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Homepage. This page: Memories of owning a classic Riley RME 1.5 Litre.

A Riley RME 1.5 and me.

Martin's previous contribution to the motoring memories section of OCC, was a behind-the-scenes look at life working for the Triumph car company in the 1970s. That two-page article begins on this page. Here though, he talks about a car he owned privately and was very fond of - a Riley RME dating to the 1950s. Here he recalls his time spent with the classic Riley.
Read more stories from motoring's past in the motoring memories section of the site, when finished here.

"I was 22 years old (in 1969) and had spotted a Riley RME for sale at a house in West Haddon, Northhamptonshire; the owner wanted 120 GBP for it. My father, whose car I was passenger in at the time, strongly advised me not to buy it. No chance, it was love at first sight with the car and, having contacted the owner, he was quite willing to wait a couple of weeks for me to sort out the funds and insurance before taking ownership. The car was fitted with twin carbs, a rev counter, and its original valve radio, it also sported a blind on the rear window that could be raised by the driver pulling a cord and ring situated near to the start of the head lining. "
"The current owner was a sales rep and occasionally enjoyed using the car for his business. He expressed how well it held the road on tight bends, and told me that it was no slouch on a fast road. After two weeks or so I duly paid the owner and took ownership of the Riley. I needed a car to drive to my work in Coventry as I was using my old 500cc Velocette motor cycle. After a particularly bad winter I was fed up with arriving at work cold and damp. Transporting myself and my girlfriend around under those conditions was no fun either. "
"I found the car very pleasant to drive even though the synchromesh on the gearbox was virtually non-existent. I soon got over that problem having mastered how to double de-clutch. I used the car every day for work and for holidays. My girlfriend and I toured the Peak District, Devon and Cornwall, and regularly drove to Whitby. "
"I had an accident in Aberaeron in Wales. I was travelling along the High Street when suddenly a car pulled out of a line of parked cars in front of me. I braked heavily and turned to the right to avoid him, only to realise that the driver was making a U-turn. Bang, I hit him on the rear passenger door. Having checked the damage, his car looked in very bad shape; it was an Austin 1100, the Riley had a badly dented wing. Obtaining the insurance details from this elderly man, who I assumed to be in his nineties, proved extremely difficult. He would not provide his name or address or indeed any insurance details. I decided to call in to the local Police station to report the accident. Needless to say, they were not interested even though I had the other driver's car reg number. I was abruptly told that I was in Wales now, and that the best thing I could do was make my way home and forget about the accident. "
"We decided that on our way back we detour and drive to Chesterfield where I could get another front wing for the Riley. I forget the man's name who kept all the stock but his address was Walton Hall, he had a barn full of RM parts and was himself a proud owner of a 2 1/2 litre Roadster. He supplied me with a secondhand front wing for 20 pounds, and off we went back to Warwickshire. "
"The existing wing was very easy to remove and the replacement one was fitted. My father, who had been a sheet metal worker in the aircraft industry, soon removed the dents from the old wing, cleaned it up and I sold it to someone else for the same price as I had paid for the replacement. "
"During my five years of Riley ownership it never failed an MOT. However, one problem I did encounter was a front wheel bearing failure, or so I thought. The driver's side front wheel developed an unusual amount of play. On removing the bearing I discovered that the extremely large bearing was loose in its hub housing. Unlike today's cars that are fitted with taper bearings that can be adjusted, the Riley sported a solid large bearing at the front of the hub that when fitted was an interference fit. Good old dad came to the rescue with some shim steel. A new bearing was obtained to be on the safe side. It was suitably cooled down in the fridge, the hub was heated up and the replacement bearing fitted with a collar of shim steel around it. This must have worked as I checked the tolerance every week for months and the bearing held good. "
"The next problem I encountered was a slight rattle from the big ends or the mains. "
"Knowing the Riley was built with line bored white-metalled bearings and not the standard big end/main bearing shells that can be easily replaced, caused me concern. I had the car parked in a barn at the farm across the road from where I lived, so I was in no position to facilitate a complete engine stripdown and needed to find an engineering company to do the work. Some other RM owners stated that Land Rover shells could be used instead of white metalling. Another stated that it was a well known fact that the oil ways in the crankshaft were too small, resulting in insufficient oil circulating at high revs. I don't know how true these statements are; maybe some long term Riley RM owners could provide more information. "
"Weeks passed by and I was no nearer to finding an engineering shop to do the work. A colleague at work told me that he knew of a Riley RM - 1952 year model - that was in a friend's yard for scrap. I went along to look at the Riley and, after negotiations, it was agreed that I could remove any parts that I could take away for fifteen pounds. I took a day off work and set to work stripping the parts from the RM with the aid of an oxyacetylene torch. I had one day to remove everything I needed before the car, or what was left of it, would be removed. I removed the engine and gearbox, all of the doors, the radiator and grille; that was all I could make storage for in the barn without encroaching onto any more of the farmyard. "
