1947 Riley: Collector’s Dream?

1947 Riley Project

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The seller of this 1947 Riley describes it as a collector’s dream. Admittedly, it caught my eye when Peter R sent it in. I’m no Riley expert, but I do know that they built some interesting cars. The seller mentions that it has a 1.5 liter engine so I’m guessing this is a RMA. There were quite a few of these built, but they are not exactly common over here. The rust and sagging doors make me nervous because Riley used metal over wood to build their bodies. This one is located in Houston, Texas and is listed here on eBay for $8k or best offer. Take a look and let us know if you think this is a collector’s dream or their worst nightmare.

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  1. wagon master

    I owned a 52 rmd drop head coupe with a 2 1/2 ltr. Fun car, good low end torque, and still maintain high revs at prolonged fwy speeds.
    I’m sorry, but you can find presentable rma running examples for about 10ish, so this makes no sense. Rare in the US doesn’t make it desirable.

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  2. Charles

    Rotting wood and rusted sagging metal sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

    I like the lines of the car. It looks like it was once a classy ride.

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  3. rogerowen

    It’s an attractive looking car, but as Wagon Master says you can pick up better examples for not much more. I recently saw a very nice looking (unrestored but running) example offered for £6,500. And, a fully restored DHC version for just £11,500 (in Holland). As Charles says – the wood framed doors are said to be tricky to rebuild. These cars do have a strong chassis though, and the interior is nicely appointed.

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  4. Van

    This is cool
    Must dress in tweed and sing god save the queen

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  5. Van

    The bungee cords are all that holds it together
    The CDC would like to sample the mildew
    There’s a lot

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  6. john

    My late brother had one of the in the early sixties, it was near the end of its days in condition not dissimilar to this one and the doors did not shut easily. He paid £5 for it. My cousin and he had a bet how fast it could go round a corner one night, and it skidded off the road and submerged itself in a duck pond. As far as I know it is still there. Brother and cousin told my aunt it has blown its engine and was scrapped.They were fine. You would have to brave to take this on and the price is way too high. Chat to a Riley RM specialist in the UK I suggest. Registration plate if original says the car started off life in Surrey, the PH bit is a Surrey registration. 1.5 litre RM Rileys are quite slow, but in the USA rare and different.You would be the only one at the show I expect!

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  7. HoA Howard AMember

    Really?? No,, a Riley ( too early?) Looking at this, I can only imagine, and with the help of “images”, what a beautiful car this once was. This had to be on par with a Buick or Thunderbird. The British always had such neat dash boards. Sadly, you’d never know that, looking at this. I wonder what the story was, how it ended up in Texas, of all places. For the cost of restoring this, one could probably import one from overseas. While it’s fun to dream, this is too far gone. Check out the dash ( of a nice one)

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    • Bobsmyuncle

      Wow that IS beautiful! You wouldn’t guess the potential just looking at the eBay ad.

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  8. fred

    Should be parted out to provide another worthy Riley a new lease on life.

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  9. rogerowen

    That’s a lovely dash! I really like all the period fittings – especially the centre windscreen pillar ‘flower holder’ (predates air freshener!), the drivers side electric screen demister, the radio unit, steering wheel mounted trafficator switch and the round heater with flaps. Is that the bonnet key on the right footwell?

    Must have been ‘smashing’ to drive – with that long bonnet – a proper car (bet the trans whines too!).

    Not sure why they made a model with a thousand cc less – must have been a bit underpowered compared to the 2.5 liter job. Might have been to do with vehicle tax at that time?

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  10. Van

    I don’t know guys.
    If the body frame is wood, then you don’t have to be a body man to fix it.
    Use the original parts as a template.
    Then have a body guy repair the rusty edges.
    If you have time and patience the cost might not be out of line.

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  11. Chris A.

    My dad had the 2.5 liter LHD “Big Four” version of this in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Wonderful road car but the wood rot was too far gone and he sold it to someone who wanted the car and did the body restoration. Beautiful, classy looking car. Brakes are weird, hydraulic in front, mechanical in back but there is an update all hydraulic kit. Very good brakes as the drums are huge. There is a nice website from a fellow in Canada that over several years he detailed his restoration of his Riley saloon. As you can really see what you would be getting into on repairs, it is worth a close look. As for tranny whine, no, once in 4th it was really quiet. Too bad the mirrors are broken on this car’s front “wings”, they were/are fragile sitting out front. This looks like a parts car.

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  12. peter

    another shame – too far gone and only loveable by its mother. – lovely cars in their day – the riley engine powered so many cars – but debilitating metal over ash – too spensive – best to hide/preserve this – and wait for the market to rise – 2020?? – then of course the expertise maybe gone!

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  13. Ross W. Lovell

    Greetings All,

    Not sure how popular these were in the day here in the U.S.

