﹒1.1 litre four engine "Plus Ultra" version ﹒Comprehensive paperwork brimming with the cars history ﹒Very presentable exterior condition
What did it mean to own a Riley car during the period in-between the two world wars? As it turns out, quite a lot. Way before the brand became just another badge-engineered BMC product, Riley had established a reputation for producing advanced quality products with an impressive sporting pedigree. The blue diamond logo combined with a snappy strapline - ‘As old as the industry, as modern as the hour’ and ‘Such fun to drive’ was used as a successful promotional campaign, but as the Nine eventually proved, the marketing aspect was surpassed by the cars sporting ability - a vital asset to help sell a car.
The Nine was the entry-level car by the Coventry based brand and a fine introduction to the Riley family. Because of its decent road manners and wide body-style variations, it was revealed as one of the best small sporting cars of the period. The later Monaco Nine Plus Ultra, such as the one we have presented to you, had benefited from 7 years of development and improvement since its original introduction in 1926.
The level of engineering was also noteworthy, with its OHV twin camshaft engine being praised for its high revving ability and its state-of-the-art crossflow head design capable of reaching 65mph. The twin high camshaft design and hemispherical combustion chambers went to characterise Rileys engines well into the '50s, contributing to Riley's tuning potential and enviable career in motorsports. The Riley Nines sporting pedigree was recognised by a certain engineer, a Welshman called J.G Parry-Thomas, while he was working on a ‘Brooklands’ special. Tragically he was killed while attempting to set the Land Speed record in 1927
Around 30,000 were sold over its 12-year production run, with tourers, two-seaters, coupes, half fabric (not an unattractive solution to keep the weight down) as well a handful of coach-built specials. Riley would employ evocative names for these versions such as the Kestrel, Falcon, Lynx or Imp to help conjure up images of agility and speed. This was backed up by notable victories at Le Mans, where 5 Rileys were placed in the top 12 finishing cars. The Nine also had a formidable rally reputation and even after the war, the Nines were still making an impact on the circuits in the hands of a young Mike Hawthorn.
For a car that is almost 90 years old, there is no shortage of documentation and there is some lovely information that paints a picture of pre-war social history. Originally registered in Bournemouth in 1933, the car was sold via the Henlys Motor Dealer. The car was then sold a year later to a showroom run by the successful racing driver Jack Fairman, who also happened to race for several top-rank teams such as Jaguar, Ecurie Ecosse and Aston Martin, most famously partnering Sterling Moss in the 1959 Nurburgring. While nothing remains of the original garage, the building that replaced it - now a Wetherspoons pub - is rather nicely called the Jack Fairman.
This particular car is the Plus Ultra version, this is confirmed by the double SU carburettors and the additional bonnet louvres. The four side windows also have a subtle diamond shape, which is also unique on the Plus Ultra model. The Plus Ultra was also available with a six-cylinder option, but this car is powered by the smaller 1.1 litres four engine.
The car was bought by a Stockbroker named Norman Holt who kept the car until his death in 1974. The car was then passed to Norman's son, who used it regularly until his passing in 2000. Essentially this counts as the car remaining in the same family for an incredible 66 years! It was then sold to a buyer in London who then passed it over to several other owners, during which it received a total restoration in the mid-2000s. Following another overhaul, it ended up in the hands of the current owner, who is a collector of pre-war cars with an interest in the steam era. However, after adding to his collection with several other classics including a Rolls Royce and a Morris, he feels it time to pass the Riley on to someone who will appreciate it.
The owner has provided a comprehensive series of folders full of the car's history, photographs as well interesting reading material are included too which clearly suggests that this car has been loved for all of its life. As well as photos of the restoration, we have current invoices for service items, paint, job reports for repairs as well as the original registration book and original Instruction manual. Several thousand pounds have been spent on the car in the last twenty years, ensuring that it has a good chance of celebrating its centenary. The paperwork also touchingly has a letter from the Holts second owners widow, who writes about the pain of parting with the car but adds a little personal touch with her connection with the Riley. In addition, the car will be well known within the club, so there's potential for more investigation work regarding the chassis, engine and build details to be discovered.
