Hard Work Done: 1951 Riley RMB 4-Door

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Based on the Riley RMA, the RMB was an enlarged version which was not only some 7″ longer than the RMA but was also fitted with a 2.5-liter engine in place of the RMA’s 1.5-litre. Performance figures for the RMB were surprisingly good, with various claims that the car was capable of reaching speeds of either 90mph or 100mph with four people on board. This RMB is a car where a lot of hard work has been done, and it just needs the right person to complete the restoration. Located in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, it is listed for sale here on eBay.

The body of the Riley is in pretty reasonable condition. There are a few minor dings and dents, but they really should be quite easy to repair. The external chrome and trim appear to be complete, and it all looks to be in good condition. The car is going to need a repaint, but that probably goes without saying. I have seen several of these with various paint color combinations, but the two-tone green exterior is probably the nicest. The canvas top has obviously deteriorated, and there is a replacement top that comes with the car which will need to be installed.

Looking at the interior of the Riley, there really isn’t much to do in there. The carpet appears to be new, the upholstery on the seats, door trims, and headliner are all in first-rate condition, while the dash looks to be in good condition. One of the more fiddly and time-consuming jobs in restoring an interior like this is to get all of the timber up to scratch. The timber in this car has all been refinished, and it looks really nice.

By 1951, the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine in the RMB was pushing out 100hp. The mechanical components on this particular car have been given a bit of a refresh, with the water pump rebuilt, the gas tank cleaned and sealed, a new electric fuel pump and regulator fitted, a new battery, and all new belts and hoses. The owner says that the car runs and drives really well and that the engine sounds really good.

If you have a family and also a soft spot for classic British cars, then this Riley might be a good prospect for a classic car. It will seat four people in comfort, and the performance is quite acceptable. With so much work already completed, the work that remains could virtually all be completed in a home workshop. The car is being offered for sale in a No Reserve auction. The owner has set the auction to open at $7,500, but at the time of writing, there have been no bids. There are 11 people who are watching the auction, and if bidding really starts to get going, one of them might even choose to grab the car at the BIN price of $12,000.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. Bakyrdhero

    Never heard of these. Looks nice

    Like 2
  2. leiniedude leiniedudeMember

    Never seen one or heard of these either. For some reason to me, it seems UNDER PRICED ! I know saying that is like breaking one of the 10 Commandments around here. Car pricing is sooooooo confusing. Nice rig.

    Like 5
    • Brakeservo

      These cars aren’t worth much, particularly in America where few were sold and even fewer people even remember them. Great club support out of England though, and I like them, have driven more than I’ve owned though. If this car were given to you, you’d probably not lose too much by the time it was properly restored – that entire hyde of the rare North American Nauga though will have to be stripped out and discarded, and it will take a real craftsman to recover the roof. Let’s hope the structural wood in the body isn’t too bad. I think Barnfinds should re-read or proof-read their write-ups – this car needs lots of hard work and hard CA$H!

      Like 2
      • Robi

        Replacing the roof covering is quite easy: I’m almost finished mine singlehanded. You may need to fill the roof timber with a 2 part epoxy where the tacks come out: mask off the body lower sections and use a big hypodermic syringe with a flat tipped needle. You can find “how to” stories with photos on line. You need hot weather to soften the covering fabric and allow it to stretch over thin wadding placed on the metal mesh of the roof, with a thin cotton sheet to reduce the frictional drag as you stretch the cover and hold it with sharp small nails that you pull out as to use tacks to fix the fabric to the roof. The RMB 2.5 litre Riley is a superb driver: capable of cruising at 70 mph all day. I’ve had mine since 1965 and would not part with it…

        Like 0
  3. ccrvtt

    I love the color combination. The contrasting fenders/body can look really classy when done judiciously and with taste. This car is relatively unique in the US and if it can be had for between the opening and the BIN it could present some value.

    I’d say it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the cars presented on BF are going to need hard work and cash. It’s up to the buyer how much of each he or she is willing to invest. BF cars do not live in the logical universe, which is part of the appeal and all of the magic.

