1965 Riley Elf


• South African import now in UK with all paperwork done
• Retrimmed in red leather
• Rot-free from dry climate 
• Runs and drives spot-on

The Background

The Riley Elf and its sister car, the Wolseley Hornet, were introduced in 1961, with a view to making the Mini appeal to more conservative buyers who preferred the layout of a three-box saloon. 

The key difference between the two was that the Riley was more upmarket, with leather trim and a full width dashboard. 

At the rear, the cute boot and finned taillamps, from the BMC ‘Farina’ saloons, gave the Elf a completely different look to the Mini, while at the front it got an upright grille and an internal bonnet release.

Although well-received, neither the Elf nor the Hornet were ever huge sellers despite having all the fun attributes of a Mini, as the customers of the two brands tended to prefer larger cars. 

Production ceased in 1969, a whole 31 years before the final Mini left the production line, making them rare, quirky and desirable classics today. 

The History

This example was supplied new in South Africa in 1965 and was sourced by the vendor through contacts out there, from whom he regularly acquires unusual classics that have had the benefit of living in a dry climate. 

It has been repainted in its original burgundy, with a retrimmed red leather interior. 

The Paperwork

There isn’t much in the way of service history with the Riley, largely because it isn’t South African custom to retain bills and receipts in the same way that UK owners often do. 

There is a copy of the South African registration document and a few other minor documents, though.

The vendor specialises in importing vehicles from the country having lived there for many years, and knows the process inside-out. The cars he brings in are sourced via classic car contacts he has in ZA and are imported with all of the duties paid and NOVA paperwork (port notifications) complete. 

The car will be sold with a full UK MOT on sale. All that’s left is to complete an application for first registration – something the owner is happy to help with and which is a very straightforward process. 

The Exterior

The Riley was given a repaint ad retrim before it left South Africa and presents beautifully, the rich colour scheme having a very smart finish. 

It’s brilliantly solid underneath and doesn’t appear to have ever been welded. All of the body seams are I excellent condition, and save for a small dent on the front valance below the bumper the body is excellent with no damage.

Most of the chrome and trim is good, although the hubcaps bear some battle scars.

Being a Mk 1, this one also has pull-up interior door handles and sliding windows, both sought-after features of the earlier models. 

The Interior

Inside, the Elf is a lot more decadent than a standard Mini. It has a full-width wooden dash with a functional glove compartment, and while the dials are still mounted in the Mini’s iconic central shroud, a wooden panel sits across them. It’s as well-appointed as a larger and more luxurious car of the era, which was very much the point when the Elf was new. 

The interior has recently been retrimmed in red leather and has new carpets to match the original colour scheme, though the seats look very fresh and will probably benefit from a bit of use to make them look suitably worn in. 

It’s a lovely place to sit, though, while another nice feature is the long and spindly ‘magic wand’ gear lever seen on Mini Mk 1s. 

The Mechanics

The A-Series engine fitted to this car is a later 998cc unit from an Austin Mini, hence why it says ‘Austin’ on the rocker cover. 

Not that it makes a huge difference, as the BMC A-Series was fitted to all manner of cars and is a famously rugged and reliable engine. 

Tis on fires up on the key and needs very little choke, settling to a steady idle and with no timing chain rattle, no signs of any leaks and no excess smokiness. 

We were able to conduct a short test drive of the car and can confirm that it’s terrific fun and appears to be in good mechanical health, with a precise and positive gearshift, responsive brakes and hugely entertaining handling. Just like a Mini, in fact!

The Appeal

The Elf and Hornet are among the rarer Mini variants and good ones are highly prized by collectors, so this rot-free South African import is bound to appeal. 

It’s a great example in really good overall condition, ready to be registered, enjoyed and used by its first UK owner, or even exported to the USA.

It has immense character and needs for nothing – a lovely little car and a massively fun one to drive. 

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Vehicle specification
  • Year 1965
  • Make Riley
  • Model Elf
  • Colour Burgundy
  • Odometer 93,878 Miles
  • Engine size 998
  • Location Norfolk
  • Country United Kingdom
Bidding history
19 bids
  • thomas1•••• £6,800 17/01/22
  • Landsca•••• £6,700 17/01/22
  • thomas1•••• £6,600 17/01/22
  • NikRoss•••• £6,500 14/01/22
  • gpercos•••• £5,400 12/01/22
  • gpercos•••• £5,100 12/01/22
  • gpercos•••• £4,500 12/01/22
  • gpercos•••• £4,100 12/01/22
  • gpercos•••• £3,500 12/01/22
  • gpercos•••• £3,100 12/01/22

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