Roadsters in Australia


How many were made? 
Designed for an American export market that never came good (only 50 went there), officially just 507 were made. This figure is disputed by the authoritative RM Club, who believe 30 chassis numbers were missed and the total was only 477. The early ones (121 only) were made in Coventry, and from 1949 to 1951 the balance came from Abingdon.

Numbers produced were:
1949. 259
1950. 241
1951. 7

Let’s put this in perspective. There were 72,507 E-Type Jaguars made, and around 40,000 survive today. Like all Rileys, these Roadsters are rare. Possibly 146 complete cars remain worldwide today.
The car was not called a Roadster initially; this did not happen until late 1949. The correct name was a “Three Seater Tourer”


Some changes.
1. The chassis had additional outriggers to suit the Roadster body mountings.
2. The front suspension cradle is from a 1 1/2 to lower the bodywork.
3. Front shock absorbers were different
4. Rear springs had 9 leaves (instead of 11 in the saloons)
5. A shorter radiator was used.
6. Different bumper brackets support the heavy bumpers (set at 18″ from the ground for the American market)
7. The petrol tank holds 20 gallons (up from 12.5)
8. The steering column was offset to the driver’s side to provide more room for three people.
9. The steering wheel was 17″ (instead of 18″)
10. An additional steering box changed the steering to 3 turns lock to lock, instead of 2 1/4. This extra steering box was dropped for the later two seaters.
11. The dashboard and firewall is further back. This necessitates special pedals and assemblies, longer cables for the choke etc, longer pipe to the oil gauge, different brake pipes and exhaust pipes.
Every single panel on the car was unique. Even the similar front guards and running boards are different to saloons. The grill is 2″ shorter, cut down from the sedan versions. The dashboard is wider, and the fuel gauge is different. A petrol gauge switch allows different reading between the two tank senders. This was called a ‘reserve level switch’, but in fact there was no actual reserve fuel…
12. The boot lid and doors of the Roadsters were individually “fitted” to their particular body and marked with the last three digits of the body No. in wax crayon on the inside face before being removed for separate spraying.
Some experimenting was done by the factory to make a four seater version, and about six or so examples were built. They never went into production. The car looked something like a Riley Lynx, with two more seats extending into the large boot area.

The ‘2 seater’ model was launched, doing away with the horrible steering column gear change and reduction steering box. These cars have 2S in their chassis numbers, rather than the SS of the earlier cars.

Australian imports

Over 3,600 RM Rileys came to Australia. We believe these included 134 Roadsters, so there are many yet to be discovered.

All exports

The Riley R.M. Club keeps a database. Worldwide they have records of 392 Roadsters of which 146 are recorded as being roadworthy.
A couple of cars have been exported from Australia. But think about it. Around 70 or 80 Roadsters may be out there hidden in chook sheds…
These cars are already 70 years old, and knowledge of their past adds value to them.

Le Mans

Roadster at Le Mans in 1950
Riley had traditionally been a marque involved in motor sport and with a measure of success in the prewar years. Postwar the saloons were used in various rallies across Europe but the Roadster was known to have been used in only one major event-Le Mans 1950. A Roadster, registered number AEN 10, was entered by Geoff Beetson and co-driven by a Mr Lawrie. It covered 2,878 kilometres (1,799 miles) during the 24 hours at an average speed of 74.22 mph, finished 17th out of 60 starters, took fourth place in the 2,000-3,000cc class and placed 8th in the Rudge-Whitworth Cup.
As James Taylor noted in his book Riley RM Series:Although the car’s performance in the race was creditable rather than outstanding, its placing gives very little idea of its capabilities as compared with a standard car.
The production Roadster, for example, could never be persuaded to touch 100 mph, whereas Beetson’s car regularly reached that speed at three points on the Le Mans circuit, and on some occasions touched 110 mph at the same points.
That 110 mph corresponded to just over 5,000 rpm. Worth noting, too, is that the fuel consumption for the whole race averaged 15.3 mpg, which compares with around 20 mpg for a standard Roadster driven hard.
AEN 10 was raced in near-standard specification, modifications being limited to some weight removal-bumpers, hubcaps, windshield replaced by an aero screen, bench seat replaced by a single bucket seat, aluminium hood-and the fitting of a close-ratio four-speed gearbox and 3.5:1 Healey rear axle. Dunlop racing tyres and a carefully assembled and balanced engine completed preparations.