    Like 5
  4. Coventrycat

    All except those 92 mile Grand Nationals, ccrvtt 😀

    Like 1
  5. Kenneth Carney

    Very nice car. Unfortunately, English.cars
    are notoriously unreliable and unsafe.
    If it were mine, I’d rewire it to American
    specs and replace the troublesome
    engine with a 4-cylinder unit from a ’90’s
    model S-10 along with a 4-speed tranny
    from the same truck. That way, I’d have
    American reliability with the old English
    charm. The Lucas electrics are a fire
    hazard and the English built engines
    can’t keep up with American traffic.
    Other than that, I like it!

    Like 2
    • madbrit

      Having grown up with cars like these, I can tell you that English were very reliable and Lucas electrics were no more of a fire hazard than any other old car that used cloth covered rubber coated wiring. For example, mid 50s Chryslers used the same kind of wire and were equally as great a fire risk.

      Not sure if both engines mentioned were known as “High Cam” models but they were powerful enough to get you down the road.

      As for English built engines can’t keep up with traffic, you obviously know very little about them. Not all English cars were 803cc Austin A30s you know…….

      Like 21
    • luke arnott

      So English cars are unsafe are they?Have you ever owned one?As for keeping up with traffic,where did you have in mind – downtown San Francisco on a Friday afternoon?

      Like 8
    • peter spooner

      Kenneth, You know not of what you speak, the Riley engine is one of the sweetest of it’s time, the basis of the pre war ERA racing car. I have had Lucas electrics on both motor cycles and cars for over 60 years and still have, l have never been let down. How many American 2.5 litre of the 1950’s give the speed, road holding, and style of the Riley. Please compare like with like,

      Like 11
    • JP

      Any car that’s been around for 68 years can’t be too unreliable, and “reliability” is a very subjective term. Compared to what? A 2019 Camry? These cars, as all from that era, were dead simple, and easily upgradeable with a few modern components. Most vintage British engines ran perfectly well (think Spitfire – the plane that saved England during the Blitz), and 100hp in a car this light will easily keep up with traffic, unless you drive mainly on a drag strip…

      Like 7
    • Bruce

      I guess you have not heard of Jaguar’s six cylinder engine or their V-12 that I have seen people get out over 500 HP at the wheels. Those cars can more than keep up with traffic. The engines are just as reliable in comparison to others of the time, however with the SU carbs they are different.

      English cars are built for the country they come from and in the case of many the time they were built. This is a period piece just like an old Packard, Kaiser, and many many others. It was never built for high speed travel on a freeway. Neither was a Auburn, Cord, Chevy, Ford, Studebaker’s of the 50’s and earlier times.

      But on a back road in the country, spring, summer or fall then you will be driving this car where it is meant to be. Fast enough to enjoy the speed, slow enough so it will not go by too fast. Comfortable and charming beyond description. It is also much smaller than you might expect from, the photos. As for the electrics most of those problems are to just one source, the wiring loom. English cars as well as many other European cars used natural rubber for insulation and it worked well in England. Get to a climate like we have in American where it gets much hotter and colder and the insulation gets brittle with age and begins to crack and fail. I have had starters fail as well as fuel pumps, generators, points and condensers but all of those things happened on cars with mileage close to or above 100K. Replace the wiring loom with newer teflon coated wires and almost all the problems fade away.

      Like 8
    • michael Johnston

      Unsafe ? British cars handle better they had disc brakes years before American cars.I tune up my British cars every couple of years and every summer put a few thousand miles on therewith out any problems.I used to have a British winter beater { 1970 Humber } that went through the worst Quebec winters for years.

      Like 2
      • Brakeservo

        Nice Marlin kit car – have never seen a LHD example before. Did you build it? Was someone importing these into North America once?

        Like 1
  6. DSteele

    I saw one of these on Amelia Island FL last March during the car show it was even the same color but it was spotless nice looking vehicle

    Like 3
  7. Beatnik Bedouin

    These are lovely cars and offer reasonable performance (compare the 0-60 times with, say, a contemporary 1951 American car) and a lot of luxury. They remain popular in NZ and appear to have a pretty high survival rate in my adopted homeland.

    Brakeservo noted the wood framing in the body and I’d recommend that any prospective owner check out its condition before handing over his/her cash.

