By 1937, Riley began to look to other manufacturers for partnerships. A contract with Briggs Motor Bodies of Dagenham to provide all-steel bodies for a cheaper, more mass-market saloon had already turned sour, with dozens of unsold bodies littering the factory. It had withdrawn from works racing after its most successful year, 1934, although it continued to supply engines for the ERA, a voiturette (Formula 2) racing car based on the supercharged 6-cylinder 'White Riley', developed by ERA founder Raymond Mays in the mid-thirties. BMW of Munich, Germany was interested in expanding its range into England. But the Riley brothers were more interested in a larger British concern, and looked to Triumph Motor Company, also of Coventry, as a natural fit. In February 1938, all negotiations were suspended. On 24 February the directors placed Riley (Coventry) Limited and Autovia in voluntary receivership.[7] On 10 March the Triumph board announced merger negotiations had been dropped.

It was announced on 9 September 1938 that the assets and goodwill of Riley Motors (Coventry) Limited had been purchased from the receiver by Lord Nuffield and he would on completion transfer ownership to Morris Motors Limited "on terms which will show very considerable financial advantage to the company, resulting in further consolidation of its financial position". Mr Victor Riley then said this did not mean that the company would cease its activities. On 30 September Victor Riley announced that Riley (Coventry) Limited would be wound up but it would appear that the proceeds of liquidation would be insufficient to meet the amount due to debenture holders. [note 2] Nuffield paid £143,000[11] for the business and a new company was formed, Riley Motors Limited. However, in spite of the announced intention to wind-up Riley (Coventry) Limited, perhaps for tax reasons, continued under the management of Victor Riley presumably with the necessary consents of debenture holders (part paid) creditors (nothing) and former shareholders (nothing). Nuffield passed ownership to his Morris Motors Limited for £100. Along with other Morris Motors subsidiaries Wolseley and MG, Riley would later be promoted as a member of the Nuffield Organisation. Riley Motors Limited seems to have begun trading at the end of the 1940s when Riley (Coventry) Limited disappeared..

Nuffield took quick measures to firm up the Riley business. Autovia was no more, with just 35 cars having been produced. Riley refocused on the 4-cylinder market with two engines: A 1.5-litre 12 hp engine and the "Big Four", a 2.5-litre 16 hp unit (The hp figures are RAC Rating, and bear no relationship to bhp or kW). Only a few bodies were produced prior to the onset of war in 1939, and some components were shared with Morris for economies of scale. Though they incorporated a number of mechanical improvements- notably a Nuffield synchromesh gearbox- they were essentially interim models, suffering a loss of Riley character in the process. The new management responded to the concerns of the marque's loyal adherents by re-introducing the Kestrel 2.5 litre Sports Saloon in updated form, but as the factory was turned over to wartime production this was a short-lived development.

After World War II, Riley took up the old engines in new models, based in concept on the 1936-8 'Continental', a fashionable 'notchback' design whose name had been changed prior to release to 'Close-Coupled Touring Saloon' owing to feared objections from Rolls-Royce. The RMA used the 1.5-litre engine, while the RMB got the Big Four. Both engines, being derived from pre-war models, lent themselves as power units for specials and new specialist manufacturers,[13] such as Donald Healey.The RM line of vehicles, sold under the "Magnificent Motoring" tag line, were to be a re-affirmation of Riley values in both road behaviour and appearance. 'Torsionic' front independent suspension and steering design inspired by the Citroën Traction Avant provided precise handling; their flowing lines were particularly well-balanced, marrying pre-war 'coachbuilt' elegance to more modern features, such as headlamps faired into the front wings. The RMC, a 3-seater roadster was an unsuccessful attempt to break into the American market, while the RMD was an elegant 4/5-seater two-door drophead, of which again few were made. The 1.5-litre RME and 2.5-litre RMF were later developments of the saloon versions, which continued in production into the mid-fifties.

