Rear Seating

I have re-discovered that bespoke trimming a car in leather is an expensive business and sadly it is something that I don’t have the skills or the tools to do so I have no choice but to farm the work out to a professional. But before I can do that I need to build the rear seat so that they have something to actually trim. The seat is fairly basic, a flat cushion to sit on and something to lean your back against. However I need to maintain access to the battery housed below the seat and I need access to the rear axle so that the oil can be changed occasionally. This means that neither the seat cushion nor the seat back can be permanently fixed into position – a challenge, I like that.

My thoughts were to hinge the seat back enabling it to fold forward so that I could use the storage space behind the seat. I grant you there is not a lot of space but it would be somewhere to put the wheel jack and maybe some tools. A removable seat cushion is conceptually fairly straight forward, it merely needs something to stop it sliding forwards onto the floor. The challenge therefore is the folding mechanism.

Luckily for me, last week whilst at the Beaulieu AutoJumble, I picked up a seriously rotten folding rear seat that ‘looked’ about the right size and was so cheap that I simply could not walk past it – I still knocked £5 off the low asking price  arguing it was really junk and not worth taking home with him. It really was in a state – all of the plywood construction had de-laminated so it was bending under the slightest pressure, it was not really usable. The seat therefore was definitely not a keeper but it was very cheap and just what I needed. The high value part for me was that it would give me a template to see how a seat should be constructed AND a genuine seat folding mechanism specifically designed for the job. Hopefully in the short term, it might accept a level of rebuilding to give me a usable rear seat until I was ready for the trimmer to weave his magic. Fingers crosseed

First problem: the seat did NOT fit – it was about 100mm too wide and around 200mm too high. I knew the height would be wrong, that was no big deal but the width meant I would need to deconstruct the seat and modify it to fit. This was no real concern because I had zero intentions of keeping the seat as-is and as mentioned it was so cheap, it really didnt matter.

Below is the seat as purchased, as you can see the seat back folds down flat. Just what I wanted. The vinyl was covering a real mess.

First task was to remove the hinges which was easy as they simply pulled the screws through the rotted plywood. I cleaned them up and dressed the rivets to tighten up the workings. Once each hinge was working smoothly, I bolted them to the platform that houses the battery and would support the seat. All I needed to do now was measure the distance between the two hinges and remove the excess plywood from the seat cushion in order for it to fit the reduced space. This gave me a feel for how the ‘real’ seat base would need to be cut to shape at a later date. I now had a usable seat cushion.

I then turned to the seat back and the original plywood panel was way beyond recovery so I placed a sheet of 18mm plywood in the hinge then shaped it to match the contours of the rear of the car. It was then painted it with a protective coating of wood stain and bolted it to the hinges adjusting things as necessary. With the seat back in place I could try it out. The angle is about right as it supports your lower and mid back area acceptably. These seats will never be used for long journeys but they are fine for the intended use. The seat back cushion was exceptionally basic and I simply removed enough of the thin plywood (or what was left of it) so that the height of the cushion was approximately the same as the seat back. The cushion continues to fall apart but it is very temporary and provides a level of comfort in the interim. It also looks the part as it is old.

So this is what we now have: a temporary but surprisingly usable rear seat. Finishing things off my rear passenger guests – I fabricated a step along similar lines to the one previously made. Access to the rear seat is now a little less ungainly.


I now need to fabricate some form of a ‘lid’ to the storage area behind the seat and work out how to create a couple of locks that will secure the seat back from being casually tipped forward. A job for another day

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Let there be light.

….and there was. Well kind of. The headlamps of vintage cars are interesting things. First the shiny bit that reflects light onto the road is silver. Yes really. Silver tarnishes as we know and so the reflectors go yellow. When you try to polish them, it is exceptionally easy to polish the silver plating away leaving you with shiny brass – which is yellow. Secondly the dipping mechanism for headlamps is mechanical. The light bowl literally swivels down when you select ‘dip’ then swivels back to horizontal for full beam. This means the electricals are a bit of a challenge to work out. Main beam is on all the time and there is a separate wire to operate an electrical solenoid within each headlamp. Having managed to get the solenoids to work I then found that the ‘dip’ setting turned the lights off. After a bit of head scratching I worked out how all the contacts and terminals worked together and rewired them.

