Why is nothing ever easy?

I am conscious I haven’t reported in recently…

This is not due to lack of effort, in reality I have been working on the car in a number of areas: primarily working towards getting the Engine up and running. Sadly I keep discovering that I cant do something because something else needs to be done first. Naturally I only discover this after working on the original something for a number of hours.

To get the engine running, all I basically need to do is

New oil
The Engine has been drained and all the filter system sludge literally scraped out – fixed the drain plug and wired it into place as per competition regs. New gasket made for the internal filter housing because it didn’t have one (no wonder it leaked oil)

Gearbox drained and all the filter system cleaned out (not as sludgy as the engine) – New gasket made for the internal filter housing as that too didn’t have one (no wonder that too leaked oil)

A barrel of vintage type oil ordered and received. The gearbox oil is replaced every 5000 miles as is the engine oil but initially the engine oil will be changed a LOT more frequently which hopefully will clean out all the internals.

A Battery
Sounds easy, but where does that get fitted (starts investigations into size / power), then there is the physical positioning (a standard battery definitely wont fit below the rear seats) – I also discovered the battery tray I had made for the purpose hits the rear suspension which had not been fitted when I made the battery box… also the battery needs a fat copper cable to transfer power the length of the car – further investigations into cable sizing / cost / terminals but how should I fix the cable to the chassis in a vintage style / where does it route into the car to feed the dashboard mounted kill switch? The starter solenoid will need a switch to operate it which also needs power (and a switch). All this prompts me to think about how to fuse the wiring etc…

Apart from the battery, where should I fit the ignition coil? Probably on the new firewall – but how then does the ignition cable route to the distributor at the front of the car without dropping a lot of energy? The ignition obviously needs a key switch (more wiring to work out). Then there is the distributor timing which I still havnt worked out how to do accuratly…

The fuel tank is in place but needs a pipe to be fabricated to feed the fuel to the fuel pump which sends it on to the engine – where does the fuel pump get fitted? Somewhere on the engine side of the bulkhead makes sense and is in keeping with other vintage sports car i have looled at. But what size pipe do I need to buy then bend into shape to run along the chassis and up into the engine bay to the fuel pump? How do I fix the pipe to the chassis that is in period? The fuel pump also needs electrical power / fuse / isolation switch.

I now have a working (in theory) water pump but I need pipes (that are non standard) to route cool water from the pump into the side of the engine block. I have a safely stored pipe for that (somewhere). Fabricating the pipe from the top of the cylinder head to the radiator has been completed but I now find I have to remove the bonnet in order to fit a rubber hose between the pipe and the radiator (what idiot designed that? Oh…. I will keep quiet)

I broke 3 of the 6 exhaust studs while trying to replace the original long ones with shorter ones. This annoyance resulted in more work careful drilling out the old stud and re-cutting of the threads so my special (smaller) fittings can be inserted. I now know the impact of not being 100% accurate in my drilling – the exhaust manifold doesn’t quite fit anymore – it needs the mounting holes adjusting to accommodate the very slightly off-centre fixings. I can advise that hand filing 10mm thick stainless steel plate is not only taking a while it is jolly boring… Once that is completed I need to make the exhaust gaskets from scratch because nothing is standard anymore.

Other stuff
I then looked at the minimum amount of things I needed on the dashboard to safely get the engine running and it occurred to me that if I made and fitted the dashboard now – I wouldn’t be able to fit the small wind deflectors (cant really call them windscreens) because all the gauges will be in the way. The wind deflectors need custom made support mounts (a fun job for the lathe) – oh and naturally I broke the glass for one of the wind deflectors and have to get another one made…

So bear with me when I am not blogging progress – I havnt ‘completed’ a task for a while and cant decide which item to part blog.

Progress is being made, i simply dont have a lot to show for it…


Ancient tools for ancient machinery

The last couple of weeks I have been playing with a new toy. Well its not ‘new’ to be honest, it has probably been owned by quite a few people. I mentioned a while back that I was going to keep an eye out for a old lathe. The Myford light engineering lathes are very popular which unfortunately means that they command an inflated price. I was looking at the Drummond lathes which were less popular, probably because they are older. I found a few Drummonds on Ebay, all looking a little rusty and unloved, then I found one that had been refurbished which I sniped in the last few seconds for less than half the cost of a Myford. Result. The downside? It was quite a way from me in Otley near Leeds and not just round the corner. Still even factoring in the cost of fuel, it was still good value. So I am now a proud owner of a working 1924 Drummond round bed lathe which will enable me to fabricate a lot of the fittings that would otherwise have cost good money.

Drummond were based in Guildford, Surrey and started making lathes in 1902 moving through a number of designs and versions until WW2. In 1942 Myford took over the manufacturing of the Drummond lathes enabling Drummond to concentrate on other tools critical to the war effort. Despite the age of these lathes, a surprising number of them are still in use. There is a 1/2 horsepower electrical motor driving the lathe through a number of pulley’s and belts. The choice of pulley alters the speed.


