Businesses evolve in strange ways. Riley is a case in point. The company was originally set up in 1890 as Bonnick Cycle Company in England. William Riley Junior, a car enthusiast, purchased the company in 1896 and rechristened it Riley Cycle Company.
Riley’s son Percy too was interested in cars. So much so, that at the tender age of 16 he secretly built a car. Secretly, because William was not in favour of Percy leaving school and getting into automobiles! This was back in 1898 after which Percy manufactured his first prototype four-wheeled quadri-cycle.
Now while his sons were interested in the motor car business, William Riley Jr was strictly against using his bicycle business resources for the same. So Riley brothers Victor, Percy and Alan borrowed money from their mother and went ahead to establish Riley Engine Company in 1903 that initially focussed on supplying engines to Riley motorcycles. Stanley and Cecil, the youngest of Riley brothers also joined the business after their schooling.
In 1905, the company produced a Vee-Twin Tourer prototype. As Riley Engine Company achieved success with cars, it stopped bicycle and motorcycle production.
The Riley identity
Harry Rush designed the famous blue diamond badge for Riley. The company is known for its impressive motto - As old as the industry, as modern as the hour.
Riley brothers and their companies
Later, Percy started another company by the name Riley Motor Manufacturing Company with three of his brothers (Cecil stayed out). This company concentrated on manufacturing automobiles and launched its first model the 17/30 in 1913.
As the company progressed and the brothers gained expertise in the field, Stanley formed Nero Engine Company to manufacture a four-cylinder 10 hp motorcar.
During the First World War, Riley started producing aeroplane engines for Britain. After the war, while Nero Engine Company and Riley joined hands, Alan Riley took over Riley Motor Manufacturing Company to form Midland Motor Bodies that would act as a coachbuilder for Riley.
Both the companies saw immense success for the two decades after the war. While Riley Engine Company produced 4 to 8-cylinder engines, Midland Motor Bodies manufactured many bodies.
Riley’s Saloon models included Adelphi, Continental, Deauville, Falcon, Mentone, Merlin, Stelvio, Victor and coupes Ascot and Lincock. It also built touring models Alpine, Gamecock and Lynx. The limousine series comprised of Edinburgh and Winchester.
Riley’s Brooklands became the most successful car up to the early 1930s. It created history by being the reason behind the achievement of first women racing drivers Kay Petrie and Dorothy Champney. Other sports models introduced by Riley included Imp, MPH and Sprite.
Around 1936, as Jaguar and Rolls-Royce emerged as great competition, Victor Riley created Autovia that manufactured a super luxurious V8 saloon and limousine. Also, Riley Engine Company was rechristened as PR Motors while the other Riley companies became part of BMC.
Percy passed away in the year 1941 leaving his wife Norah to run the company. Norah successful ran the organisation to become Britain's businesswoman of the year in 1960. The company now exists as PRM Marine Limited.
The last Riley badged car was produced in 1969 after the marquee became inactive. Subsequently, BMW obtained the rights to the Riley marquees.
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