Oh and another daft vintage idea. Up until 1936 dipping the headlights meant that you mechanically dip the drivers side lamp but turn off the passenger side lamp completely. This results in you only having one headlamp. I am sure this was fine in the 30’s when no-one went over 30mph and the roads were pretty empty but now days that would certainly confuse other drivers. I have therefore modified my setup to have TWO headlamps that mechanically dip. Oh and they operate with quite a solid ‘thunk’ sound. Funny.

Having got working headlights I can now drive the car later at night although I am told to expect them to be near useless so I will be converting them to LED shortly.

The rear lights and number plate lights merely needed connecting into the circuit. I have quite a lot of wires now that all need forming into a tidy loom. That’s a job for another day.

Mitigation plan

The Riley and I are starting to travel further from home as my confidence grows but inevitably, one day it will break down due to sheer age of the car. As a get me home plan, I purchased a practically new towing ‘A’ frame which now lives in the back of the family X5. This device enables me to connect the Riley onto the tow bar without the need for anyone to actually be in the Riley whilst it is being towed. The Riley simply follows the tow car all by itself.

I took it out for a test and it works like magic. It was quite strange seeing the Riley steering wheel turn when we go round corners but apart from that it is really easy to tow cars now. The X5 is perfectly capable of pulling the Riley so we now have the means of getting it home. With a safety net now in place, I will be venturing out to a classic car show this weekend which will be the furthest I have driven the car so far. If we break down – I just have to ask ‘the guvnor’ to bring the X5 to me. We can also take the X5 to race events as a just in case I break the Riley thing.

“Star of the show”

Today it was a cool 8 degrees with a chance of rain but it was also the date of the monthly car show I often attend in the Etype – but only on sunny days. The Riley of course is not going to be pampered like that.  Friends will know I wanted a classic car I could use in all weathers, so out of the warm dry garage it came. I was decked out in my trusty old Flying Jacket – which sadly appears to have shrunk over the years and is now rather too tight for comfort.  Shame really, seeing as I have had the jacket for nearly 40 years and it properly looks the part. But I digress!  Decked out in my flying jacket, a WW1 flying helmet, silk scarf, a pair of 1930’s leather driving gloves (with the huge cuffs) and WW2 goggles – I was warm enough, apart from my right thigh which is clearly in the air stream.  Oh and I had a cold face – memo to self to buy some sort of face mask for cold days.

I was feeling quite brave – the furthest I had driven the car was 5 miles,  2.5 miles out and 2.5 miles home. The White Lion car show is 8.5 miles away which is long way to push the car home if I broke it. I need not have worried, it was absolutely fine both in traffic and on the open road and I began to relax into the seat over time. The pre-select gearbox is rather nice to use even if you do have to get your brain into the right place initially. The exhaust has a nice comfortable growl at speed but that may well be because the deafening sound wave is behind me.  It is loud enough to think you are way above the speed limit but in reality you are not.  I don’t think I went over 60 (the speedo is not connected) and the engine seemed to be happy. Clearly, the car has more to give and could almost certainly get to 80, but 60mph is plenty enough for me. Moderns can overtake if they want to, I am enjoying myself and I won’t be entering motorways in a hurry.

On arrival at the show, a sea of faces turned in my direction (have I mentioned the car is quite loud?) and a rather enthusiastic organiser ran over before I was even through the entrance, asking about the car and then asking me if I wouldn’t mind parking it in the indicated prime position so that ‘absolutely everyone sees it on arrival’.  ‘It’s the star of the show’ he says.  ‘No problem at all’ I replied, with a smile that was probably visible from the moon..!

He was seriously pleased to see the car which was unexpected, but really nice. The owners of a 1930’s Alfa Romeo which is a pretty rare and valuable car wandered over and we had a fairly lengthy chat about owning and driving vintage cars.  A number of smiley Riley owners, who as a genre would not normally ‘appreciate’ cars being converted into specials, were chatty and complimentary. What really surprised me though was how many people invited me to visit their car club, or asked if I would be willing to attend their forthcoming car show. Looking back, I was approached by people wanting to know about the car all morning and I barely got to see any of the other cars there. There was a nice old lady who liked the flowery cushions that I am temporarily using as seat cushions, but I really should look into the cost of having them trimmed properly.