The car is a 4 seater, but realistically best used as a two-seater and space for a dog - although Mr Holts son claimed to have fitted nine young rugby players in the car! Impromptu sporting achievements aside, the interior is in good order. The seats are worn with evidence of repair work - as to be expected on a car that has been used regularly. The restoration and maintenance of the interior are sympathetic to the character of the car - it would be a shame to have it like new, so the wear and tear is really part of the car's history. The door openings open up nicely, with no sagging and provide a wide aperture, allowing easy access inside the car. The fittings and headlining are in good order. The seats were surprisingly comfy too. There are a couple of minor issues that need addressing, such as the rear left-hand side window winder is not functioning but will be an easy fix.
What a treat! For a car that benefitted from a decent restoration followed by sympathetic use, with the benefit of careful damp-free indoor storage, one can take comfort in the fact it is in very presentable condition. It has not been over-restored yet the bodywork panels and glass are as straight as one could ever hope for. The vinyl roof is in excellent condition and there is no evidence of water ingress. The wings are straight and rust-free, although the rear left wheel wing has paint damage which may have been due to the fitment of a rear lamp, which has since been removed - another minor issue that could easily be resolved. Both hinged engine lids allow good access, revealing a wooden bulkhead in good condition. The tyres appear to be as new, with some evidence of surface rust on the spokes, but again a job that can be resolved without too much of a headache. The car has also the advantage of being originally kitted out with a full width usable lockable boot. The chrome brightwork, brass and decorative parts on the car are in excellent condition, the radiator ‘Riley Skilady’ mascot which was originally produced for the Alpine 6-cylinder models has been partially repaired but is a highly sought after accessory.
Mechanically the car is in excellent order, with the owner carefully maintaining the lubrication points, servicing the car and keeping on top of the issues when they occur. The car is a twin SU version, confirming this Nine as the Plus Ultra but in the grand scheme of things, it is not a significant power boost over the standard versions. In any case, it would simply be most unkind to thrash the living daylights of this majestic 90-year-old. The engine is in excellent condition and starts without hesitation, the underside has been treated with inhibitor, with the suspension components in good order. Much of the electricals have been recently overhauled too. The Tyres are correct for each side, the mix of Excelsiors, Firestones, Henleys and one no brand are specific to the left and right-hand side of the car. All tyres have good tread and have plenty of life in them.
The owner has owned the car for almost 3 years having bought it off a friend, which makes him only the car's 10th owner. He rightfully mentions that the car brings out the best in people, and the goodwill on the roads as well as at the classic car shows always results in happy smiley faces all round. As a car to potter around in, perhaps with the grandchildren or simply to take part in the WWII themed car shows, you cannot do much better. It’s spritely character and the willing engine is surprisingly adequate for low-level modern-day use. We have a wonderfully cared for example here, with plenty of paperwork to give the new owner confidence in this unusual version of the Nine. Its survival has relied on the second owner's ability to appreciate the car when many would have simply upgraded at the earliest chance. With around 400 1930’s Rileys known to be still registered in the UK, the pickings for one may not be as hard as you might expect, but if you’re looking for recently restored Monaco Plus Ultra then this has to be the best chance of owning one. There is a Riley club specifically for pre-war models too.
What the Nine represents is an actual end of an era for the brand, way before BMC butchered the name into history. Riley was starting to financially suffer despite their well-regarded range, the cars had become too cost-intensive to produce due to a lack of common parts spread over a bewildering number of models. In addition, the Nine was a comparatively expensive car, and compared to its closest rival the Hillman Minx, the ordinary punter looking for a small decent runaround may not have been bothered about the sporting heritage that Riley represented. By 1938 Riley found themselves looking for a partner and ended up with the Nuffield Organisation, after a failed attempt to group up with its nearby Coventry rival Triumph. Nuffield, looking to cut costs, reorganised the Rileys line up and to employ a new strict two engine-line up policy. As a result, the long-lived 1.1-Litre engine from the Nine was axed, along with the car.
Riley as a brand retained a reasonable level of design independence after World War II but by the ’60s they were not much more than a Morris’ with some token veneer or twin SU’s. The last Riley badged car just managed to last the full decade, with the BMC ADO16 Riley Kestrel bowing out in 1969. However, the Riley name wasn’t entirely forgotten about. Cynically one could call it asset stripping but at least BMW understands the potential of the Riley name and has retained the trademark for rights to use on a car, so you never know what could happen in the future.
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