Riley was one of Britain's earliest motor manufacturers starting with bicycles and soon moving on to motorcycles in the 1890s after the company's weaving machinery business began to decline. At first using bought-in engines, particularly deDion Boutons, the next generation of Rileys soon began to built Tricars with steerable front wheels flanking forward seats for two and handlebar steering for the driver. Percy Riley, the youngest of the four brothers, proved to be inventive and talented and soon began to build engines of his own design as the Riley Engine Company in 1903. One of Percy Riley's most important developments was a mechanically-operated intake valve. Until his innovation intake valves opened inefficiently and uncontrollably under atmospheric pressure as the piston descended on the intake stroke. Mechanical operation was not only more efficient but put Percy Riley in the position of pioneering the concept of valve timing overlap between the exhaust and intake valves. The Riley company was on its way to becoming the innovator it would be until well into the twentieth century.
This 1904 Riley Tricar is a marvelous example of the company's earliest products. It is distinguished in many ways from its predecessors including having wheel steering, full leaf spring suspension, a Riley Engine Company water cooled vee-twin engine and a constant mesh progressive transmission using spring loaded dog clutches to achieve a modicum of synchronization. It is VCC-dated and has participated in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run in 1985 and 1995 according to badging on it. The coachwork bears a Rothchild Baker label. It abounds in fine details including a Smith speedometer/odometer driven from the right front wheel, trumpet horn, clock and cooling radiators on either side of the front passenger seats so they get full air flow.
It is a marvelous vehicle that recently has been fully reconditioned after an old restoration and runs and drives with alacrity and precision. Simple yet sturdy, idiosyncratic yet perky, it will make the perfect ride for three on the Brighton Run and cannot fail to bring a smile to the face of its driver.
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