Sporting Rileys

Sydney is no stranger to motor sports. One fascinating motor racing series were run at Bondi on the Promenade! This was back in 1930. There were 5 classes, at 850 cc, 1100 cc, 1500 cc, 2000 cc and supercharged cars. The smallest class was dominated by Austin 7s, with Morris Minors, Triumphs and a Singer at under 850 ccs. The ‘B’ group, up to 1100 ccs, saw a good turn out of Rileys plus some Amilcars and a Salmson. Entrants in Class B were as follows:R Clisdell Riley 24.4 sec: J Perry Riley 24.6 sec: A. Sutton Riley 25 sec: G Gordon Salmson 25 sec: A.F. Houghton Riley 25.2 sec: G Corrie Amilcar 25.4 sec: L Orr Riley 26.2 sec: J Lowrie Riley 26.8 sec: C Coggins Amilcar 27.4 sec: R Cousins Riley Saloon 27.4 sec: F.A. Brenchley Brooklands Riley 27.6 sec: G Osbourne Riley 27.6 sec: H Horton Standard 29.6 sec
Other Riley entrants included:
C Class, up to 1500 cc: J McMahon Riley Redwing 26.2 sec: D Class, up to 2000 cc: C Gilder Riley 26.8 sec.
11 Rileys were included in the 61 cars competing, the largest field in any post war event.

Rileys attract passionate members

John Virgo’s racing Riley had its beginnings in Adelaide, South Australia, sometime during the fifties. From a fiery insurance write off, the remaining body was discarded and the chassis shortened some twenty inches – a lightweight frame and aluminium body was installed. Like many projects of the fifties, if it could have come to fruition instantly, it would have been a competitive car but fluctuations in enthusiasm and available money saw it lose momentum, and so it changed hands three times before I purchased it from the original owner, a Mr Alby Lobb.
It came from him as a going concern in the sixties – later that decade historic racing took off down in Australia and it has competed successfully from then up until the present time.
A typical race weekend will start by packing up on Thursday (it’s great being retired) and starting what will be a 1500km round trip to, say Phillip Island near Melbourne,Victoria for a two-day race weekend. I will always take a mechanic – they prefer it that way – according to them, letting me work on the car is like having two men away from work for the day – the three of them are excellent tradesman and all are lifelong friends.
For the technically minded, and starting at the front, the steering is 2/2-litre rack and pinion, the lower wishbone has had its outer pivot lowered I” by extending the lower king-pin housing down The torsion bars have had around .080″ machined from their diameter over the full length to allow for the lighter body, When the chassis was
shortened, it was found that due to the chassis gradually tapering smaller at the rear, you could slide the back section up inside the front part after removing some 12″ to 14″. This has added strength to the shortened and welded area.
We have somehow managed to extract more than double the horsepower out of the motor – the head has been machined down to 3.275″ thick, the inlet valves are just under 2″ diameter and the exhaust is 1.75″ diameter, it has a cam with a lift of 0.525″ and each lifter has a light spring between the head and the top of the lifter – this keeps it on the cam and allows us to run lighter valve springs.
Four Carrillo style rods and forged pistons forced a second-generation engine build and the compression finish up at about 9.00.1. We still run the water manifold to the head but the exhaust manifold has been replaced with extractors of 1.625″ diameter.
The gearbox has given us plenty of headaches, with the advent of better and stickier tyres, the mainshafts started breaking. For some reason Rileys drilled a radial hole in to the main shaft to a depth of about 1/2 the diameter of the shaft. It holds a spring and ball to locate the synchro hub but has proved to be a very weak point and we have broken two shafts due to this. The first cure was to weld up the top of the hole and cut a circlip groove in the shaft to hold the hub – but welding the shaft was not good enough and it still broke – this time destroying a set of close ratio gears in the process. I have now had two new shafts made up to my own specs and have had no trouble since.
The trunnion and torque tube have been done away with and an open style tail shaft is used. I left the brakes standard but added a booster to the front wheels. The car competes against open wheel racing cars up to 1960 and holds its own very well all around Australia, it always finishes in the top 6 or 8 and usually in the top 3 or 4 outright.
I have been very fortunate to have owned a large service station for nearly 30 years – this came with a big workshop and tyre bays with “wall to wall” mechanics. I could never have done it working from home and doing everything myself.
I am sure you will all understand when I say I love that car – it has given me hundreds of hours of fun and continues to do so.

John Virgo

John Virgo was still racing the Riley in April 2021. 
He has since passed away.

April 30, 2021

Geoff McInnes, a Victorian Riley enthusiast, wrote of the early history of motorsport in Australia from reading the Light Car Club of Australia’s “Competition Communicator”.

In the Blue Diamond (1974) he said: The first road race held in Australasia took place on March 26th, 1928 at Phillip Island on a circuit of 6½ miles of loose earth and metal public roads. The race was over a distance of 100 miles. The only Riley mentioned was Bill Williamson crashing during practice in Jack Day’s car and not starting in the race. The race was won by Captain A. Waite in a supercharged Austin Seven.
In December 1928, Joan Richmond and Bill Williamson competed at Aspendale racetrack in Rileys.
For the 2nd A.G.P. at Phillip Island on March 15th, 1929, two Rileys were entered, one a 9 H.P. and the other a 12 H.P., the latter being presumably a side valve.
Four Riley Nines entered the 1930 A.G.P. and, during the race, a type 37 Grand Prix Bugatti ran into the rear of Barney Dentry’s Brooklands in the dust. Dentry went on to win Class B covering the 200 miles in 3 hours 51.5 mins. at an average of 52.68 m.p.h.
The dust was a major problem when in 1938 on the ‘new’ circuit on the Island, an occasional inquiry of one’s riding mechanic would be “if one was still on the road on his side?”