A road test

2 1/2 LITRE RILEY SPORTS THREE-SEATER, as described in The Autocar, March 19, 1948.
PRICE, with open three-seater body, not quoted in Great Britain. Export only at present.
RATING : 16 h.p., four cylinders, overhead valves, 80. X 120 mm, 2443 c.c.
BRAKE HORSE-POWER: 100 at 4,500 r.p.m. COMPRESSION RATIO: 6.85 to I.
WEIGHT, without passengers : 27 cwt 2 qr. LB per C.C. : 1.26.
TYRE SIZE : 6.oo x 16in on bolt-on steel disc wheels.
LIGHTING SET : 12-volt. Automatic voltage control.
TANK CAPACITY: 20 gallons : approximate fuel consumption range, 20-24 m.p.g.
TURNING CIRCLE: (R) 36ft; (L) 37ft.
MAIN DIMENSIONS : Wheelbase, 9ft 11in. Track, 4ft 4 1/4in (front and rear). Overall length, 15ft 6in width, height 4 ft 7in.
From rest through gears to: sec.
30 m.p.h. .. .. 5.9
50 m.p.h. .. .. 14.0
60 m.p.h. .. .. 19.0
70 m.p.h. .. .. 28.0
80 m.p.h. .. .. 38.3 Steering wheel movement from lock to lock : 3 turns (The later Two Seater versions were the same as the saloons, at 2.5 turns)
Speedometer correction by Electric Speedometer Car Speedometer Electric Speedometer
10 = 10
20 = 20
30 = 29.75
40 = 39
50 = 48
60 = 58
70 = 66.25
80 = 76
90 = 85.75

Speeds attainable on gears
1st 21-26
2nd 40-44
3rd 60-65
Top 98

WEATHER: Dry, warm; fresh wind. Acceleration figures are the means of several runs in opposite directions.

Colour chart


Colours and trim.
Hubcaps on Roadsters were generally chromed instead of painted .
Wheels were sometimes painted to match the hood and upholstery, which matched unless to special order.
Black wings were available with all paint colours.
Between September 1948 and April 1949 standard colours were:
Ivory paint with red trim.
Black paint with red trim
Scarlet paint with beige trim
Light green paint with beige trim.
Ming blue paint with beige trim.

After April 1949 to January 1951, available colours were:
Black paint with beige, red or green trim.
Autumn red paint with beige trim.
Clipper blue paint with beige trim.
Red paint with beige or red trim.
Ivory paint with beige or red trim.
Almond green paint with beige trim.
Sun bronze paint with beige trim.

Roadster background

Riley, under long serving chief engineer Harry Rush, had begun developing their post-war range of cars in late 1943. Two “foreign” cars that had been at the Coventry factory during 1938/39 had a considerable influence on Rush and his small team responsible for the company’s post-war cars-the BMW 327 coupe and the Citroen Light 15. The BMW was admired for its sleek styling, the Citroen for its torsion bar independent front suspension, rack and pinion steering and general proportions.
Resources were not available to develop a new family of engines and so Rush had to be content with further development of the existing 1½-litre and 2½-litre units. Although having origins dating back to the 1920’s they were still superior in performance to virtually every other British four-cylinder engine in 1945.
For the 2½-litre model the engine was a development of the pre-war “Big Four” that was rated at 16 hp under the English system. With a cylinder bore of 80.5mm and a crankshaft stroke of 120mm it had a capacity of 2443cc. Its post-war redevelopment included driving the twin camshafts by a duplex chain instead of gears and the adoption of twin SU carburettors to raise output from 82 bhp to 90 bhp at 4,000 rpm. By the time the Roadster became available in the summer of 1948 the power had risen to 100 at 4,500 rpm using larger intake valves. Intriguingly, the 2½-litre engine retained white metal bearings.
The Riley 1½-litre saloon appeared first, in August 1945, with the 2½-litre saloon derivative following in July 1946 with availability from November of that year.