This lathe also came with a full set of gears enabling the cutting of threads to be made. They fit onto the left side of the lathe in various combinations and depending on the choice of gears you can cut threads from 2 teeth per inch up to 120. Naturally the threads this lathe cuts are the same as the threads used on the Riley! One day I will pluck up the courage to cut a thread but right now, I am learning to use a lathe from scratch. You tube is very helpful in this regard. The basics though are fairly straight forward so after sharpening the tools and setting them into the right position (thanks to YouTube) i had turned my first piece of steel. Next I tried some brass – also straight forward.

I have now made my first item – its not exciting. It is merely a short tubular section of steel with a grub screw threaded into it that will locate the main gear onto the drive shaft. The point is – I made it and didnt have to ask someone else to make one!

Back to the Riley. The sump was off and cleaned up. The sump plug was a very tatty brass plug that some idiot could not undo so he drove a chisel into the side of it and ‘loosened’ it that way. This of course thoroughly mangled it. Initially I had sanded it down so that it looked a little tidier then I thought… hey I have a lathe now. So the plug is now refaced and is usable again. I also took the opportunity to drill some locking wire holes into it because this is a requirement for Vintage cars used in competitions…


The refaced sump plug is not perfect although it IS now round again – there was far too much damage to it but it is now fully functional. The sump can now be refitted then I move onto cleaning out the gearbox…

Lights, oil, all sorts…

Quiet I have been on the blogging front but not so quiet on the do-ing front. I have found that the lovely Lucas 9″ King of the Road – long range headlamps that i have were never fitted by the factory on ‘my’ Riley – they should have been made by Rotax. However they are the right size, the right period and I am keeping them because they are not as expensive to replace as the far rarer Rotax ones – which is probably why my ones are the wrong type (my car was used for spares)

However saying this – a previous owner had also replaced the headlamp lenses with plain glass – whilst this looked okay, it wont be doing anything at all for focusing the already poor light output so I have been looking for a pair of lenses for quite a while. They are not cheap and not that common either. Rather surprisingly I found a jolly nice fellow who said he had a pair that he didnt need and would let me have them for a small donation to a charity of my choice. I am now the proud owner of a pair of lenses.

My custom built headlamp supports now look rather puny with the lamps in place but they are far more solid than they look, so I will swap the word ‘puny’ for… ‘elegant’.


The car as mentioned is up on high lift ramps so I had access to and dropped the engine sump and took a look at the inside of the engine. Draining the oil was simple as was undoing the 20 odd retaining nuts as was removing the sump itself. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to undo fastenings that have probably not moved in 80 years – that never happens with 60’s machinery. I digress… Boy was the sump filled with a lot of horrible sludge of the kind that a swamp monster would be proud of.

It is a fact that vintage oils work differently to modern oils – they are of a single grade, usually SAE30 which means that the oil is thick when cold and thin when hot, modern oils are multigrade and have a consistent viscosity through out a much wider temperature range. The big difference with older oils is that they are designed for waste carbon etc to ‘fall’ to the bottom of the sump and not be carried within the oil to be filtered out – this is why old oil is nearly always a deep black colour . Vintage oil filters did little more than hold back larger lumps of carbon etc.

This means that the sump is a horrible place – its full of thick sticky sludge. The oil was tired and will be replaced very regularly and certainly in less than 5000 miles of use but I didnt want to pour new oil on top of what i assumed would be nasty old oil sludge hence the sump removal. I was still surprised – I can honestly say there was 5-10mm of sludge to scrape out of the sump, I used a chisel because my scraper kept bending, some of it had fine metal filings in it. I suspect the sump had not been cleaned out in a very long time. It is now much cleaner although it will get a jet wash this weekend


What else…. On quieter evenings I took the time to revisit the water pump, repairing part of the inner casing and replacing the internals with new parts. It is old technology and it is never going to be a great distributor of water BUT my car never had a water pump so it has to be an improvement. Said water pump is now fully restored and fitted to the car – now where did i store the pipes that go with it…

What else… bodywork fettling of course, that is ongoing, adjustment of the handbrake lever and I now see I have to work my way through ALL the brake linkages because there is play in a lot of places… wish I had a lathe to make some of the components… casual eye on ebay….IMG_3086

Oh and I am trying to work out what looks nice as an instrument panel. Vintage sports cars were absolutely covered with dials, switches, lamps and other exciting ‘stuff’. This design still looks a bit bare but being blue tacked pieces of paper I can move the gauges around till i find a look i like. This is much cheaper than making a whole series of new panels out of 10mm plywood…IMG_3087

What else to catch-up on…. ah yes, adjusting the gearbox controls, I am told by the experts that this is trial and error. Great! Thanks for that. Right now I can have reverse, 1,2& 3  *OR* 1,2,3&4 but no reverse. Do I need to drive backwards? I think the excitement is probably overrated… but hey-ho I will keep adjusting all the linkages until it works….

Progress has naturally slowed down now that i back at work and the work that i have done since it arrived home is not too exciting because pretty much all i am doing is taking the body apart and smoothing away all the sharp edges. Coach-builders must have hands made of sterner stuff than my mine are, it didnt take long before i had quite a few slices taken out of my hands. I am getting there but it is taking time to ‘finish’ all the panels and converting self tapping screws to brass roundhead setscrews as I go.