The Light Car Club magazine commented: “All who competed, particularly on the original circuit on two wheels or four, were brave men and I don’t blame an unnamed driver, who was observed to down a full glass of brandy before setting off”

Grand Prix

Rileys competed in the Australian Grand Prix.

Our Club was heavily involved
in motor sports in the 1960s.

Feb: 12 hour Night Trial
Mar: Gymkhana
April: 120 mile Family Trial
May: Mountain Rally
June: Sprint Meeting
July: Signpost Trial
August: Gymkhana
September: 12 Hour Trial
October: Economy Run
Nov: Club picnic, hill climb
December: Concourse

KEITH JONES was the Patron of the Riley Motor Club of Australia and a legend in Round Australia trials. He competed in three events spanning a quarter of a century.
Keith Jones’ entry of his 2.5 litre Riley sedan was not so strange in 1953 when it was just three years old but in 1970, when he entered it in the Ampol Trial, people started wondering. However, Jones was a staunch Riley enthusiast and believed in the British cars all the way down to their timber frames.
Then an alderman on Auburn Council in Sydney, and a transport company operator, Jones entered the Riley one more time in the 1979 Repco Trial.
He brought the car home in 75th place accompanied by his son, Kim, and mate Peter Webber, beating many of the newer machines. Some sages proffered that Jones was lucky that the Repco was run at such a blistering pace, the speed of the event meaning that the famous termites of the Australian outback being offered little chance of taking hold and dining on the Riley chassis”
Keith Jones and the Riley Motor Club of NSW
This is a condensed story of the late Keith Jones, our Senior Member and his beloved Riley Saloon.
Born in Kurrajong, 1919 in the days of horse and carts. He learned to drive on a friend’s 1929 Chevrolet Six during trips up the North Coast at the age of ten. He started to work in a garage in 1933 and his boss sold him a 1929 Willys Overland 4. He then left the garage and entered an apprenticeship for Fitting and Turning. Later on he purchased a Triumph motor cycle and one dark night at Parramatta he was run over by a truck. This demolished the bike and very nearly Keith. Next thing he knew he was in hospital and they were preparing to remove a badly mangled leg. Luckily, his mother refused this, and so, for the rest of his life the leg remained with a slight limp.
However, this stopped him “joining up” during the war so he stayed in Fitting and Turning. He next purchased a 1929 “Ducks Back” (Alvis) which is now owned by Mike Menzies of the Alvis Club. Mike resides in Mittagong.
In 1949, Keith traded up to a 23/60 aluminum Vauxhall of about 1927 vintage. It may have been a trade “down” because the Vauxhall was large and heavy. Particularly, heavy on petrol. Next came a much smaller 1938 Singer “Le Mans”. To make extra money on weekends he purchased a 1939 Chevrolet 2 ton truck and so began a move to the trucking business which he followed for the next forty years.
So now with a family and money in his pocket he went looking for a new car. Along William St., Keith cruised, checking out American, English, and European cars, of which there was a much larger selection and greater variety than there is today. He narrowed his selection down to the new Holden and a car he did not know at all, a Riley. There was really no comparison, a Holden tin can for 450 pounds or a luxury imported Riley sports saloon for 950 pounds. The sleek lines, the smell of leather and timber, the technical features, do I need to say more? And so began a lasting relationship.
In 1952 came his first race at Mt.Druitt. It was only an airstrip, then, up and down with two very sharp corners. A clutch slip cost him the race. He came second to an Austin A90. Stronger clutch springs were then fitted and they are still in the car.
1953 was the first Redex Trial round Australia, but through Alice Springs. On the six hundred mile horror stretch, Townsville to Mt. Isa, Keith moved up seventy-four places. So many cars were crashing or breaking gear on the very rough bush track as the road was then. Up to Darwin and down to the Alice, a great run -95 to 98 MPH on the “Bitumen”. At this point the Riley was one of twelve cars that had not lost points.
But – a couple of hundred miles south’ going over a deep sandy creek, both back wheels collapsed. Fortunately, they had two spares, but they lost a lot of time and came into Sydney in 74th Place. The Peugeot 203 won and Peugeots have sold in Australia ever since.
Later on, Riley put heavier wheels on the 2 1/2 Lt. Keith competed in the 1954 Redex in a new Morris Oxford from Nuffield as a sort of pro-release test with two well known drivers – Gordon Stewart and John Crouch. The car was a disappointment and needed a lot of cobbling together to get it around, but they came second in class.

During this time, Keith was racing the Riley in sprints like Castlereagh and Marsden Park and hill climbs such as Foleys (Mona Vale) and Springwood.
Next came the 1970 Ampol Round Australia in the Riley, but with only two crew. They had a good time but became very tired. In the elimination section in Victoria, at night, with no navigator they became lost, very lost. But, at least they finished.
He, also, raced the car at “Gnoo-Blas” Orange and had several wins.
In 1956 (Olympic Games Melbourne) he was offered a drive of a 250 FM Ferrari. A great race and he came second to Tom Sulman in an Aston Martin.
1979 was the Repco Rally round Australia with Peter Brock and a three car team of “New” Commodores with full factory backing. The old Riley went round again. The oldest car. They did very well, came 59th out of a field of 200 +. Only 91 finished.
There were various 24 hour Castrol Rallys and the large S. A. State Rally of 1996. So the car and driver have earned a place in the Competition History of Rileys in Australia. We were proud to have Keith as our Patron. The grey RMB now lives in W.A. and is still being used.

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