The One and Only – 1905 Riley 9hp

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Dale Vinten

To know that you own the one and only example of something in existence must be quite a satisfying feeling. Whatever the object may be, that true sense of uniqueness that comes from there not being another like it anywhere in the world is an appealing notion. That must have been what all the fuss was about with NFTs. Yeah, we still don’t really get it either but this isn’t a nerdy tech seminar, this is Car & Classic and we want to talk about a rather special Riley 9hp as oppose to a digital image of a monkey wearing a hat…

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Although not active since the ’60s, Riley is a name synonymous with British classics and is one that still resonates with enthusiasts to this day. From its beautiful RM series of cars to the cutesy one point five, Riley models are still very much sought after in the classic world. That’s not to mention the myriad racing and sports cars the company produced over its 60 year-plus lifespan.

Yep, that’s right, the Riley company dates all the way back to the end of the 19th century when it began producing bicycles. Interest would soon turn to motorised transport, however, beginning first with motorcycle engines for both two and three-wheeled applications and then naturally progressing on to four-wheeled transport as this burgeoning new phenomenon was taking hold around the world. Skip forward a few years to 1907 and the very first “car” was churned out by Riley, named the 9hp because, well, it had 9 horsepower…

Utilising the same twin 4 1/2hp units on a shared crankshaft as fitted to the earlier Tricar a year before, the Riley 9hp was an elegant four-wheeled tourer and an incredibly early example of British automotive engineering. Not only that but today it is an especially rare beast because only three examples are still in existence anywhere in the world (well, four if you count the replica in New Zealand).

Actually, there is one other, and it’s pretty damn special. You see, before the first Riley 9hp hit the streets there would have been a development process. Car’s don’t just materialise out of thin air and go on sale. There’s research and development to carry out, prototypes to build and refine, testing to be done and myriad other factors to take into consideration when building a car, and that’s likely exactly what Riley did with this 1905 9hp, registered now as CW 151.

Discovered on a farm after being hidden away from the ravages of war, the car (well, we say car but in reality it was a little more than a collection of scattered parts and metal debris) was rescued by the fine folk at Bridge Classic Cars in Suffolk who in 2020 began a long and painstaking journey to restore this historically significant car and bring it back to life.

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But how on earth does one approach a project like this when there is next to no reference material available? With great bloody difficulty, that’s how, but with will, determination and the incredible help of people across the UK, as well as various skilled specialists and the British Motor Museum in Gaydon (proving once more how truly wonderful the classic community is), original pieces of the car thought lost forever were returned, including a factory radiator discovered during a house clearance! All of which meant that the car’s originality could be preserved and the project completed.

Painstakingly restored by hand over four years, notable Riley expert Geoff Haviland of the Riley Cars Archive Heritage Trust was called in to inspect the 1905 car. Everyone held their breath as Geoff cast his professional eye over the Riley and an audible sigh of collective relief could be heard when the car’s provenance was vindicated with Geoff strongly believing it to be an experimental precursor to Riley’s first four-wheeled chassis. The details, although similar to those of the 1907 production model, exhibit distinct variations such as a longer front end, unique door and seating configurations, and other subtle differences that suggest its experimental nature.

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Rob Harvey, Marketing Manager at Bridge Classic Cars, told us: “There aren’t many times in life when you get the opportunity to be close to a vehicle that genuinely changed automotive history but, without this car, our cars would all likely be very different today”. He went on to say: “This 1905 Riley 9hp is believed to be an experimental design, produced for the test programme of Riley’s first four-wheeled chassis and as sad as we will be to see this one-off car leave the workshop, I’m excited to think that it will end up in a special collection where it can be appreciated and admired as much as it deserves to be”.

Hand-painted by renowned sign writer Joby Carter and restored with a focus on preserving and re-using original components, with a high percentage of the vehicle being authentic, the car also comes with a professionally framed original roof and seat cover, adding to that historical authenticity and making this extraordinary 119-year-old Riley a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for automotive enthusiasts and collectors alike

Call it by its name or call it by its number, this Riley 9hp truly is the one and only. For this job the guys at Bridge Classics were the best men and they’ve done a phenomenal job of bringing this prototype back to life. With high hopes and aspirations they’ve breathed new life into the car, allowing it to now drive with dignity and pride and it’s for sale right here on Car & Classic.

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Make no mistake folks, this is an incredibly special, one of a kind car and the culmination of over four years of research, passion, skill and craftsmanship to preserve an early piece of British motoring history. Extraordinary.

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