    Madbrit, I think the reputation that British cars had/have stateside is a result of them being used in environments they were never designed for as we las being treated like a US marque. Paul Skilliter’s excellent book on the Morris Minor highlights some of the issues the marque had in the US market, and my experience owning and repairing British cars in SoCal, pretty much bears that out.

    Like 7
  8. SMS

    I don’t understand the prices of these. No more expensive to restore than a Jag of the same era and they sell for a fraction.

    Right it’s not as fast but who in their right mind is going to drive either one like that?

    Absolutely love the front doors, the feel and look with the top down, the seats and wood. These are special cars.

    After going through an MGTD I would approach this assuming most of the frame wood needs to be replaced.

    Like 6
    • SMS

      Fat fingers on my phone sent before finishing.

      A friend had one of these that was a drop head coupe. Loved riding in it. Never ridden in a fixed head but looks every bit as good. Though I have a soft spot for this type of car with the top down.

      Like 3
  9. ClassicCarFan

    I think Kenneth Carney was just being a wag, having a laugh with his sweeping generalizations. I wasn’t quite sure when I first read it, but once he got the to part extolling a 90’s S10 4-cylinder as a paragon of sturdy engineering, it was clear he meant it as a spoof… swap a classic twin-cam Riley motor for an “”iron duke”, 40-years younger but with less power….? sure.

    Who said folks don’t get irony…

    Like 6
  10. Jan Mazgaj

    Beware the roof. A sort of wire mesh if I remember correctly under the vinyl type roof. Difficult to fabricate. If it was a convertible then it could command upwards of $75000 UK side of the “pond” if completed to the correct standard.

    Like 1
  11. AllenMember

    Oh Ken, so you’re keeping up the long tradition of naïve English car bashing, so typical of the uninformed. But just once I’d love to hear somebody explain to me just exactly what is unreliable or unsafe about these cars. What is it, specifically that is unsafe or fire-prone about Lucas wiring – the comparison being contemporary car?.

    The problem with some British cars keeping up with American traffic is not the “troublesome” engines. My four-cylinder MG Magnette saloon cruises the interstates effortlessly and quietly at 75-80 mph because I have modified the gearing. Even at those speeds, the engine is under-stressed. One of my MGBs – a ’73 GT – has 249,000 miles on it and is still running on the original wiring harness. Your solution to replace with an “American spec” (whatever that means)wiring harness reflects a common attitude: you don’t understand British automotive color codes and you either refuse to learn or cannot learn the inherent logic of these systems.

    This Riley is a beautiful car. I’ve admired these for many years and came very close to buying one about 20 years ago. I hope you were joking, but

    Like 10
  12. Bruce

    When I was young I saw what I think is this very car in a junk yard in Kansas City. There was nothing wrong with the car and it was the exact color of this one. Sitting besides it was a Aston Martin DB4 that somebody and hit a curb sideways and rolled a few times. but shockingly was still able to run and move. The body and glass well not so much. I was into MG’s, Triumphs, and Austin Healey 3000’s at the time but I came so close to buying it to restore and have next to my friends 1948 Bentley James Young Razor Edge in triple tone blue. The green would have looked amazing.

    This car is charming beyond description. Go to any fancy restaurant and this is the car they will park out front. I have only seen on other in the San Francisco bay area and it was black on black and it had the same effect. Nobody knew what it was but it attracted young women like honey attracts flies. It is not fast, a great handler but it was never meant to be. It will however grab your eyes when it moves and when it is on the street.

    Like 4
  13. AllenMember

    Oops, ‘ hit the send key too soon. ‘ Meant to say “I hope you were joking, but” if so, your joke sailed over my head.

    I also meant to ask: How can you have British charm without a British engine? The “charm” is more than skin-deep. It’s not just appearance, it’s sound, feel, performance… I get the feeling that a lot of engine swappers do it just because they can. A Riley with an S10 engine is no longer authentic. It is a shallow faux representation of what the car was meant to be. What “British charm” is there in that? None!

    Like 3
  14. AllenMember

    Bruce, your note is sheer poetry. Thanks for sharing!