The car is now up as high as i can get it in order to finish the underside and to plan out where the fuel pipe will run, where the battery will go, I need to take the sump off to look at the engine internals, drain the gearbox.. there are a million jobs to do the hard part is deciding what to do first…

Trial fitting the headlamps was the chosen quick win. The new mounting arms have been made from tubular steel formed into a pleasing swan neck shape and welded to substantial steel plate shaped to fit onto the chassis rail. At the bottom of the headlamps is a ball shape about 75mm in diameter which fits into a reciprocal shaped cup washer and the whole thing is then clamped down tight using the tubular bolt that fits through the cup washer and the mounting arm. Naturally I didnt have said cup washers but eventually found a pair on ebay for a couple of pounds. I need to finish the shaping of that cup washer so it fits flush onto the supporting arm but that’s not a big job.

Design wise these supports needed careful thought : they had to be placed so they didn’t block the radiator, they had to project slightly outwards so that on coming traffic saw 2 lights and knew it was a car, but they can’t be too far towards the outside otherwise the wheels would hit them AND they had to be sited so that the bonnet could open! I am pleased to say they fit and are in the right place. Phew.

Also ‘in production’ is a custom built aluminium pipe running from the top of the engine into the radiator. The chaps at bespoke bodywork produced the ‘S’ shaped pipe out of sections of aluminium neatly tig welded together. My job is to sand all those welds down so that the pipe is aesthetically more pleasing and looks like it is supposed to be like that. The task is task consuming and most people will not even notice the pipe. I will post a picture when it is good enough to fit.

The search goes on for 2 more wheels to be the spares mounted on the back. I refuse to buy new ones…

Bodywork complete

A major milestone today – Bespoke Bodywork have completed their work, delivered the car back home and helped me push it inside the garage. I am thrilled, it has come out just the way I imagined and looks exactly like the sports-car I wanted it to be. There have been a few compromises along the way but nothing major that detracted from my vision.So overall I am a happy man.

First thing I tried? Getting in and out of the car… luckily that is pretty straightforward and will get even easier over time, for the rear passengers – you can literally jump in and out, so I am happy. More than happy actually, i love the car already.

I guess these are the photos you have been waiting for so I will let the pictures do the talking… apologies for the car being in the garage where the light is not great – I could not keep the transporter crew hanging around whilst i took a ton of pictures. I will have plenty of time to take better ones.

Many thanks to Chris, Dan and Harry at Bespoke Bodywork, you gentlemen listened to all my requirements, accepted my constant input with good humor and put up with my twice weekly visits to your workshop. In a little under two months you transformed my vision and my sketches into something solid. Your work is outstanding and I will certainly be recommending you to other vintage car enthusiasts.

If you are interested in some of their other work pop over to the Bespoke Bodywork Website

So here it is…. our vintage sports-car! I look forward to all the family days out (and a little bit of competition driving with the VSCC)


A fair amount of the side exhaust will be ‘heat-wrapped’ to prevent people burning themselves – just in case you wondered.

All the individual panels are temporarily held in position by crosshead screws / 6mm bolts… these all need to be replaced (over time) with period round-head screws and Whitworth bolts etc. The bodywork will almost certainly need to be adjusted as it settles into its final position and the areas where panels rub etc have been identified before painting. A coat of paint is a long way off and the car will be driven in naked aluminum until it is truly ready for colour… the fun starts here.

Put your name down if you want a ride… I am starting the list…

Final fitting…

This week the Riley is being put back together.

All the bodywork, floors, transmission tunnel, bulkhead, firewall, mud guards etc had been removed for final finishing. Essentially this is the fettling phase of the build where the entire bodywork is checked over by lightly sanding with a Scotch-Brite abrasive – this shows up where any little bumps or dips might be. The marine ply flooring receives a dark stain and a protective coating. The various brackets  and finished off removing any sharp edges etc and the gaps between panels are checked and adjusted. From this point the car really starts looking like a car.

Chris is currently manufacturing the external exhaust system in the style of the Brooklands race cars. The 4 pipes on the exhaust manifold all exit the side of the bonnet and merge into a single pipe that smoothly increases in size. This then feeds into a single ‘Brooklands’ silencer (which is specifically shaped empty box) and then the pipe follows the contours of the body tub out over the rear mud guard. I look forward to hearing it more than I will admit to…

As of today the car is partly reassembled and I have to say I am extremely pleased with it. In my eyes is a beautiful looking vintage sports car, it looks fabulous and certainly has a wow factor. I will share pictures when it is completely back together and ready to come home.


Almost there…

Not too much to report today as the car has been stripped back to an empty chassis to enable final finishing of all the components. 

Out of sight are the completed headlamp mounts, front seats, spare wheel mount, engine cooling pipe, instrument panel mounting tabs, fuel tank protection mounts (more on that another day) oh and the  various bulges in the bonnet etc. Work has now started on protecting the wooden floor from the elements and the exhaust system. 

I am mightily pleased with the work of the team at Bespoke Bodywork!