Tuesday April 11, 2017
It must be said that the chap in the Riley brochure looks as jaunty as a young Nicolas Parsons or indeed any other actor who was prone to saying ‘gosh’ in a 1950s Technicolor comedy. And it is no wonder that he is tipping his hat to the new One Point Five, as it was – and indeed is – one of the most delightful British cars of the late 1950s.
As many readers already know, the Riley and its Wolseley 1500 stablemate, originated in a British Motor Corporation plan to succeed the Minor with a slightly larger ‘Morris 1200’. As it was, the commercial impact of the 1000 version in 1956, combined with the upsurge of demand for small engine cars in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis, meant that replacing the iconic post-war Morris was no longer on the cards. Instead, the 1200 project would be powered by a 1,489cc engine and be sold as compact luxury models. The Wolseley debuted in April 1957 and for just £796 7s it represented quite a bargain for a car with a cabin trimmed in leather and timber. By November, the 1500 was joined by the Riley One Point Five, which offered a reversing lamp, extra instruments, enhanced Girling brakes and twin SU H4 carburettors, all for a mere £847 17s.
The 1500 and the One Point Five were replaced by the ADO16 Wolseley 1100/Riley Kestrel in 1965 and during their eight years of production, they carved a definite niche in the British car market. Their road manners are better than many a car ten or even fifteen years their junior, as the combination of Morris Minor floorplan, rack & pinion steering and front suspension with the BMC B-Series engine and a lightweight body resulted in a saloon that feels lightweight and very sure-footed. The MG Magnette-sourced four-speed transmission and floor-mounted gear lever was another bonus at a time when some other British cars were favouring extremely imprecise three-on-the-column changes.
Period advertisements promised that ‘Your first ride in a Wolseley 1500 is a journey of discovery’ while the sporting chap – i.e. the sort of driver who sported a Graham Hill/Leslie Phillips moustache –was tempted by the One Point Five’s 62 bhp and very respectable top speed of over 83 mph. As Motor Sport magazine noted ‘this little Riley goes, corners, and stops far better than a car of its size has any right to do. Enthusiasts who have not yet driven one are advised, to queue up at the doors of BMC dealers’. Indeed, the One Point Five would enjoy a distinguished circuit career, scoring first in its class in three British Saloon Car Championships. This only added to the social prestige of the Riley – and, by association, the Wolseley – reassuring potential customers that here was transport for those eminently respectable types who regarded tail fins in the same light as gangs of Teddy Boys.
Sixty years after their debuts, it is easy to appreciate why the 1500 and the One Point Five have such a following sixty years on. Put simply, they are great fun to drive and are some of the most charming cars of their era, especially when they sport a very jaunty duo-tone paint finish. For me, encountering a well-preserved example of the Wolseley or the Riley basking in the sun during an outdoor classic car show is to be instantly transported back to a time of Brylcreem, sports jackets, twinsets and Hancock’s Half Hour on the BBC Home Service.
Hats off to them both!