Do you share a name with a car?

NOT too many people share a surname with a car.

Fewer still can say the first car they owned was one of them.

I’m not talking about a garden variety Ford or Holden either, but a little known British marque that has not been seen here for more than 50 years.

As a motoring scribe I was tickled pink to discover my old man’s first car was in fact a Riley sports car.

How cool is that?

Kevin bought the car at age 19 from a girl in Goulburn for £90, with the money he’d saved as a professional singer and performer.

My father, I should explain, was a man who changed cars almost as frequently as he changed his undies.

As a child I have fond memories of an endless stream of second hand treasures that graced our driveway, my earlier memories being of a huge slope-backed Peugeot.

I guess my father’s love of cars must have rubbed off on me.

Kev has fond memories of his 1929 two-seater Riley 9 Tourer which featured a pop-up ‘‘dickey’’ seat.

There’s a couple of stories that go with the car too, like the time he rescued his then girlfriend from falling out of the car when he managed to grab her hair as the door swung open in a corner.

Or how about the time the car caught fire in the middle of Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The first Riley automobile, a small voiturette with a single-cylinder engine, was made in Coventry, England in 1898.

Production however didn’t begin until about 1905.

Riley automobiles were marketed under the banner ‘‘as old as the industry, as modern as the hour”.

Percy Riley, who was responsible for the first Riley, patented many engineering features later  incorporated by other manufacturers, as well as designing the famous Riley ’9’ engine first seen in 1926.

He also patented the detachable wheel used universally today that meant in the event of a puncture, the wheel could be changed for a spare – in the early days of motor transport wheels were a permanent fixture.

The wheel caught on quickly and Rolls-Royce took out a licence to manufacture it, along with at least eight other manufacturers.

Lord Nuffield bought the Riley company after it went into receivership in 1938 for £143,000.

He immediately sold it to Morris Motors which soon became the Nuffield Organisation – a combination of Morris, MG, Wolsley and Riley.

Earlier Rileys of the 1920s and 1930s were noted for their flowing, sporting lines as well as sprightly performance which earned them such an illustrious competition career.

Production of Rileys continued into the 1960s but later cars were Rileys in little more than name, with the Riley grille and higher level of specification.

BMC even produced upmarket Riley versions of the Morris 1100 called the Kestrel and, get this – a version of the Mini called the Elf – the latter billed as ‘‘magnificent motoring in miniature’’.

Don’t know whatever became of Dad’s Riley?

He said he sold the car to two brothers who had plans to convert the roadster into a utility of all things.

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.