    Like 2
  15. Christopher A. Junker

    Had this very model Riley in our family. Black top over BRG exterior and green interior. Nice wood on the inside and a comfortable long range road car. There are two Riley RMB restoration postings on the web that expose the good/bad points. Deterioration of the top and water leakage is a big issue, especially around the rear window. The wood in front of the rear fender wells is a problem area that should be carefully reviewed along with everything you can see. BMC of Toronto rebuilt our engine which included babbit bearings. Not a problem as the 8 quart aluminum sump kept things cool. Not a heavy traffic car as the steering is not assisted and you’re moving big tires with quick steering, but a very long legged open road touring car, the engine pulled well in the lower gears. Huge brakes.The head can be considered a “hemi” as the combustion chamber has the valves run by high in the block cams on both sides of the block. Tuned, valves set, running premium on a cool day, ours topped 90 plus a little. Bring your Whitworth tools. Nicely built, and if the wood is sound, a rare, roadable classic.

    Like 5
  16. MGSteve

    As to all the Lucas jokes, and the never-ending stories of unreliability, I have to object. First of all, most folks have probably garnered these opinions by working on the relatively inexpensive cars in which they were found: MGs, Triumphs, Morris Minors, Healeys, etc. At some point in time, many of these cars were very, very affordable . . . ne even by college kids, etc. They were simple enough to understand. A few hand tools, and you’re in. Let’s put in a radio! Oh, that wire looks good, let’s just splice in some lamp cord, and use some wire nuts, or those damnable 3M splice thingies. Next owner: Let’s add an 8 track player. Oh look, here’s some 10 gauge Romex, that should be heavy enough, and some teflon tape to make the splice. A few years of this @#2$%$&*, and you have a giant, freakin’ mess. Right after that come the Lucas jokes. I’ve put new harnesses in three Brit cars, and have not had one problem since. Some of the stuff I removed was beyond belief. The car I tried to help someone fix, that was wired with all yellow wire? I have to wonder what some of these “automotive electricians” do inside their homes??? Running their AC units off of speaker wire?

    Like 5
    • leiniedude leiniedudeMember

      Hey MGSteve, you busted me! Back in the early 70’s I had an MG ragtop. Yup, 8 track install. I did not have it really fastened in yet so when I took a corner it would slide off and short out. That was a long time ago bud, I think it was positive ground? Please accept my apologies, take care, Mike

      Like 0
      • MGSteve

        Leiniedude–Hey, that’s OK, we were all young once . . . I think. My first car was an MG TD, with a big ol’ Buick tube radio in the back . . . sort of a shelf there. It was not fastened down at all. Even the slightest turn, and it would slam to the right or the left. That was how I bought the car. I suppose that was my first experience with “Lucas” . . . another example of something that wasn’t really their fault. That said, there are some mighty good jokes.

        Like 1
      • leiniedude leiniedudeMember

        LOL! I do feel better now MGSteve. How cool, a TD with a Buick tube radio. I see alot of remarks on the Lucas stuff as being bad. I really never fell for it. Probably just as bad for American cars of the day.

        Like 0
      • SMS

        @ leiniedude maybe it was a bit worse but that was by design. Just like I learned with the bullet fuses on VW’s. Standard maintainance is to take them out, shine them up, put them back.

        When I got my MGTD I also got a manual. In there it stated that regularly, don’t remember if it was annually or not, for ground wires and connectors take them off, shine them up and put a dab of dielectric grease on them.

        Coming from a damp climate it makes sense and was designed that way. I then started doing that to my triumphs, matchless, etc. they never again had any issues.

        What was telling is that after a couple of years of ownership I also did this to my ‘40 Hudson. It solved problems I didn’t know I had.

        Like 1
      • leiniedude leiniedudeMember

        Ya know SMS, I am not sure if the Motorheads from the 70″s understand how much maintenance was needed back then. I have an old Willys Overland 4 by 4 wagon and there is maintenace to be done at the 1000 mile mark. And if you do not keep up with it, it will bite you. Post a pic of your Hudson if you have time. Stay warm, just got my water pipes thawed. Thank Jesus nothing burst. Mike.

        Like 0
      • SMS

        Hi Leiniedude, first time trying to attach a picture here. Let’s see if it works. If it does it will easy to see why I am attracted to this beauty.

        You are so right, in the 50’s and before cars took a lot more effort to keep running. Much of it was due to oil and grease seals.

        There is talk about British cars like this leaking oil. The rear main seal on my Hudson was rope. Things used to leak back then.

