Too cool

Evolution of the sports car starts here:

The original radiator core was replaced with a smaller, modern core when I reduced the height of the radiator by 100mm. Although it was smaller, the new core was always likely to be a lot more efficient than the 30’s design. You may also remember that I reconstructed a water pump from another vintage Riley believing the radiator by itself may not be enough to keep the car cool. It transpires that the ‘upgrades’ are both jolly good at their job and they are too efficient. The car when driving doesn’t actually go above 55 degrees. Modern cars have a thermostat to quickly warm up the engine and that thermostat opens at 90 degrees. What this means is that the engine in my car never gets to operating temperature which effects the efficiency and the power because I need to run the carburetors rich to counter the cold fuel.

Even driving the car in the recent heat wave made very little difference, a 30 mile drive barely moved the temperature gauge off the stop. But I grant you I have not had to sit in static traffic for very long and having no fan, I would eventually have a problem in traffic. However, I need to look at what I can do to improve the situation. Initially I am looking at the cheapest option of inserting an inline thermostat into the engine-radiator hose so that the water in the radiator is basically isolated until the engine warms up. I rather suspect though that this option will simply mean that once the thermostat opens the radiator will rapidly cool down the water too much again.

It is quite possible the final solution may be to remove the water pump reverting the cooling to the principle of thermo-cyphoning (circulation occurs due to hot water naturally rising which pulls cold water into the engine at the bottom) and having an electric fan for the stuck in traffic occasions. We shall see over time…

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Playing with friends

Today, the Riley ventured out to join the ‘Pre-War Car Spring gathering’ which was organised by a VSCC friend of ours and held at the Mil House, North Warnborough. There was promise of a genuine old country pub selling local ales and a hog roast. Oh yes and a bunch of like minded vintage car folks. Being as I do not yet enjoy driving the Riley above 50 mph due to the steering making its own decisions without consulting me, I used the ‘winding roads’ configuration in my satnav and set off in full Biggles attire. The drive through the country was great fun and the satnav (although I had no chance of hearing it) directed me to the meeting place with no issues. I will admit to being a little worried when I pulled up at a rather ominous looking ford but soon realised I had just driven past the hidden entrance to the display area.

This was my first outing where there would be a fair number of Riley owners – and I steeled myself for the onslaught of “humph! There goes another great car ruined to make a special”. Sure enough the first person to wander over said exactly that until I showed him the pictures of the car as-purchased. At which point he changed his tune to “well done, at least the car is back on the road and wasnt scrapped”. I am prepared for this and now have a laminated sheet of data and photos that I clip to the wind deflectors so people can see the state of the car when found. This tactic works as people no longer spouted the same old moans and were instead complimentary about the design and overall look.

I have to say though that the restored Riley’s on display, both saloon and touring cars were absolutely fabulous. I had no idea they were all so pretty and so different. All in all, I believe there were around 30 cars on display. I had a lovely chat with a husband and wife who have entered they 1930’s Buick into the Paris to Peking rally. They have only recently purchased the car which is all original (and looks that way) and having got the engine running, decided to take it on a 1000 mile shakedown drive into Europe. I nearly spat by rather nice beer out. Seriously, a 1000 mile shakedown drive in an unknown car – they must be mad, I have tip toed around in the Riley with maybe 150 miles under my belt and I am still not confident about driving it too far let alone entering it into the 10,000 mile rally! His argument was that if it can do 1000, it can do 10,000. I did mention that they may not be too many vintage Buick specialists in the Gobi Dessert but I have to applaud their adventurous spirit. I was happy having driven the 20 miles back home with no incidents 🙂

To be fair, the ongoing fettling of the car is worthwhile, or perhaps its merely driving the car and getting used to it, but it seems to be getting easier to drive as things loosen up. It is still noisy (98db at 1000 rpm), smells of hot oil, is very breezy at any speed and the suspension damping definitely needs to be the next job in order for the car to behave better on bumpy roads but it is jolly good fun and I am still enjoying seeing pedestrians wave as we drive by. Poop Poop.


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

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.