I have to say I felt rather proud, its the first car I have ever designed and I love it more every time I take it out.

So, on its first proper outing – I think I can say the Riley was a bit of a hit.  Driving home to avoid the impending rain, there were groups of smiling people waving as I drove past. I am still smiling as I write this – this is what classic car ownership is all about.  Happy days.

Shake down runs…

The centrifugal clutch (called a traffic clutch apparently) went back together smoothly and on the bench worked as it should so the engine is back in and working. Like the Guru’s car our Riley engine is set to idle at 250 rpm although it will actually idle at 100 rpm (which doesnt even register on the Rev Counter..) try doing that with a modern car. The traffic clutch now takes the engine out of gear when I stop and lets it back in when the revs get to around 500 rpm. It is incredibly smooth. I can bring the car to a halt in any gear and the engine doesnt stall anymore. I am not sure it is possible to stall it – unless perhaps I try to pull away in top gear which I dont intend to try. The square cut gears in the gearbox howl when in neutral (which is normal) and have the classic whine in every gear apart from 4th which is direct drive.

So the car is now fully back together and on the road again and it was only a minor step back. The tuning of the engine continues and performance is improving every time with the spark plugs being checked after every run and the mixture being tweaked slightly until I get the spark plugs to be the right colour to indicate the mixture is not too rich nor too weak. So far the engine is staying cool too. The passenger seat has been bolted down saving passengers from being thrown into the foot well when I brake (well it made ‘me’ laugh).

I have fabricated a leather (and brass) bonnet strap preventing it starting to open at 45mph. It transpires the wind at that speed is enough to start lifting the sides of the bonnet by a good few inches. I have a couple of  locking pins to install which will do the job properly to prevent it ‘flapping’ – but the  leather bonnet strap is both aesthetic and a period fitting.

Although I am not counting, the car has had around ten 5 mile shakedown runs. Shake being the operative term as bits I had loosely fitted are reminding me that they are indeed loosely fitted by depositing fixing nuts onto my feet. Each trip is resulting in something else being adjusted / tightened / tuned / fitted. We have hit 50mph which I warn you is jolly windy and on the bumpy roads I am using – certainly an experience because the car has a mind of its own. Hopefully on smoother roads it will not decide to wander quite so much. Apparently have a steering wheel that you can move half an inch either way without affecting the actual steering is a ‘vintage thing to be embraced because you cant take the play out’. The brakes need a reasonable amount of pressure as there is no mechanical assistance in the circuit but they are beginning to actually work pretty well.

Below you can see my design for the bonnet strap mountings and the final look. The leather belt is allegedly from a Bentley (not sure I believe that but it is very old) which I cut down to size.


To round off this update:

The car has been accepted as being eligible to race by the VSCC so, fanfare moment….

I have entered the Riley into its first competition event!!!  Assuming my entry is accepted, we will be competing in the Brooklands Double 12 on 17th June. Our first competition will be ‘Driving tests’ where, against the clock, the car is put through its paces around eight ‘circuits’ vaguely laid out in cones. The convoluted route around the cones is only made available at the event and we will have to learn each route because you get time penalties for getting it wrong, or for running down a Marshall. I have a few weeks to get the car in a good enough shape to have the confidence to drive the distance but I am planning to take it to a car show this weekend if time permits.

The Guru

Over the last few weeks I have had a lot of help from a local Riley enthusiast who appears to have a huge amount of engineering experience and knowledge about these cars. I have begun to tap into all that experience as there is no workshop manual to refer to. Recently the Guru popped over to provide a little insight into my rather seized traffic clutch whilst also offering to take me for a ride in his Riley to demonstrate how the gearbox is used on the road.

