Guide Price: £27,000 - £32,000
If, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, you wanted a luxury, executive car, there were a great many British marques to choose from. And for many, of all those marques, many of which have since been lost to the mists of time, Riley was at the top of the list. It was a company known for offering refinement, build quality and cars with seemingly unending presence, which was especially true of the RM series of cars. The last to be designed and built before Riley merged with Nuffield and Austin to form BMC.
The RM cars were initially offered as beautifully proportioned four-door saloon cars. All were powered by a version of Riley’s own four-cylinder engine and all were on the receiving end of favourable reviews. Fast, handsome and dripping with luxury, the RM series truly was a high point in British vehicle manufacturing. But even so, something was missing. There was a market for a drophead, and Riley duly obliged with the ⅔ seat Riley RMC of 1948. But even that wasn’t enough. The buying public wanted more space and more space, and thus in 1949, the Riley RMD was born, which is exactly what we have for auction here.
This particular Riley RMD has led a cherished life for the most part. The current owner has had it since 2007. Prior to this, the Riley was owned by an enthusiast who restored the car after it had been left to slumber for some twenty years. A full ground-up restoration was carried out (of which there is photographic evidence to support) which brought the car to the condition you see it in today.
This isn’t any old RMD though, if you can say that of a car of which only around 500 were built. No, this one has been subjected to some improvements and changes to gently bring it into the modern age. Though as you can see, these changes are in no way intrusive or otherwise harmful to the RMD’s wonderful aesthetic.
So, what’s been done? Well, the biggest change is under the winged bonnet. The capacity is still 2.5 litres, but there is no four-cylinder Riley engine under there. Instead, it has a silky smooth straight six from Triumph. Better power and more torque, it’s a well-suited engine. The transmission is a four-speed manual with overdrive, which makes this RMD an extremely capable cruiser.
Other changes that have been added are tubeless tyres on 16-inch steel rims, the brakes have been upgraded to disc upfront care of a late model BMW 3 Series, with a dual circuit system comprised of Wilwood components. The electric system is now 12 volt, and there is even a Parrot Bluetooth hands free system. How very modern!
Ample, would be the best adjective. The current owner has kept everything pertaining to the RMD, and as you can see from the pictures, there is no shortage of it. The owner does have another RMD though, and the paperwork for both has been bundled together. However, he will sort this into a collection of the correct documentation in readiness for the new owner.
What we saw while photographing the car was a seemingly unending amount of paperwork covering everything from the trivial such as nuts, bolts and fixings, through to bills for larger works such as paint and mechanical work. It’s rare to find a car with so much documentation to support its past. And it’s also a reminder that this car has clearly wanted for nothing.
There are also a number of photographs from the past owner, which serve to show the detail and depth of the restoration that was carried out in the early 2000s. As you can see in the photographs, it was a complete ‘nut and bolt’ restoration, with every area of the car renewed or fettled.
There is also, the owner tells us, documentation available that will serve to validate that this car is indeed a genuine RMD (though the VIN is above should you wish to look for yourself). It was common for RM saloons to be modified to drophead spec, and some could be very convincing. However, bidders should rest easy in the knowledge that this is the real, and very rare, deal
An exquisite gathering of red leather and wood veneer. The rearward opening ‘suicide’ doors begin the sense of grandeur, then you slide into the deep red innards of the RMD a lose yourself to the style of the 1950s. This is a beautifully appointed cabin, and one that in no way looks to be some seventy years of age. The carpets, the clocks, the control are all bright, functional and each carries just enough wear and age to bring charm, but not so much that it makes the cabin look old or worn. It’s like a well-used, comfortable, wingback chair on wheels.
There is nothing to really fault in here. The restoration and rebuild of this car were done in such a way that original trim and fittings could be reused. It’s original, but also perfectly aged. The only two small things that are perhaps a tad incongruous are the Parrot hands free kit and the rear speakers which are located in outward facing panels under the rear seats. Oh, and under the dash there is a Wilwood brake pedal, as per the upgrade to the brake system.