    Here in Connecticut, Lime Rock Race Track seemed to be the reason we had so many dealers of cottage manufacturers.

    Riley was one of these. Every year amazed at the number of these cars that show up to track events, yet never have seen one anywhere else in the States.

    The wood substructure is not as problematic as you may think. The coach builders back then seemed to have a pretty large window for their tolerances and that wasn’t helped by the lack of suitable wood in the UK. Most of the Industry there sourced their wood from Germany.

    It’s not uncommon to find some of the wood pieces somewhat “abbreviated” if the saw ran out of wood on an inside curve. Outside curves had body metal that needed support but the inside curve dimensions were less demanding.

    Sheet metal work is a little more tricky, letting in a piece of metal for a patch and welding over the wood is tricky. Bigger problem is on open cars where the element find an easier path to evaporate.

    Never saw anything other than a four cylinder, even in the open tourer.

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  14. rogerowen

    As far as I can gather – immediate Post-War car manufacture in Britain was pretty limited generally, and as petrol rationing was still in force for several years after the end of WW2 in Europe – economy was key.

    So I understand, not many vehicles were fitted with 6 pot engines, and apart from the 2.5 lire V8 from Daimler in later years and The Ford V8 Pilot (which was probably an American engine?) – UK stuck pretty firmly to 4 cylinder engines.

    I wasn’t manufactured till 1949 – so I’m working on ‘passed down’ history.

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  15. Mike Burnett

    Had one of these long ago. The twin cam engine, apart from being aesthetically pleasing was one of the sweetest engines I have had and far more reliable than the equivalent engine in the MGA Twin Cam.

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  16. Chris A.

    The 1.5 liter “R” series sold much better than the 2.5 as no one in England was going anywhere fast after WWII. England still had rationing well after the war, and was in horrible financial shape. Luxury cars were heavily taxed which impacted Riley. However basic manufacturing materials like steel were allocated to companies that had a high percentage of export and generated foreign earnings. Riley made a big effort with the 2.5 for export earnings and fell behind as their business model just didn’t work in the US, even with the open cars. The 2.5 engine was durable for several reasons; the block was symmetrical and had good cooling, the aluminum ribbed wet sump held 8 quarts and the bottom end had generous bearing areas and cooling. Good thing too as it is a babbit bearing engine. One of Donald Healey’s early efforts, the Silverstone Healey, had a modified Riley 2.5. The 2.5 could be hopped up to generate a good bit more than the stock 100 hp, especially on premium gas. Good cars, my mom and dad’s favorite.

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  17. Rancho Bella

    This poor thing needs to be taken back home.

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  18. Doug Towsley

    Having an above average knowledge of British cars and Motorcycles, as well as visited Blighty a time or 3, I am pleased to learn something new as I have never heard or seen one of these. I generally dont like the 4 door type sedans and “Saloon” types. But this is one cool and classy looking car. The front view is pure class and style. That is truly beautiful. Its very true that only someone REALLY dedicated is going to want to take this on, but it IS rebuild-able, At the All British Field meets I have gone thru a LOT of photo albums and reviewed similar cars, Its all very manageable. I suspect other posters are quite correct this example is over priced currently but that doesnt mean a real cash offer cant swing a deal. Hope someone saves this one. Would love to see cars like this preserved and driven from time to time.

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  19. rogerowen

    Restorable? Yes, of course – but at that starting price it would be an expensive project. Here’s a restoration project, an RMB 2.5 from 1952 in the UK advertised on the internet for a fixed price of £2,750. Looks complete and probably a sounder base to work with than the thread starter one.

    Not sure what it costs these day to ship across continents (last one I did was in 1990 from South Africa to UK and that cost me around £2,000 – but nearly half that went to the UK government by way of import duties, etc.)

    For overseas shipping I understand a lot of ‘Middle Men’ can be involved – all taking a piece of the action. I have a chum who works at the Ports at nearby Southampton and he can access directly to the container companies for much cheaper quotes.

    Southampton is a very popular car shipping port, and we get lots of cars in regularly from Japan – 4×4’s mainly, and classic Americans too as there are several dealers in this area.

    So, back to the Riley – if anyone wanted one, and is happy with RHD – you should be able to find a relatively cheaper one here.

    Personally, I’m going off auction sites as prices just seem to get wildly inflated. ‘Kite Flyers’ can bang up any old rubbish for a silly price and just see if there is someone with more money than sense out there – sadly, there often is!

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  20. rogerowen

    Just look at how prices have changed in less than 4 years! This very straight looking RMA sold at auction in July 2012 for just £1,380!

    More here;


    The more I look at these cars – the more I like them!

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  21. rogerowen

    These do make a perfect chassis/drive chain for a classic sports car ‘special’. It’s always a shame not to be able to bring a car back to its former glory – but as a special it might be more of a viable proposition – as long as it’s done properly.

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