It was almost disturbing how slow his engine idled. At a mere 250 revolutions per minute, you could almost hear each piston firing… but with 1st gear engaged and feet off all the pedals – the car just sat there. Slowly he increased the engine speed and around 500 rpm the car very gently eased forward. Taking his foot off the accelerator, the engine speed dropped and the engaged gear dropped out of operation and the car stopped moving. Right then off we go he said selecting 2nd gear on the steering column. The gearbox will remain in first he said – until you press the gear select pedal. So we pulled out of the driveway and he then pressed the gear select pedal and the gearbox immediately changed gear. He now selected 3rd gear in readiness for using it and once we were at the right speed he again pressed the gear select pedal and we were in 3rd. This is why it is called a ‘pre-select’ gearbox. You can be driving in top gear (4th) traveling at 70mph with the gear lever pre-selecting 3rd, in readiness for you needing to change down. Apparently you get used to this after about 20 minutes of driving – we shall have to wait and see…

Below is the The Guru’s Riley 9

A Day Out

Last weekend I was lucky to be invited to attend a large MG gathering at Brooklands. Obviously I don’t own an MG, so the invite came with transport to the event in a 1929 MG 14/40. This is a two seater tourer with a Dickey seat in the boot lid – I cant imagine trying to get into that seat, it was hard enough getting into the front seats after opening the door. It was raining so we were wrapped up in leathers, flying helmets and Goggles, oh and the ubiquitous grin. It was a little hard to say how fast we were going because the speedo doesn’t work, nor actually do most of the other gauges but thats an aside. I now know that people in the 30’s must have been stupidly slim because there is no room in these cars. I had to keep moving my leg out of the way so that the Driver could change gear. There was also no room for my arm next to the driver so that had to go behind him resting on the back of his seat. Driving in the old days, I have decided was very sociable.

The rain didn’t detract from the journey even when it started flowing under the windscreen and into my lap. It was cold and wet and I was having a fabulous time. My Driver had to seriously work at making the car progress, the steering was clearly very very heavy, we both used our arms as indicators and I found out later that the brakes were terrible. It was great fun. I look forward to returning the favour and taking him out in the Riley soon.

Flywheel re-installation

Meanwhile back at the Man Cave – work is continuing on the traffic clutch with the re-installation of the flywheel. You will remember that it took me a few hours to remove this in order to tighten up a loose locating pin. Putting it back into position was much easier EXCEPT that the instructions from the Guru were to ensure that the flywheel was positioned flat to the crankshaft or at least no more than 3 thousands of an inch variation anywhere around the circumference. Well I can tell you 3 thou is only 0.076mm so this task is easier said than done! Remember – the flywheel is held in place with 6 bolts BUT it has to be pushed into position with a pretty hefty hammer. Adjusting the ‘wobble’ to be no more than 3 thou – therefore took me 5 hours of ‘hit-it / rotate it / measure it’ then repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat…

Below you can see the dial gauge placed against the smooth clutch surface to check for the no more than 3 thou wobble – as you rotate the flywheel it pushes against the very sensitive rod (seen at the right side of the gauge) which in turn rotates the needle on the gauge. The further the rod is pressed (or released) the more ‘out-of-true’ the flywheel is. For many hours I was miles out but slowly brought it to tolerance. I now also know why there are so many hammer dents around the edge of the flywheel. I do not look forward to having to do this job again.

We will soon see the rebuilt Traffic Clutch being installed…

Centrifugal Clutch p2

The internet is a wonderful thing – Facebook has a Riley enthusiasts group and the folks in that group have been jolly helpful  over the last few months. I have now found someone who has a spare clutch drive plate to replace my grotesquely worn one *and* he is very kindly putting new friction material on the trashed friction discs for a very reasonable price. So life is positive again.

Whilst I am waiting for the parts to be delivered to me – I continued my work on freeing up the centrifuge weights and fettling all the worn/damaged metal back to a working state. I noticed that one of the square locating pins was free to rotate slightly and seeing as that sits in a rectangular guide slot, rotating (and possibly snagging) is a bad thing. All I had to do was remove the flywheel to get to the securing nut. This was a Haynes instruction manual moment – “simply undo the 6 bolts and remove”. Except the ‘remove’ part took several hours and much correspondence to the Riley forum. Apparently hitting it hard with a large hammer is an acceptable technique (which worked). The pin is now in its right position.

All I had to do now was clean up the faces of the flywheel and the pressure plate so the new friction plates had a clean surface to work against. I was rather pleased to find the surfaces were pretty good and it was only the damaged drive plate that took all the wear.

I now wait for the parts to arrive and the engine can go back in.