Victor Riley was removed by Nuffield in 1947. In early 1949 the Coventry works were made an extension of Morris Motors' engine branch. Riley production was consolidated with MG at Abingdon.[14] Wolseley production was moved to Cowley. Nuffield's marques were then organised in a similar way to those of General Motors: Morris was the value line, and Wolseley the luxury marque. Aside from their small saloons MG largely offered spartan performance, especially with their open sports cars, while Riley sought to be both sporty and luxurious. With Wolseley also fighting for the top position, however, the range was crowded and confused.

British Motor Corporation


The confusion became critical in 1952 with the merger of Nuffield and Austin as the British Motor Corporation. Now, Riley was positioned between MG and Wolseley and most Riley models would become, like those, little more than badge-engineered versions of Austin/Morris designs.

The first all-new Riley under BMC, however, was designated the RMH, and because of its distinctive engine and suspension design, has been called 'the last real Riley'. This was the Pathfinder, with Riley's familiar 2.5-litre four developed to produce 110 bhp. (The RMG 'Wayfarer', a projected 1.5-litre version, was rejected as underpowered). The Pathfinder body was later reworked and, with a different engine and rear suspension, sold as the Wolseley 6/90. The Riley lost its distinct (though externally subtle) differences in 1958, and the 6/90 of that year was available badge engineered as a Riley Two-Point-Six. Although this was the only postwar 6-cylinder Riley, its C-Series engine was actually less powerful than the Riley Big Four that it replaced. This was to be the last large Riley, with the model dropped in May 1959 and Riley refocusing on the under-2-litre segment.

Riley and Wolseley were linked in small cars as well. Launched in 1957, the Riley One-Point-Five and Wolseley 1500 were based on the unused but intended replacement for the Morris Minor. They shared their exteriors, but the Riley was marketed as the more performance-oriented option, having an uprated engine, twin S.U. carburetters and a close-ratio gearbox. With its good handling, compact, sports-saloon styling and well-appointed interior, the One-Point-Five quite successfully recaptured the character of the 1930s light saloons.

At the top of the Riley line for April 1959 was the new Riley 4/Sixty-Eight saloon. Again, it was merely a badge-engineered version of other BMC models. The steering was perhaps the worst feature of the car, being Austin-derived cam and peg rather than the rack and pinion of the One-Point-Five. Overall, it could not provide the sharp and positive drive associated with previous Rileys, being based on the humble Austin Cambridge and Morris Oxford. Sharing many features with the similarly upmarket MG Magnette Mark III and Wolseley 15/60, it was the most luxurious of the versions, which were all comfortable and spacious, and (nominally) styled by Farina. The car was refreshed, along with its siblings, in 1961 and rebadged the 4/Seventy-Two.

The early 1960s also saw the introduction of the Riley Elf based on the original Mini. Again, a Wolseley model (the Hornet) was introduced simultaneously. This time, the Riley and Wolseley versions were differentiated visually by their grilles but identical mechanically.

The final model of the BMC era was the Kestrel 1100/1300, based on the Austin/Morris 1100/1300 saloon (BMC ADO16). This also had stablemates in Wolseley and MG versions. Following objections from diehard Riley enthusiasts, the Kestrel name was dropped for the last facelift in 1968, the Riley 1300.

Between 1966 and 1968, a series of mergers took place in the British motor industry, ultimately creating the British Leyland Motor Corporation, whose management embarked on a programme of rationalisation—in which the Riley marque was an early casualty. The badge began to be discontinued in many export markets almost immediately.[15] A BLMC press release was reported in The Times of 9 July 1969: "British Leyland will stop making Riley cars from today. "With less than 1 per cent of the home market, they are not viable" the company said last night. The decision will end 60 years of motoring history. No other marques in the British Leyland stable are likely to suffer the same fate "in the foreseeable future".

In spite of the decline of the marque under BMC, surviving well-preserved examples of the period are now considered desirable classics, the Riley 'face' and badge lending a distinctive character. The needs of enthusiasts are met by the Riley Motor Club, the original factory Club founded in 1925.

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