1935 Riley Imp RoadsterSOLD
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Estimate: 75,000£-100,000£
Estimate: €109,000 - €145,000
Estimate: $150,000 - $200,000

AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of £68.168

From the Collection of Mr. Bernie Ecclestone

50hp 1,056cc hemispherical head dual camshaft inline four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual transmission, live axle suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs, four-wheel mechanically-actuated drum brakes.
Wheelbase: 90in. (2,286mm).

In terms of seniority Riley may be second only to Napier among car manufacturers. Both companies had been established early in the nineteenth century, Napier in the printing industry and Riley in weaving. Each was acknowledged as a leader and each passed along through the family the skills, training, intuition, and ambition that propelled them to tackle the challenges of the nascent internal combustion engine and the self-propelled vehicles that it powered.

Riley shifted its focus from weaving equipment to bicycles in the 1890s, adding a deDion-style engine to its cycle line in 1899. Simultaneously Percy Riley completed the family’s first motor car. It was powered by a single-cylinder engine that employed a mechanically-operated intake valve, an innovation of first impression. His later developments included the first known use of valve overlap, in about 1904, and a patented constant-mesh gearbox. Percy Riley and his brothers formed the Riley Engine Co., which supplied both Riley Cycle and other firms building cycles and tri-cars.

The first Riley motor cars were derived from the tri-cars, sharing the 9 horsepower (RAC) V-twin engine and chain drivetrain. Put into production in 1906, 9 horsepower Rileys were immediately successful in competitions and trials. Riley introduced its first four-cylinder in 1913, a 17-30 horsepower 2,951cc side-valve engine with five main bearings.

The Riley Nine was introduced at the 1926 Motor Show. Its dramatically different powerplant employed an overhead valve cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers. The valves were actuated by separate intake and exhaust camshafts located on each side of the block well above the crankshaft centreline. The valves were placed at a 90 degree included angle and were operated through short vertical pushrods and shaft-mounted rocker arms. The lightweight valve train and direct valve operation were years ahead of Riley’s counterparts.

The Brooklands ‘Speed’ model Nine was introduced in 1927 and by 1931 the Nine owned something like 20 International Class G Records at distances from 50 kilometres to 3,000 miles, times from one hour to two days and at speeds from 64.37 mph to 108.9 mph, many set by Captain G. E. T. Eyston.

Especially significant, even as the Great Depression settled its full blanket of gloom and trial over the world, was the fact that Riley made a trading profit of £79,000 in 1931. By 1933 Riley had built over 20,000 Nines and for the fiscal year ending 5 August 1933, in the depths of the Depression, the company made a profit of £77,910. Riley’s commercial success made it possible to continue to develop new models, one of which was the two-seater sports model called the Imp introduced in 1934.

Based on the boxed rail frame of the Monaco saloon shortened to 7 feet 6 inches, the Imp succeeded both the Brooklands and the 2/4-seat ‘March Special’. It was supplied with a dual carburettor performance engine and Riley’s excellent ‘Silent Third’ manual transmission, although many were specified with optional Wilson pre-selector gearboxes. With Riley-built steering, reliable and finely balanced cable-operated brakes, the Imp’s handling and braking took the measure of Percy Riley’s fine 1.1-litre engine. Its first victory came in the Scottish Rally where Imps won Class I and Miss Dorothy Champney secured the Ladies’ Prize.

Six Rileys entered the 1934 24 Hours of Le Mans and all six finished, the first time all entries of a marque finished the endurance test. Two 12/6 mph models were second and third overall and first and second in the 1,500cc class. A Brooklands was fifth overall and winner of both the 1,100cc class and the Index of Performance. The three Imps finished sixth, twelfth, and thirteenth, the latter driven by the estimable pairing of Dorothy Champney and Kay Petre. It was a resounding triumph for Riley and for the new Imp sports model.

The Riley Imp was in production for only a short time, during which only something like 75 were built. Their performance in road races, rallies, trials, and speed competitions has given the Riley Imp a reputation that is larger than its number would otherwise suggest, and one bolstered by the design that is one of the most attractive, sporting, and refined of any 1930s sports car.

Riley’s distinctive gentle ‘V’ radiator with its gracefully curved bright surround and tank is nearly hidden between the sloping wings that flare out dramatically over the tyres then back along the long bonnet to the doors. The rear wings are harmonized with a high, rounded rear profile that complements the cut-down doors. The Imp’s design eloquently expresses its performance and makes this model one of the most sought after and appreciated of all the light sports models of its period.

The example offered here was built in late 1934 but not registered until mid-1935. Its subsequent history is unknown until it was acquired in 1984 by Jamie Doggart of Guernsey. Although he owned it for only two years it saw much use, including participation in the Imp’s 50th anniversary. In 1986 it was resold through Royle Cars Ltd, later joining the Ecclestone Collection in 1994. Finished in black with red leather and a tan leather top with red piping that nicely complements the red wing welting, the Imp’s appearance is very attractively set off by a set of ivory wire wheels. It has a folding windscreen with a pair of top-mounted wipers (although the original set-up was a three-blade mechanism).

It is powered by a later 1,056cc Riley Nine Merlin engine, a frequent update in period to take advantage of the Merlin’s return to more reliable externally piped oiling. It breathes through two SU carburettors and still has its Riley exhaust manifold. It has an oil filter and the excellent Riley ‘Silent Third’ gearbox, generally preferred to the optional pre-selector box. A Vertex Scintilla magneto provides the sparks, replacing the standard set-up. As with most home market cars, this example was not originally fitted with a fan, as the cooling system is of the thermo-syphon type.

It was restored some time ago and has been carefully maintained so it now has a charming and very attractive patina of its own, making it ideal for enjoyment on the road. The condition of the car today is that of a largely unrestored example. The paint and chrome are quite presentable from a distance, but upon close examination areas of pitting, cracking, and chips are consistent with an older repaint. The top is quite serviceable, but exhibits some areas of staining, and minor shrinkage. The upholstery is newer and is generally in good condition, although there is some wear to the door panels and quarter trim panels, and the carpeting is showing signs of age.

Too often overlooked, these lovely Riley Imps are certain to be the centre of attention wherever they appear, as they remain extremely attractive – with performance to match their style and flair.

Reference Number 13182

as of 9/14/2007

Car 1935 Riley Imp Roadster
VIN 6027370 
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