Why a Roadster?
With the need to export high on the agenda it was imperative that new markets be found. As part of the huge Nuffield Organization, Riley was aware of the export potential of convertibles because of the success of the MG TC, particularly in America. The reasoning of Riley management could have been if MG could succeed beyond all expectations with their small, cramped and uncomfortable, underpowered TC sports car then if they offered a larger and more powerful convertible they, too, should enjoy considerable success. It was also noted from observations that the several American automobile manufacturers did not offer buyers convertibles so the Riley people within the Nuffield Export Organisation believed that they could successfully sell to this untapped niche market with something a little larger and far more comfortable than the MG TC.
According to British motoring historian Jon Pressnell in Classic and Sportscar, August 1987:
Indeed, the story goes that the Roadster had its origins in a sketch on the back of an envelope brought back from the States by a member of the sales force, the man claiming that this was the sort of car for which the Americans were clamouring. It apparently transpired that the enthusiastic salesman had only talked to around a third of the American dealers…
So the 2½-litre Roadster began limited volume production. Interestingly it was not called Roadster but rather a “Three Seater Tourer.”
The basis for the Roadster was the 2½-litre’s sedan 119-inch wheelbase chassis. The chassis had additional outriggers to suit the different Roadster body mountings and the front suspension cradle was from the Riley 1½-litre that had a lower ride height.
It was the only Riley then with a bench front seat, allowing the driver to sprawl out to allow for implausibly large testicles (They were nearly all male owners) and grip the large steering wheel to avoid toppling out when cornering because of the cut down doors. Speaking of doors, the story goes that the front and rear sections of the body were first mounted onto the chassis, then a craftsman would come and make a door to fill the hole between these sections. This probably explains why these doors vary in length from car to car.
The front dampers were different from the saloon’s; the rear semi-elliptic leaf springs had only nine leaves instead of eleven in the saloon; a one-inch shorter radiator was used; the fuel tank held 20 Imperial gallons (up from 12.5 Imp gallons) and was mounted differently to the chassis; and the bumper brackets were made of heavier metal to support the bumpers that were set at 18-inches from the ground to meet American market requirements.
The steering wheel diameter was reduced from 18″ to 17″ and the steering column was offset to the driver’s side to provide more room for three people. This necessitated an additional steering box connected to the original rack mechanism and altered the steering ratio so that three turns were needed lock-to-lock instead of 21/2 turns. And for the first time on a Riley there was a column gearshift to support the perceived American taste for a bench front seat and three-abreast seating.
That Riley was losing money on each Roadster produced is not surprising given the unique nature of the car, especially the body. For reasons never divulged the company chose to not use any panels from the 2½-litre saloon in an effort to contain production costs. Every single body panel was different and unique to the Roadster. If the body panels were unique so, too, was the ash framework. The engine hood line was lower and the traditional chromed radiator grille was cut down by two-inches from that of the saloon. Additionally, the dashboard and firewall assembly was mounted further back on the chassis necessitating a special pedal assembly, longer cables for the hand controls, a different wiring harness with longer cables and a longer pipe to the engine oil pressure gauge. As well, the dashboard itself was wider and because the fuel tank was so large the Roadster had a different fuel gauge with a switch to allow different readings from the two sender units in the tank. In Riley litreature this feature was called a “reserve level switch” but in fact there was no reserve fuel capacity.
As an aside, the boot lid and doors of the Roadsters were individually “fitted” to their particular body and marked with the last three digits of the body No. in wax crayon on the inside face before being removed for separate spraying.
All these changes probably resulted from a lack of planning time. Drawings and the first hand-built body are believed to have been completed in less than a month, in December 1947. The first running prototype was not completed until March 1948, in time for General Manager Jack Tatlow to drive it to the Geneva Motor Show where it was Riley’s centre of attraction.
Actual production of the three-seater tourer began after the Geneva Show in March 1948. For that year only 121 were built, and all were exported. Riley advertising of the time showed a sketch of the Roadster driving past an English mansion, the driver being on the left-hand side of the car. A notation on their literature informed prospective buyers that the Roadster was “for Export only” and no price was quoted.
The Roadster was not a sales success in America. Perhaps it was the advent of the new Jaguar XK120, or the high pricing, but the Americans never warmed to the Roadster and with its major market rejecting it out of hand the decision was taken to withdraw it from production. On January 27, 1950, the last Roadster rolled off the Abingdon line.

Autocar 1950

The Autocar went on to say…
“This open model on the 21/2-litre Riley chassis represents a return to an open car in the modern style by a firm which through the years has usually offered open sports cars in addition to closed models. The current three-seater was designed with a view particularly to the American market and under present conditions it is unfortunately purely an export model. to the extent that no home market price is quoted for it. The price overseas varies, of course, on different markets but it is understood that it is closely comparable with that of the 21/2-litre saloon.No attempt has been made to provide a car with a very much higher maximum speed than that of the fleet saloon, and the same gear ratios are used.
Characteristically, the body is solidly built and there is thus no very great saving of weight over the saloon. With the latest engine, developing 100 brake horse power. the test results show that the acceleration performance is in some respects better than that of the saloon previously tested by The Autocar. An impression is certainly gained of the all-round performance being brisker than the saloon’s.It is intended purely as a two-three-seater of sporting character and additional seats are not provided in the tail of the body, which is devoted to a luggage locker of truly vast capacity. By the use for the first time on a Riley of a steering-column gear change the full benefit of a one-piece type of seat is gained as regards useful width available and ease of getting in and out by either door.
This open model feels every bit as “solid ‘ on the road as the closed car in spite of the absence of the stiffening effect of a steel roof, a fact which emphasizes the rigidity of the box-section frame which forms its foundation. The export nature of this model was stressed by the fact of the car undergoing test being fitted with left-hand drive.So well-known is the behaviour of the 21/2 litre Riley saloon, which has proved so successful in the post-war period, that it was no surprise to find that the natural cruising speed is in the region of 75 m.p.h., and this is a thoroughly comfortable rate on a top gear of 4.11 to 1.
The genuine maximum available closely approaches 100 m.p.h., with a fine surge of acceleration available on second and third gears. But it can be treated a good deal as a top gear car, for the engine proves decidedly more flexible at low speed than earlier examples, and picks up strongly the pinking that occurs under such conditions on the petrol at present available in Great Britain would probably be absent on fuels of higher octane value obtainable else-where.
This car’s averaging capabilities on a journey are all altogether exceptional. and it puts its 45 miles or so into an hour with consummate ease even over the usual English roads that constantly provide handicaps in the shape of bends and speed limits.”

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