Riley Nine

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Riley Nine
1931 Riley Nine Biarritz (cropped).jpg
1931 Biarritz
Manufacturer Riley
Production 1926–1938
Designer Percy and Stanley Riley
Body and chassis
Body style 4-door saloon
2-door coupe
2-door convertible
Related Riley 12/6
Engine 1.1 L I4
Wheelbase 106 in (2,692 mm)
Width 57 in (1,448 mm)

The Riley Nine was one of the most successful light sporting cars produced by the British motor industry in the inter war period. It was made by the Riley company of Coventry, England with a wide range of body styles between 1926 and 1938.



The car was largely designed by two of the Riley brothers, Percy and Stanley. Stanley was responsible for the chassis, suspension and body and the older Percy designed the engine.

The 1,087 cc four-cylinder engine had hemispherical combustion chambers with the valves inclined at 45 degrees in a crossflow head. To save the expense and complication of overhead camshafts, the valves were operated by two camshafts mounted high in the crankcase through short pushrods and rockers. The engine was mounted in the chassis by a rubber bushed bar that ran through the block with a further mount at the rear of the gearbox. Drive was to the rear wheels through a torque tube and spiral bevel live rear axle mounted on semi elliptic springs.

At launch in July 1926 two body styles were available, a fabric bodied saloon called the Monaco at £285 and a fabric four-seat tourer for £235. The saloon could reach 60 mph (97 km/h) and give 40 mpg‑imp (7.1 L/100 km; 33 mpg‑US). Very quickly a further two bodies were offered, the San Remo, an artillery wheeled basic saloon and a two-seater plus dickie open tourer and there was also the option of steel panelling rather than fabric for the four-seater tourer.

After the car's 1926 launch, Mark 1 production actually started in 1927 at Percy's engine factory, due to some resistance in the main works to the new design. It was such a critically acclaimed success that after fewer than a thousand cars had been produced the works quickly shut down side-valve production and tooled up for the new Nine in early 1928. This switch to the main factory coincided with several modernisations of the Mark 1 - the cone clutch was dropped, the gear lever and handbrake were moved from the right to the centre of the car and a Riley steering box was adopted, thus making the car the Mark II. The Mark III was a gentle update of the II at the end of 1928, evolving stronger wheels and a different arrangement of rods to the rear brakes.

The Mark IV was a thorough re working of the Nine. Heavier Riley-made 6-stud hubs and axles replaced the bought-in five-stud items. A new cable braking system was introduced with larger drums. The range of bodies was further extended in 1929 with the Biarritz saloon which was a de-luxe version of the Monaco. The improved brakes were fitted using the Riley continuous cable system and if the cable stretched it could be adjusted from the driver's seat.

More body variants were added over the next few years and in 1934 a Preselector gearbox was offered for £27 extra. The range was slimmed down in 1935 to the Monaco saloon, Kestrel streamlined saloon and Lynx four-seat tourer as the works started gearing up for production of the new 12 hp model.

In an attempt to keep costs down Riley entered into an agreement with Briggs bodies to produce a steel (non coach-built) body for a newly designed chassis. This new chassis was introduced in 1936 and incorporated such features as Girling rod operated brakes and a prop shaft final drive for the Nine (though the 12 hp variant retained the torque tube). The Briggs body was named the Merlin and was available alongside the last nine Kestrel variant, also built on the "Merlin" chassis.

The Briggs body evolved through 1937 with a large boot extension to be called the Touring Saloon and an additional body style was added on the same chassis - the higher specified special series Monaco (a completely new design from the previous car). The final version (and last nine model) was the 1938 Victor also available with 1496 cc engine. The Victor had the engine further forward to increase interior room, with the battery moved to the engine bay and smaller diameter wheels were fitted.

The Riley company was bought by Lord Nuffield in 1938 and Nine production ceased as the company pursued a strict two-engine line up, continued after the war with the RM series.

Catalogued bodies[edit]

Gloucester special
March special
Type Year Notes
Monaco 1926-1932 Fabric bodied Saloon
Four-seat tourer 1926- 1931
Speed Model (Brooklands) 1927-1931 Low chassis, cycle wings and pointed tail. Tuned 50 bhp (37 kW) engine.
San Remo 1928- 1929 Fabric saloon
2 Seater Tourer 1928- 1930 Steel bodied
Biarritz 1929- 1932 De Luxe saloon
Plus Series 1931- 1932 Rear fuel tank
Plus Ultra 1932- 1933 Chassis dropped between axles
Gamecock 1931-1932 Open two-seater
Kestrel 1933-1936 4 light Streamlined saloon
Monaco 1933-1935 All alloy bodied version
Falcon 1933-1935 Saloon
Lincock 1933-1935 Fixed head coupé
Ascot 1933-1935 Drop head coupé
Lynx 1933-1936 Four-seat tourer
March Special 1933-1935 two/four-seat sports tourer built by John Charles of Kew to the design of driver Freddie March
Imp 1933-1935 75 mph (121 km/h) sports version
Merlin 1936-1937 4 light all steel streamlined saloon
Victor 1938 Re-worked Merlin saloon


When compared with its contemporary Hillman Minx it had a sophisticated 1098 cc engine with hemispherical combustion chambers pumping out more than 25 per cent more horsepower than the 1185 cc Hillman. Riley's preselector gearbox provided easy progress through the gears. The Riley had a magnificent competition record and was adding to it. The Riley body was composite wood and metal, coachbuilt, and a style-leader — fabric top, centre-lock wire wheels. The pressed steel Hillman body, ordinary. The Minx body rusted, the Monaco body rotted. Hillmans outsold Rileys better than 4.5:1[1]

But a Monaco was nearly double the price of a Minx. While the Monaco's handling was much better there was not a lot of difference in performance, the Minx was slightly faster in a straight line. With a Riley "special series" twin carburettor engine you might reach 70 mph or 112 km/h. A 1931 Monaco weighed 916 kg, a 1937 model 1 160 kg. In spite of its standard twin carburettors the 1937 Monaco took half a minute to reach 50 mph and could barely exceed 62 mph or 100 km/h.[1]


  1. ^ a b page 161, Michael Sedgwick, Cars of the Thirties and Forties, Hamlyn, London 1979 ISBN 0600321487
  • The Automobile. February 1999. Modern Nines. Jonathan Wood
  • The Production and Competition History of the Pre 1939 Riley Motor cars - AT Birmingham

External links[edit]