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Right Hand Drive Barn Find: 1953 Riley RME

OK, it’s old British car time and today’s subject is a 1953 Riley RME. We have covered the Riley marque before but they’re hardly an everyday occurrence and my familiarity is very fleeting. A New England barn find, this Riley, which is a right-hand drive (RHD) British market version, has sat untouched for decades as the seller tells us. Now that it has awakened, let’s look it over. It’s located in Uxbridge, Massachusetts and is available, here on eBay for a BIN price of $2,798. There is a make an offer option too.

Riley is one of those British car companies where you almost need a scorecard to track its whereabouts and associations. Briefly, it started, as many car companies did in the nineteenth century, as a bicycle manufacturer. Some cat named Lord Nuffield bought Riley in 1938 who in turn passed it to Morris Motors. In the early ’50s, Riley ended up as part of British Motor Corporation (BMC). BMC got folded into British Leyland and B.L. decided to end Riley production in 1969. As for the RME model, it was offered as a four-door “Executive” sedan between 1952 and 1955 and saw production numbers of almost 3,500 copies. Today, BMW owns the rights to the Riley name.

The seller informs us, “It presents as a mostly complete car that would be a restoration project. The condition is fair at best but overall is fairly complete as shown. Everything that is pictured is included, there are no other parts“. OK, so that means no front bumper and I don’t know how hard an item that will be to source. And while this Riley is no stranger to surface rust, the body isn’t showing obvious signs of rust-through. The visible roof surgery scars were probably obscured by a cloth or vinyl roof covering at one time as every example that I could find appears to be sporting just such an accouterment. Actually, the underlying roof looks more like a steel mesh material – and note the wooden rear window frame. And while we’re at it and trying to scrounge a front bumper, let’s add a rear one to the list.

Riley used both 1.5 liter and 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder engines in their “saloons” during this era and this one is probably the 55 HP, 1.5-liter version – the details aren’t disclosed. While the engine turns over, this one is a non-runner but the seller freely states that he does not know the mechanical condition of the engine. The gearbox should be a four-speed manual.

The interior is hardly the Life of Riley, it’s a mess! The red leather interior is trashed and it appears as if there has been water and great outdoors intrusion. And as bad as this front seat shows, cruise the listing images and check out the rear perch. The rope holding together the passenger seat is a nice touch. It was probably a very refined and quality environment, typical for British cars from this era, but now it’s about as sad and forlorn as an interior can get.

So, now it’s what to do with it time. I’m just going to throw in the towel and proclaim, “put an LS in it”. I’m out of ideas, this one is going to be a challenge – what would you do with it?


  1. That Guy

    These cars have a prewar-style wood frame body structure with the sheet metal nailed on – think Morgan. It’s likely that’s pretty rotten. This car is a huge project that will require specialized skills. A tip of the hat and a heartfelt “good luck” to anyone who takes it on.

    Like 3
  2. Carlton

    Riley, Ace of Spies.

  3. Derek

    “Everflex” roof, as I remember. These’re nice to drive; quite lively – but they’re pretty much a 1930s car built in the 1950s.

    Like 4
  4. Charles Atlas

    Better to put the body on a steel frame.

    Like 5
  5. luke arnott Member

    The RM series was also offered as a 4 seater drophead coupe and a 2 seat roadster.

  6. ChingaTrailer

    Parts car at best, or basis for a special. That’s about it. I had a Riley special, was cool.

  7. George R Birth

    Cute little car. I don’t know anything about this brand but it would be an economical car one restored to factory specks.

  8. Martin Horrocks

    For the money it is good value. What to do next is another question.

    “Some cat named Lord Nuffield” started life as William Morris, so he did not “pass it to Morris Motors”. He was Morris Motors, and MG and also Wolsely. But he wasn’t Lord Nuffield until well after WW2…very quick google would have saved making up history.

    Like 3
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      That’s where I got it, boss. Nuffield passed the Riley on to his own company, Morris Motors, so what’s the difference? Also, I also found that in 1938 he was further honored when he was made Viscount Nuffield.

      I’m not trying to give a history lesson, just to provide a little back story. It’s hard to hit your minimum word count on a “specimen” like this Riley.


      Like 2
  9. 67Firebird_Cvt Member

    You authors have very thick skin to take this kind of unnecessary abuse, especially from a nonpaying commenter. Keep up the good work!

    Like 3
    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      Thx! I’m used to it, I have become a repository for snotty comments!


      Like 2
  10. Greg A

    This car has been advertised locally for some time. As a British car nut, I advise folks to pass on this unless you want a parts car, but even then most parts would be in rough shape. If someone buys, they had better sharpen their wood working skills. In this condition, a restoration only makes sense as a labor of love. But they, I hope someone goes for it.

  11. Bruce Ironmonger

    There are quite a number of Riley cars in Australia as they were a popular post war car. A nice restored 1.5l is worth around $40k and a 2.5l about $50k.

    Like 1
  12. ChingaTrailer

    But there are very few Rileys here, very few being restored so market as a parts carcis limited. Probably worth more in Australia but remember it is now a major pain, if not impossible to bring into Oz in the name of asbestos abatement . Restoring in USA makes no sense as a good example will cost less.

  13. chrlsful

    nuttin snotty in that comment (thin skin) yet looking at the write up’s tone might lead one to imagine a anti-Brit flavor. It’s all in one’s perspective. Some can look from either side – terms like ’empathy’, identity – one’s own/the difference w/individuals of another), etc and see, yet “some do not have eyes that see” (bible reference). Glad to see it’s back to ‘cars’ as these things can escalate embarrassingly. See?
    8^ 0

    • Jim ODonnell Staff

      Thx for ditching your usual hipsterisms, I can actually interpret your words.

      There is nothing anti-Brit in that post and I resent your implication! I’m not anti-anything in this car biz except for maybe needlessly stoking a non-issue.


      Like 1

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