Pre-War style that employed technology that would be appreciated Post-war and beyond. In 1926 two Riley brothers combined to design a touring sports car with the pace, agility and beauty of a feline.
Riley 9 Lynx
It was 1966, a good year for many reasons. A time when one young school boy with his brother and father travelled to Brooklands celebration to view the machines that would influence the rest of his life. The site in Weybridge was owned by British Aircraft Corporation who were building the VC10 at the time and the runway featured genuine Brooklands racers to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the banked circuit. Nick Harding remembers the mighty Bugatti GP cars of the 20’s alongside Riley race machines that took TT victories during that era and the marques Le Mans machines of the 30’s. ‘I made up my mind there and then I would have one or the other’ Nick told me, ‘and let’s be honest it would be most unlikely I could ever afford a Bugatti, so Riley became the marque I hankered after’ and that continues today. Nick looks after Vintage Sports Car Club interests on the Sussex-Hampshire Borders and has a passion for pre-war sports cars that is addictive; luckily I already suffer from the same ailment. The Riley story began in 1898 with cycle production and pre WW1 moved into motorbikes and motor tricycles and whilst founder William Riley created the vision, his five sons expanded the business in many directions. Allan, Percy, Stanley, Cecil and Victor each specialising in his own field and post war through the twenties saw the dawn of great things for the Coventry factory. It would be the all new Riley 9 that offered engineering innovation and beauty, arriving on the scene in 1926. Percy and Stanley collaborated on the design of the ‘Nine’, Stanley charged with the chassis and body whilst Percy designed an engine that would form the basis for all Riley’s for the next two decades. The 4 cylinder 1087cc unit offered hemispherical combustion chambers with two camshafts mounted high in the crankcase and valves operated by short pushrods; state of the art at the time, producing 32bhp. It wasn’t long before the Nine caught the eye of the motorsports world and the Brooklands version looked to satisfy the public desire offering a lowered stance and tuned motor that produced 50bhp and 80mph for only £395.00.
The Prettiest Nine
The Riley 9 Lynx from 1933 is considered by many to be the most attractive of the touring range with its disappearing hood, made more desirable by the fact they were only produced for one year in this format. This is one of four Riley machines in Nick’s collection and is called Lucy. When he first approached dealer Robin Lawton he found the Lynx had already been sold only to receive a call some days later as the new owner was unable to take delivery; they have enjoyed each other’s company since. Spending time looking over the car certainly offers an understanding of why it became one of the marques most favoured models. Whilst there is no doubt it does enjoy some lovely lines that is just part of the story as there are some technical features that still impress eighty years after it left the factory. Under the folding bonnet the unique engine looks compact, minus the belts that frequent most modern cars this engine features a dynamo out front which runs directly off the crank. The cooling system is thermo-syphon which doesn’t require a pump (thus no belts) and has no moving parts therefore offering improved reliability. Working on the theory that hot water rises through the block, it reaches the top hose and into the oversized radiator, the onrushing air then cools the water as it descends down to the base of the radiator, this creates a syphoning effect and the process starts again. Many early forms of motorised transport adopted this method. Nick pointed out that the engine runs perfectly on today’s unleaded fuel, as he said ‘when Percy designed it they hadn’t started to use lead in fuel’. Twin SU carbs filled via a standard 12v pump with straight forward ignition and single coil ensures basic maintenance is easy. The front engine mount to the chassis is very different with a rubber bushed bar running right through the engine block to connect the other side, then a single mount to the 4 speed crash gearbox secures at the rear. The suspension is leaf spring front and rear, all governed by Hartford adjustable shock absorbers. The interior contains what one would expect from the period with leather and wood, a sporty feel bearing in mind it is a four seat tourer. The instruments include a Jaeger speedometer that operates backwards compared to modern units and the car shows nearly 26000 miles. Oil pressure gauge and amp metre sit alongside a timepiece from the same supplier. The fuel gauge is known as a Hobson’s Telegauge where the dial is filled with a liquid (Tetra bromo ethane); very popular during the 1930’s and used by other manufacturers including Daimler and Lanchester. Nick describes its accuracy as more of an indication than a science, not always correct but impressive as the centre of the dial is filled with a red solution. The floor features a pair of chrome plated handles which are used to adjust hand and foot brake severity as both are cable operated. The steering wheel has advance-retard, headlight operation and a hand throttle whilst the centre button is pulled out to activate the choke for cold starts. Understanding the workings of cars of this vintage takes time, you cannot just jump in and drive away. One thing of note, the crash gearbox is also back to front ie 1st is where 3rd should be and 2nd replaces 4th. The windscreen folds flat against the bonnet for those exceptionally hot days as air conditioning is a chromed vent, manually operated just behind the bulkhead to cool ones feet. On the move the Lynx is happy enough alongside modern traffic as performance is brisk and handling agile, perfect for the country lanes of the South Downs where the admiring glances are endless.
A Life Well Travelled
This Riley still features its original selling dealer’s badge; Masons Garage, Southwater near Goodwood affixed their plaque inside the passenger door prior to registration January 1933. Mason’s supplied Vauxhall and Bedford marques and some investigation turned up a Singer Le Mans and an MG Midget that they sold in the same year as the Lynx. Nick has an original buff logbook which starts from 1949 and a continuation example, so it didn’t take long to realise this Riley has been homed all around the UK. Peterborough, Northampton and Central London before heading south into Hampshire; during the 1950s it spent most of the decade in Surrey. Southwest to Bristol into the early 60s, the last stamp is Devon in 1974 around the time the Riley enjoyed a restoration that would take 15 years which explains the low 8000 miles it has covered since. The restoration must have been to a very high standard as today the Riley still enjoys the benefits from that time; an honest car that is in keeping with its era. This Lynx just looks right.
View from the Pilot
Nick shares his thoughts on owning and maintaining a Riley 9 Lynx:
People often ask me why Riley's? To be honest it is a difficult question to answer, mainly because there are so many answers. The Riley 9 horsepower engine was an engineering marvel when it first appeared in 1926. There were so many really very advanced features. Twin camshafts mounted high in the block with very short pushrods operating the overhead valves. The combustion chamber was hemispherical with the spark plug located centrally. It was only a 2 bearing crankshaft but the bearings were enormous by the standards of the day. The substantial chassis benefits the handling. These advanced features led to some very sporting models and a lot of success not only on the race track but also in hill climbing, trials, rallying and long distance trials. The cars were truly hand built to a very high standard although apparently if you wanted a matching set of wings you had to go to the factory and pick them yourself! To me they are supremely elegant cars, easy to work on and great fun to drive. Lucy is a 4 seater, not a sports car, but she handles like a sporting thoroughbred and gives immense pleasure. There are enough Riley’s on the road to support a very good spares industry and there are specialists throughout the country to help. Finally, you will not find a nicer bunch of people than the members of the Riley Register; they are all car enthusiasts and a pleasure to be around.
Riley 9 Lynx 1933 Specification
Engine: 9HP 1087cc OHV 42bhp
Gearbox: 4 Speed No Synchromesh
Suspension: Semi Elliptic springs / Hartford Shocks
Brakes: Cable operated shoes all round
Fuel: Twin SU Carbs
Cost New: £298