RILEY - FAMILY MEMBERS

as Old as the Industry, as modern as the Hour

Until 1938 Riley was a Family Business, owned, run and controlled by William Riley and his sons. Their varying personalities and drive helped to shape the business and turn it from a simple bicycle builder to a highly regarded car manufacturer with an enviable reputation on the track. Here we look at each of them:

William Riley Jnr | William Victor Riley | Allan Riley | Percy Riley | Stanley Riley | Cecil Riley

William Riley Jnr

1851 - 1944

William took over the Family wearving business in 1870, at the age of 19 and for the next 20 years business carried on much as normal. However, in 1890 he purchased the Bonnick & Co Ltd Cycle manufacturing company, with their factory in King Street Coventry. Throughout the early years, William was working with his brothers Basil and Herbert. However, in 1896, with his sons now starting to become involved in the business, he founded the Riley Cycle Co. Ltd on the 23rd May, as the parent company and purchased additional factory space next door. As his sons grew older, William persistently went against their desires to add motor cars to the company portfolio, although motorcycles had been added in 1899, quickly followed by tricycles and quadricycles. However, these designs were all essentially pedal powered, with engines fitted to drive the pedal shaft.
Finally, in around 1907 William relented, and ceased production of motorcycles to provide more resources for the development of the cars. Bicycles continued to be built until 1911, at which point the car business was proven. The following year, the original cycle company changed over to a manufacturer of spoked wheels for cars.

William remained involved in the company through until its collapse in 1938, but he stepped down as chairman in 1923 and as he grew older his influence waned, with him resigning from the board in 1937 when he was 86. The leadership of the company had been assumed by his sons, with Victor taking over as Chair in 1923.

William Victor Riley

1876 - 1958

William's eldest son was commonly known as Victor, and would become the chairman following his fathers retirement in 1923. This meant that he was the leader of the company in the dark days of 1937/8 who negotiated the final takeover by William Morris and his Nuffield group. At first, however, he was at his fathers side, developing the cycle business, but this didn't stop him helping Percy set up the Riley Engine Company, even if he wasn't involved in the day to day running of the business.
As the eldest son, it was perhaps inevitable that Victor would takeover his fathers position as the head of the company, even if William remained the chairman. With his brothers taking over the companies repsonsible for the engines (Percy) and bodies (Allan), Victor oversaw development of new models, and the final production of the cars as the chassis, engine and bodies were united.

In 1936 Victor was at the head of the new Autovia company, which whilst ultimately not a success, was far from a failure, with 44 exquisite luxury saloons and limosuines sold before the general financial problems being faced by Riley drew the new company to an untimely end.

Allan Riley

1880 - 1963

In the early years, Allans role within the company was perhaps not as prominent as his brothers, as he played a supporting role. This saw him help Percy in a similar way to Victor with the founding of the Riley Engine Co, and later he supported 3 of his brothers with the 1913 move into full car production.
After the war, however, Allans role became more prominent as he took control of Midland Motor Bodies, a new company formed from the Riley Manufacturing Co to build bodies for Rileys, and later some other cars. Whilst the actual designing of the bodies was largely left to Stanley, Allan was heavily involved in the 'productionisation' of the designs, and his name appears on many of the patents relating to developments in body design and passenger comfort.

Percy Riley

1882 - 1941 Percy left school in 1896 at the age of 14, and two years later he had produced the first Riley car, a 4 wheel 2 seater car with a single cylinder 2 hp engine. Little real detail is known of the car, apart from its innovative mechanically operated valve gear (as opposed to the then common vacuum operated valves). The car had been built in secret, as his father disapproved of motor cars, and repeatedly refused to let his sons develop them. However, 2 of Percys brothers were suitably impressed, and in 1902 they supported him in setting up the Riley Engine Co to produce engines for the Riley quadricycles, tricycles and motorcycles that were then being produced. Further engines were sold to Singer, a near neighbour in Coventry.

In 1904, Percy launched the first Riley designed from the beginning to be petrol powered, the Riley Forecar. Whilst it borrowed heavily from the company's previous motorcycles and tricycles, it was clearly a new and different model, and despite going against his fathers wishes, the Riley car business had started. Development of a four wheeled car started in 1905, and it was launched in late 1906 as the original Riley 9. This was followed in 1907 with a much larger car, the 12/18, all developed by Percy's Riley Engine Company. By this stage, with the business proving itself, Percys father finally relented and agreed to divert the whole company's energies into motor car production.

In the 1930s, the Riley Engine Co, under Percys leadership, was renamed as PR Motors, and this was the one part of the Riley Group that did not pass to Lord Nuffield in 1938. Instead, it continued under first Percy and then his wife into the 1960s, before being bought out by Newage Engineers Ltd in 1966. In 1974, the old Riley factory at Aldbourne Road was vacated as the company moved to new premises in Barlow Road. A series of changes of ownership followed, but the company kept going. In 1997 BI Engineering Ltd took over, and remain the owners to this day, with the division called Newage Transmissions still essentially the old PR Motors business, and indeed it incorporates a diamond shaped 'PRM' logo, indicating its Riley heritage.
The company focusses on Transmissions and components for construction equipment.

Stanley Riley

1889 - 1952 Stanley was the youngest of Williams sons who went on to be heavily involved in the company. In 1913 he joined his older brothers as they focussed on car production, and the same year he founded the Nero Engine Company. This new company was responsible for developing the 10hp car launched in 1915, but both the car and company were short lived, with Nero being merged back into Riley after the war.
After the war, Stanley became the chief stylist and he was largely responsible for the 'aero' styling of the Falcon and Kestrel models. Indeed, almost all of the Rileys designed until 1938 were either Stanleys work, or heavily influenced by him, so indirectly he also influenced the designs of the later 'Nuffield' cars and the RMs, which were based heavily on the pre-war 'Continental' Touring Saloons.

Cecil Riley

1895 - 1961 The youngest of the brothers seems to have had the least to do with the company. After spending some time working in the offices in Coventry, first in the drawing office, then as a sales manager, he was sent to West Africa to investigate the export opportunities in 1922, but managed to get himself a Government job there instead. By 1926 he was back in the UK and helping to develop the new Riley 9 models, undertaking exhaustive testing of a pre-production Monaco. He also followed his brothers into rallying and racing, and remained with the family company in a variety of roles, including export sales manager until 1938.