Located in the heart of the British motor industry in Coventry, Riley Motor became one of the most respected of the English sporting marques, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s.
Like many pioneering automobile companies, Riley started in the cycle business. By 1898, Riley was building motorized cycles and a Riley motor tricycle set the first track record in 1899. The first Rileys were small-displacement cycle cars utilizing engines outsourced from De Dion Bouton or Motor Manufacturing Co (MMC), both common suppliers to the early motor trade.
By 1903, Riley produced its own engines, and its vehicles steadily grew in size and output. An innovative company, Riley made the first detachable wheels and the first constant-mesh gearbox. Riley perfected the art of wire spoke wheel production and built wheels under contract for Rolls-Royce, Panhard, Mercedes, and Hispano-Suiza and other prestigious car companies. The operation was so successful that wheel building threatened to drown Riley’s car business. To keep things afloat, Riley established a separate company to handle the wheels, thus allowing automobile production to carry on without distractions.
In 1926, Percy Riley introduced the 1087-cc 9-horsepower four-cylinder engine. It was an ingenious design, with twin gear-driven camshafts and hemispherical, cross-flow combustion chambers. The engine looked for all intents like an overhead-cam unit; however, the cams were mounted high in the block, operating pushrods and rockers for the 90-degree incline valves. The engine became a hallmark of Riley cars, with various evolutions of the design powering Riley models through 1957 and tuned versions motivating Donald Healey’s rapid and highly successful sports cars of the 1940s. Even the great W.O. Bentley counted among owners of the superb Riley 9.
The Riley 9 chassis was offered in various styles and equipment levels, including a handsome closed sports sedan, a fabric-bodied open tourer, and the sleek Brooklands boat-tail runabout roadster. Period literature described the Brooklands as “equally suited for competition work or daily use, and is much appreciated by the motorist who desires more than average speed, hill climbing ability, acceleration, and roadworthiness.” The Riley 9 proved itself a formidable competitor, with a litany of race wins, records, and top results in prestigious events in the UK, Europe, Australia, and America.
Offered here is chassis 8046, a well-known early Riley 9 racing chassis with a rich and fascinating history that helped cement the legend of this renowned model.
Constructed in 1929, Riley Works handed this chassis over to Thomson & Taylor, the respected race car engineering firm based within the banks of the legendary Brooklands circuit. Their many projects included the construction and redesign of Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird (1931 and 1933), the iconic Napier-Railton, and the 400-mph Railton Mobil Special.
Thomson & Taylor modified the chassis to Riley’s specifications and returned it to the factory where it was completed, stamped ‘8046’, and mated with a Works racing engine and lightweight aluminum coachwork. It is believed to be the first such Riley 9 built to Brooklands specification. On June 14, 1930, 8046 was registered as GJ 18 and delivered to Whitney Straight, a dashing adventurer, war hero, and racer.
Born in New York City in 1912, Whitney Straight was a member of the prominent Whitney family, whose lineage consisted of many influential names, including inventor Eli Whitney. Straight was fascinated with flying from a young age and accumulated more than 60 solo hours before he was old enough to legally hold a pilot’s license. While living in England as an undergraduate at Cambridge University, Straight was told he could not keep a car, so he skirted the rules by bringing an airplane.
Straight purchased his first racing car – this Riley Brooklands, GJ 18. He scored a string of podium finishes with his Riley at Shelsley Walsh and various B.A.R.C. and Southport Motor Club meetings. Photographs and results of this period are in the file. Later moving into a Maserati, he won numerous races and hill climbs before joining the RAF in 1939 and surviving the war as a highly decorated airman.
In 1938, Miss Diana Carpenter purchased GJ 18 for £85, noting the car was exactly as Straight had raced it, complete with his stylized logo on the scuttle. She later sold it to Brian Steadman, who passed it to the legendary motoring journalist Denis Jenkinson. “Jenks” competed in GJ 18 and chronicled his adventures driving and modifying the car in the pages of Autocar in the early 1940s, copies of which are on file.
Subsequent owners are well-documented via the UK road book and V5C documents in the extensive history file. Beginning in 2005, while in the care of Greg Johnson, a comprehensive restoration was performed to restore the car back to the way Whitney Straight had raced it. Johnson commissioned J. Wilkinson & Son Coach Builders in Derby to handle the work. Invoices and correspondence note that the rear section of the body was kept original, though portions of the forward section required rebuilding. Additionally, some of the modifications made by Jenks were undone, and the period-correct drivetrain (believed to be fitted by Jenks) was overhauled. Powering GJ 18 is a period-correct 1087 c.c. inline-four, equipped with Riley’s twin cam-in-block design and 90-degree valve arrangement. The engine was rebuilt to Works Racing spec in 2004 with new cranks, rods, pistons, reprofiled cams, and much more.
Following the restoration, GJ 18 returned to the circuit and was driven enthusiastically at Le Mans Classic and the 2009 Monterey Historics. It is FIVA-registered and has an MSA Historic Technical Passport, ensuring eligibility for a wide variety of historic motoring events, from Le Mans to the Mille Miglia. It is presented in beautiful condition, with its low, spindly bodywork giving the impression of speed even while standing still. The restoration quality is evident throughout the car, from the gorgeous black paintwork to the rich dark red leather trim and the authentically detailed engine compartment.
Thanks to previous owners’ efforts, GJ 18 is accompanied by extensive documentation, restoration photographs, period photos, factory literature, correspondence, and records. Also available is an inventoried cache of original spares retained by past owners and carefully preserved during the restoration.
Not only is GJ 18 a striking example of a sophisticated pre-war British sports car, but it also boasts a fascinating history at the hands of equally fascinating characters. With snappy performance and fabulous looks, it will surely bring its next custodian outsized joy wherever he or she chooses to enjoy it.
Offers welcome and trades considered
Stock number 7520
For immediate assistance please call us at +1-314-524-6000 or please fill out the following form and a member of our team will contact you.