By Adrian Smith
The Riley family progressed to Motor Car Manufacturing by way of:
Weaving….weaving machine maintenance & repair….weaving machine
manufacture….Bicycle manufacture….detachable wheels for road vehicles….
Motor bikes….Motor tricycles and finally motor cars.
The above embraces a period from the latter part of the 19th century to 1905.
Bicycles were made at King Street, Coventry.
Motor bikes, tricycles & motor cars were made at fresh and larger premises in King
Street by Riley Cycle Co. at their City Cycle Works.
The Riley Engine Co. was formed in 1903 by three Riley sons and located in
Castle Works. It removed the need for RCC to buy engines externally.
In 1906 REC moved to larger premises in Aldbourne Rd, off Widdrington Rd.
Detachable wheels on the Riley designed system were made in premises at
St Nicholas St, around the corner from RCC’s King St Works.
The manufacture of wheels became so lucrative, (purchased by some 183 other
motor manufacturers) that Riley Cycle Co. ceased car manufacture.
The Riley sons, wishing to continue with motorcars, then formed the Riley Motor
Manufacturing Co. & took over the car interests of Riley Cycle Co. Works adjacent
to Riley Engine Co. were obtained in Aldbourne Rd.
Riley Cycle Co. then changed its title to Riley (Coventry) Ltd.
Independently, the oldest Riley son, Victor, had formed the Nero Engine Co.
By 1913 there was a lOhp car from Nero, and a larger 17hp car from RMMCo,
both to be exhibited at the 1914 Motor Show.which was cancelled owing to the
outbreak of war.
The four oldest brothers were directed to remain in Coventry to deal with work
allocated to their Works by the Ministry of Munitions – the youngest son, Cecil,
With the assistance of the Ministry of Munitions, Victor’s Nero Engine Co. Ltd. was
able, in 1916 to occupy land at Foleshill and the bays of a new works were built for
further manufacture of war materials.This marked the beginning of what became
the main Riley Works.
By the Armistice in 1918 Riley (Coventry) Ltd. had ceased wheel manufacture,
absorbed the Nero Engine Co. and moved to the Foleshill site. RMMCo.
meanwhile changed its name and direction to Midland Motor Body Co.
The elements were now Riley (Coventry) Ltd, Riley Engine Co. & MMB Co.
There were five Riley brothers:
Victor, the oldest and accepted leader
Running Riley (Coventry) Ltd.
Percy, the innovative engine designer
Running Riley Engine Co.
Stanley, both chassis & body design
Working with Percy in the Engine Company
Running Midland Motor Body Co.
Cecil, Army, then an RFC pilot
Development Engineer, Design Office
Competition Dept Organiser & Driver.
Assessor of Export Market
Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s the Company’s high quality engineering and
corporate integrity produced a universal renown. It rightly claimed to be “As old as
the Industry, as Modern as the Hour”.
However, In common with many other motor manufacturers, by the mid-1930’s
a combination of factors imposed financial difficulties which proved to be
insuperable. Thus, in 1938 the firm of Riley (Coventry) Ltd. was purchased by
William Morris, soon to be enobled as Lord Nuffield. He retained, however his
life-long friend Victor Riley as M.D. of the re-formed Company within the Nuffield
Riley manufacture was moved to Abingdon in 1948, and with the merger of the
Nuffield Group with the Austin Motor Company Riley became part of British
Motor Corporation which in turn became British Motor Holdings and then British
The Riley “marque” continued until 1969, having gradually lost the individuality of
design- that the pre-war products had created.
Due to the turbulence that afflicted the British motor industry, the Riley name
passed through Austin-Rover, Rover Group, and in 1994 to BMW.
BMW considered a possible return of the Riley marque but a change in policy and
management left this hope unfulfilled.
The World of Riley Clubs
1925 saw a group of Riley enthusiasts, having just completed the London Edinburgh Trial, attending a dinner hosted by the Directors of the Company, at
which it was resolved to inaugurate a Riley Motor Club. This rapidly grew to be the
largest one-make car club in the world and continues to the present day as the
club for all Rileys.
The RMC exists today as a Club for anyone with an enthusiasm for Riley.
Before WW2 the Club enjoyed very close ties with Riley (Coventry) Ltd.
By the early 1950’s the provision of spares and service by BMC for pre-war Rileys,
especially those of the 1920’s and early ’30s was greatly reduced and a club was
formed by enthusiasts who wanted to surmount these difficulties and keep their
older Rileys on the road by self-help and networking.
This was The Riley Register, formed in 1954 to cater for pre-war Rileys.
Despite the take-over and the firm’s substantial contribution to the war effort,
Riley was the first manufacturer to introduce a new model for the post-war era.
This grew to a range of cars that came to be known as the RM models. These
were very well received and sought after. As manufacturer support for this range
diminished the Riley RM Club was formed to cater for these cars in 1969.
Enduring enthusiasm for the Riley marque has resulted in the existence across the
world of more than twenty Riley Clubs.