Marque, called Autovia was launched in Coventry. One of the companies directors was Victor Riley, and the Engine and gearbox were obvious developments of those used in the Riley 8/90. Although not a Riley, the Autovia shared too many design features with Rileys to be regarded as a completely new / different car. The only new Riley for 1937 was the Continental Touring Saloon, on the 12/4 chassis. By Mid'37, Riley had completed development of it's all new 2½ litre 4-cylinder engine. This was intended to be the new range-topper in place of the unsuccessful V8 8/90, and was called the Big-Four. The new Big-Four was available with Kestrel, Adelphi, Touring, or Close-Coupled Saloon bodywork.
For 1938, with the advent of the new Big-Four engine, the range was drastically changed again, with the demise of the existing 9, and all 15/6 models. This left Riley essentially with a 2-engine Line up:
The Adelphi could also be bought with the 8/90 or 15/6 engines, direct from the factory. It is also interesting to note that the Sprite is the only open top model left in the range. The Rileys now had a radiator Grill, with vertical slats mounted in front of the traditional Honeycomb radiator, and the Bonnet Louvers had been removed. Bumpers were standard on all models, both front and back, and so were steel covers for the spare wheels. In addition to the models listed above, A brand new 12/4 or 9hp Riley, the Victor was launched at the motor show. This was the cheapest Riley model.
In November 1937, at the AGM, the first hint of Financial Trouble was sensed outside the company, with the announcement that the previous 18 months accounts were to be rigorously checked through. By February 1938, a merger with Triumph was rumoured, but at the end of the month, Victor Riley the Chairman of Riley (Coventry) Ltd. announced that the receivers had been called in.
The many attempts to reduce expenses that the receiver made were to close the London Spares depot, liquidate the bodies branch and Riley Engine Co., and sell off all Riley shares in Autovia (a significant amount). This financial difficulty led to a dramatic drop in staff, and so production levels. However, privately entered Rileys still performed exceedingly well in all the races they took part in.
By September, rumours of a take-over by Lord Nuffield had been confirmed. He stated that:
"Lord Nuffield in acquiring the Riley Organization is desirous of preserving in every way the development of those characteristics that have made the Riley car so outstanding."
Immediately after purchasing Riley, Lord Nuffield re-sold it to Morris Motors, so as to generate a large amount of capital for the company. The company was then re-named Riley (Coventry) Successors Ltd., with Victor Riley appointed Managing Director. Lord Nuffield made it clear that the company could continue as before, with financial backing from Morris Motors. However, many detail changes were made to the cars, including some parts being replaced with standard Morris stock, to reduce cost but not affect Riley performance, or style. Shortly after the take-over, Morris Motors became the Nuffield Organization, now comprising Morris, MG, Wolesley, and of course Riley.
Things then happened very quickly and after a brief hiatus in production when the only cars sent out from the factory were previous orders and new vehicles using up the stock of old parts, a new range was launched. This consisted of a 12hp Saloon and Drophead as well as a slightly larger 16hp Saloon and Drophead. Thus Riley had gone from a bewildering array of models to just 4 models, all with components taken from the Morris Parts bin, and yet still retaining those Riley engines which endeared the marque to so many people.
This meant the final demise of the Riley 9, after well over 20,000 had been built since 1926. Shortly after the 1939 range was launched, however, the Foleshill plant like so many others across the country was turned over to war production. It was during WW2, in 1944, that the founder of Riley Cycle Co., William Riley died. He had outlived his own company, which had survived for 40 years, and produced some of the most outstanding cars of its time.
After the war, production resumed, with all new models, but that's another story......