The wood is all in excellent order, though if we were to be critical, we would say that the veneer around the glove box area has perhaps seen better days. However, the seller has a complete dash that he will be willing to offer to the winning bidder by separate negotiation should you want to fit it.
The leather-wrapped ‘banjo’ steering wheel is a wonderfully tactile interface between driver and machine, and the leather also matches the rest of the interior. Speaking of which, one delightful highlight is the door card for each door, which has been custom made in a ‘sunburst’ pattern.
Finally, the boot is clean and tidy with no signs of any damp or damage. There is also an extra, lower boot if you will, in which the spare wheel can be found.
As we have mentioned above, the restoration was some fifteen years ago or so, and as such, the car has earned some age to its aesthetic. It gleams and glistens in the sun, and the dark blue over off-white paint grabs the eye with ease. The body is largely flawless in its condition and has clearly been cared for since the restoration was completed. There is of course the odd tiny imperfection here and there, but this is a seventy-year-old car, and one that has been used and enjoyed, not babied around on trailers. However, it lives inside a dry and warm garage, and rarely sees bad weather unless caught out.
The chrome is in excellent condition everywhere on the car, with barely a hint of any putting or imperfection. The same can be said of all the glass, all the rubbers and any other body-based fixings. It really is a stunning machine.
Then of course, there is the all-important roof. This is in astonishing condition, with no creasing, no staining, no rips, tears or imperfections. And when closed, it blends into the bodylines with such precision it could make a modern sports car blush. Truly, Riley took the design of the roof very seriously indeed. When closed, it’s as tight as a drum and, the seller assures us, free of any leaks. Once up, it changes the RMD completely.
There is very little to say in a negative light. There is some slight rubbing on the kick plates of the doors, and there is some pain transfer evident between the bottom of the door and the door frame on the car itself, but that’s about it. Generally speaking, this is a beautiful, well-kept car that can and does turn heads at every given opportunity. The true test of a restoration is how well it holds up. And honestly, if you told us this car was restored five years ago, not fifteen, we’d believe you.
As per the visuals, the mechanical side of things is generally excellent. The 2.5 Triumph engine is impossibly quiet, it has good oil pressure and there is not so much as a whiff of smoke to be seen from the exhaust. The current owner has fitted an electronic points kit into the distributor and has also fitted an electric fan with thermostatic switch control, and as such, the car starts on the button and maintains a happy temperature.
The gearbox is crisp and direct with no groans or whines, and the overdrive function operates as it should when cruising. The owner tells us that the car has been used for weddings, for local shows and also for a tour of Northern Spain, all of which the RMD completed without fuss or drama. Add in the new dual circuit brakes with discs up front, and you have a car from 1950 that drives more than well enough to be able to mix it with modern traffic. Certainly, the owner was telling us he would have zero hesitation in taking it over to Europe again, so flawless was its behaviour last time.
No, this car isn’t original (though the old brakes are included should you wish to go that way). However, it’s not been modified into oblivion or without consideration. In fact, we would argue that it’s not modified at all, and instead say that the changes have served to ready this RMD for years and years of future use.
Rare, elegant, beautifully built to begin with and lovingly restored since, this 1950 Riley RMD is a lovely example of one Britain’s most beautiful dropheads. It’s in astonishing condition, it’s backed up with near encyclopaedic levels of history and it has been brought into the modern age with carefully curated and expertly applied modifications. It is a car from 1950 but with none of the hindrances a car from 1950 might have. This RMD will sit in traffic, it will take you and three passengers wherever you need to go, and it will do it with the wind in your hair, or if the weather turns, plush comfort.
The Riley RMD is a rare car, but to find one of this specification is a unique opportunity. There will not be another one like this, so if it floats your boat, if you want to experience it, you need to make sure you tickle the bid button.
Notice to bidders
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