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!

A Racing bonnet

The bones of the bonnet (or hood for our American friends) are now in place and it finally looks like a car. The bonnet looks much longer than i was expecting which is a good thing and I am really rather pleased with the overall look.

On the passenger side above the chassis, there is a fixed panel that fits beneath and slightly around where the exhaust manifold will exit the side of the car. The bonnet overall is center hinged so on that side, the bonnet closes down onto the top of the panel slightly above the exhaust, you can see the exhaust opening quite clearly in the picture below. The green colour is created by the protective film over the aluminum sheet and will of course be removed. The lower panel will have a long row of louvers cut into it to allow hot air to escape out of the bonnet area. The final 300mm or so of the bonnet is 0the passenger foot-well so that area will not have any louvers in an attempt to limit rain water being blown onto your feet.

Along the top of the bonnet you can see a row of vertical pins. These are temporary clips designed by the aircraft industry to hold metal panels in place during the construction phase and are holding the panel to a big brass hinge. They will be removed and replaced with some nice brass rivets.


The drivers side of the bonnet is effectively double hinged. It uses the same central hinge as the passenger side but it also has a hinge part way down the side that enables it to fold up against itself. In the picture below the lower part is not yet fitted as we were mocking up where the various bulges need to be to accommodate protuberances.

  1. The large oval on the left needs to be there to give sufficient space for the drivers foot to operate the throttle. The car is narrower without the overhanging saloon bodywork so the pedal is hard up against the side of the bonnet and is also quite close to the brake pedal. This is not a car for anyone with big feet or wide shoes! The bulge simply creates space for your right foot to operate the pedal through its range of movement.
  2. Moving forwards, the double oval is where the 2 carburetors are. The front carburetor would be  hard up against the side of the bonnet so it needs space to allow an equal airflow. This bulge will have an opening at the front to let cold air flow directly to the carburetors. To the right of this bulge will be 3 louvers cut facing forwards to let more cold air in. A common feature in vintage race cars
  3. Below the carburetor bulge will be a row of louvers to let hot air OUT of the bonnet area


Below you get a better view of the central hinge. There will be a row of louvers along each side of it, the primary function of those particular louvers is of course to allow the escape of hot air, but it is more for the aesthetics – i.e. it is more sporty.

In the photo also  visible is another of my design features – the rear bonnet curve has a wider radius than the front. The Riley saloon cars had that front tight radius all the way to the back which made the bonnet flat on the top and somehow more square looking. I wanted graceful curves everywhere but naturally I still had to match the shape of the radiator hence the transition from small radius to wide.  I think the Artisans have accommodated my request rather well – its a very smooth transition.


There was not enough room in the workshop to take a photo but when viewed from the side, the car looks nicely proportioned, looks as it should and is very definitely a sporting four seater. In a  week or so the construction work should be complete only requiring the finishing of panel fit, smoothing edges etc – then its back home for the rest of the build. The blog will slow down at that point whilst i save up money for the parts…

Firewall and bulkhead

The pace of the build is not letting up. The petrol tank is now almost complete and all the seams etc are beautifully welded together, the only items left to do are the mounting straps and the final placing of the filler neck. The filler cap itself will wait until the rear wheel mount is welded on and the TWO spare tyres are in position. In the picture below you can see the spare wheel and the petrol tank being mocked up prior to fitting. The filler cap obviously needs to be accessible but it does not need to be sticking out as much as the second photo shows.

In the top picture, note the rear of the bodywork curving above the spare wheel subtly, I am really pleased with how that worked out – somehow it makes the car look more sporting as do the rear wings presenting quite a lot of vintage rubber tyre.dsc_0131img_2946

Moving to the front of the car, the bulkhead is temporarily fitted as is the firewall. These were not fixed into position until I had sat in the car and we had agreed the maximum and minimum height of the steering wheel. Interestingly the throttle pedal  sticks out the side of the car so we talked about how the ‘bulge’ around my foot will look because it will be in plain sight when viewed from outside the car. Although this sounds a little strange, it is quite normal for vintage sports cars to be ‘fitted’ to the driver. Take away the expansive saloon bodywork and you are left with not much foot room so its fairly common to have bulges in the bodywork shaped around the driver. Plus i think people in the 1930’s were a lot smaller than we are these days.

Below is the first real chance to see the interior (minus the transmission tunnel). It is so much cleaner now with the handbrake moved to outside and the gear lever is on the steering column so there is nothing else in the middle. What you see is what there is. The gearbox cover has been designed to be left visible to passengers. I will probably only fit carpet to the wood floors.The side panels will be trimmed in a simple manner as befits the intended use of the car.

What was pleasing today was finding that getting into the drivers seat from the passenger side was really easy, you merely climb over the side, sit in the seat then swivel your legs under the steering wheel. All i have to do now is work out how to get into the seat from the drivers side. Getting out of the car was also easy, the bodywork easily supported my weight as I lifted myself up, out of the seat so many of my fears of struggling due to a lack of  strength in the body-frame have been diminished. Before the strength was only a theory but now it is clearly a reality. Joy.


Above you get a better view of the firewall and foot-well – all of this will be visible when the bonnet is open but this area is not yet complete. The bonnet now needs to be temporarily fitted so that all the constituent parts can be matched together. So that is the next step – a plain bonnet will be built, then all the louvers, bulges, cutouts etc will be added later.

Meanwhile and less visible to this blog, the fuel tank support frame, straps and mounts are all under construction. I am rather lucky that I have had the time to visit the workshop twice a week, otherwise I would have missed a lot of the build.

As Toad of Toad Hall would say…. ‘poop poop – exciting times’