        Whoever gets this will be so lucky, leaks, wiring and all.

        Like 1
    • madbrit

      You mentioning yellow wire……

      Back in the UK, many many moons ago, I was looking for an American motorhome and went to look at a 1970’s Dodge C class. It apparently had some problems and I knew this before I went. Turns out that someone had rewired the whole vehicle, both chassis and house electrical systems in a one size Yellow wire. Checking under the shorty hood, I saw this amazing pile of yellow spaghetti running everywhere. I politely said my farewells and wished him luck. Not only this, but the whole exterior was painted dark blue.

      As for electricians and their cars……

      Again, back in the UK, even more moons ago, I sold a ’56 Chevy to a guy down the street from me. A couple of months later, he called and asked me if I could help him sort out why it was now running so badly. Turned out he had rewired the plug wires with #10 regular single core house wire. At night it was quite a visual display……..

      Like 2
  17. Christopher A. Junker

    A comment on the roof and its covering. The roof itself is made of thin perforated steel covered with a thick pad and then the leatherette covering. Shops that do landau top conversions could do the renovation. The actual top and pad is tacked onto a wood framework and covered with moldings to seal it. Riley must have had some real craftsmen to do tops. Further, the brakes are a combination of front hydraulic and rear servo assisted mechanical. They work, but a later conversion kit is available to convert to better all hydraulic brakes. As ours was always garaged and not driven in winter, there were no electrical problems.

    Like 1
    • Bruce

      A question for you, Did it attract the kind of attention when your family owned one Christopher??

      Like 1
  18. ctmphrs

    Now I hope you’ve all learned your lesson about making sport of the prince.

    Like 1
  19. Bill W

    The 2.5-litre is a hemi engine as the intake valves are on one side of the cylinder and the exhaust on the other. Spark plugs are in the centre, at the top of the combustion chamber. The result is a rounded combustion chamber – thus hemi.

    As pointed out earlier, there are two camshafts, one for intake and the other exhaust, high up in the block. The result is short pushrods.

    Apparently Chrysler acquired a Riley engine in the late 1940’s for testing while developing the early 1950’s hemi V8 engines.

    Like 0
  20. Christopher A. Junker

    Bruce, a couple of Riley stories: When my sister got a weekend ride home from college , Dad in good weather would drive her back to her dorm in the Riley. Drew a crowd every time. She was “The Riley Girl”.
    Dad took me to an upstate NY gathering of the Rolls Royce Owners Club. He and the car were welcomed almost as junior members. The black leatherette roof, two color body with sweeping fender lines oozed class. I loved riding in that car every chance I got. We lived in an unusual area with lots of guys into sporting cars; Jags, lots of MGs and Triumphs, Alfas and Porsches a few Corvettes and even a guy who restored and drove a Rolls Royce PIII V12 formal sedan. In 1955 VWs were getting popular so Dad ordered the first black with red interior VW convertible in the area. The flipper turn indicators were special.

    Like 3
  21. Brian

    I bought this car for $8500 which is pretty reasonable. Although it does run and drive, it is almost all original (except the ugly black interior) and is an excellent starting point for a ground up restoration. I do believe it was a California car since the steel has almost no rust damage in the usual Riley places (Boot gutter, rear body mount, etc). The roof timber definitely needs work, as will the lower part of the A-post (runs from inside front wheel well up to roof). All the doors line up and close well, and what wood I can see under the running board areas appears to be rot-free. Considering what many of these look like for restoration, this is a very solid starting point.

    Like 1
  22. Bakyrdhero

    Best of luck Brian. I’ve never seen one of these in person, but it sure looks like a great ride in the pictures!

    Like 0
  23. MG Steve

    So good to hear an enthusiast bought this beautiful car. I think Rileys are one of the most beautiful cars to come out of England, and certainly during that time period. I’ve seen a few of these (various models) at shows, and lust after them. Have a friend who has ’50 RMD Drophead. He lives in Virginia, if you are any where near there. He is a super guy, and very knowledgeable about Rileys, in particular. Of course, you know that the Riley Club, in the UK, is perhaps the most supportive of all the various vintage English makes. Good Luck, and Have Fun.

    Like 0

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