"The next week I removed the engine in the RM and replaced it with the one from the scrap car. I had removed the sump pan and cleaned the engine up before cleaning the filter and changing the oil. It was a comparatively straightforward job, I fired the engine up and there were no rattles. After a few weeks I noticed that there was water seeping from under the exhaust manifold, it appeared to be coming from the cylinder head. For readers who are not familiar with the RM engine I will explain. The RM engine was configured as a 'crossflow' engine, having the exhaust valves and manifold on the opposite side of the head to the inlet valves and manifold. Two independent camshafts were employed and positioned higher in the cylinder block allowing for shorter push rods to operate the tappets. If my memory serves me right, I remember three tubes containing water passing through the head and the block. The tubes entered a separate chamber in the exhaust manifold and heated the water which was then returned to the inlet manifold, the idea being to pre-heat the petrol/air mixture in the inlet manifold to aid combustion. This was all very well until a leakage occurred. On removing the manifolds, I could see where the leak was coming from. From memory I remember that the manifolds were secured by 5/16" AF studs, these studs passed through the water jacket and were fixed into the cylinder head. Over a period of time the studs and threads had corroded due to being immersed in water, thus rendering them unserviceable, so the only solution was to drill out the old studs from the head, no chance of unscrewing them as they had well and truly welded themselves into the threads. Not only had the threads on the studs proved to be u/s but the same applied to the cylinder head threads. "
"Not knowing if threaded inserts were available at the time, I decided to enlarge the holes in the head to 3/8" AF and turn down some stainless steel rod and make my own studs. The manifolds and the head seemingly had enough metal to allow this modification. I managed to find some suitable sealing compound where the studs fitted to the head and re-assembled everything. I fired up the engine, left it running for fifteen minutes and all was fine. I had no further problems relating to water leakage. I later discovered that some RM owners dispense with the pre-heating tubes and block them off altogether, but I suppose on a cold winter's morning the warm-up procedure could take a while longer. "
"On my RM, starting could prove difficult on cold icy mornings with the combination of a long stroke engine, a battery that wasn't quite up to scratch, and the car being parked in a barn open to the elements. My saviour was the starting handle, I would place the starting handle through the radiator grille onto the starter dog when I left the car, ready for the next morning. The starting procedure the next morning was thus: pull out the choke, turn the engine over about three times with the starting handle, get back into the car, pull out the advance/retard knob to full retard, wind the throttle increase knob out two turns and turn on the ignition, return back to the cranking handle winding it slowly until it was coming up to the compression stroke, then pull the cranking handle upwards sharply making sure my thumb was sitting in the palm of my hand to reduce any injury when the engine fired. Hey Presto, it fired every time. Then, back to the cab, return the ignition to advance, turn back the throttle increase knob and get started, shutting the choke down when appropriate. It was a reliable way to start the car. Nowadays I would expect Riley owners to have fitted alternators to their cars to avoid the battery discharge that happens with a dynamo during the winter. "
"The brakes on my RM were stated as being semi-hydraulic. If my memory serves me right I think the hydraulic part was on the front brakes, the rear ones being operated by rod and linkage and being a separate arrangement. I found the brake master cylinder to be quite inadequate for the job. Try as I may I could never be satisfied with the hydraulics. Fitting new seals or even a new master cylinder did not improve efficiency. In my opinion the action of the push rod should have been longer or a larger diameter master cylinder should have been fitted. The rear brakes operated by rod and linkage never gave me a problem, once set up they would prove effective. "
"All in all, I liked the car and had a great fondness for it. It looked good, it handled well, and it was fun to drive seeing the line of the bonnet way out in front pointing the way, unlike modern cars where it feels as if I am driving a windscreen. Would I own another one? Yes, probably, but it would be a 2 1/2 litre model from 1952/1953, as I prefer the line of the body. "
"Finally, I would like to point out that my ownership of a Riley RME 1 1/2 litre was forty eight years ago, so if I have made any errors I am sure that current Riley RM owners who know more about their cars and have owned them longer than I did, will make allowances.

Once again, thanks for your contribution Martin, it's always interesting to read about car ownership when the vehicles in question were yet to acquire "classic" status.
Several years ago, dad provided recollections of his motoring past, and they also refer to ownership of RM Rileys, in his case a 1.5 Saloon, and 2.5 Roadster. That article may be found here. A neat black and white photo of a slightly earlier RM may be found on the RMA page, in the photographs section of the site. Three photographs of an RME identical to the car that Martin describes above, may now be found on this page.
Return to the motoring memories section of OCC.

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