Five Tri­als: How to live with one of the finest post-war era clas­sics

The Ri­ley RM is short­hand for the true essence of fine Bri­tish mo­tor­ing from the post-war era

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - This Week -

Do you know, no-one we’ve asked is able to say what the RM in, Ri­ley RM ac­tu­ally stands for. But maybe I can help. Ob­vi­ously it’s not Routemas­ter, the name of which is oft short­ened to the same ini­tials. Try­ing to find the an­swer be­gan to in­trigue, then ir­ri­tate, then al­most dis­turb.

Fi­nally, the other night I woke up with a start to find a ghostly blue di­a­mond-shaped Ri­ley logo danc­ing on the ceil­ing. Maybe it was a breeze rat­tling through my loft’s win­dows but I swear I heard a spec­tral but boom­ing voice echo in de­light­fully clipped English tones: ‘How can you not know the an­swer, you im­be­cile? RM means “Ruddy Marvellous!” Tell every­one that in your point­less 2016.’

Ruddy Marvellous. Just the mer­est glance at our test car and you’ll see why. That ex­pres­sion may have seemed cad­dish when these cars were new but is so much nicer than today’s lesser world of dis­en­chanted and dis­con­nected loud­mouths bul­ly­ing away in their new Audis and BMWs en route to Pri­mark, via KFC.

The RM re­ally is the essence of im­me­di­ate post-war clas­sic mo­tor­ing in a sin­gle pack­age. In­deed there is even a lot of pre-war spirit here, but in a car so much eas­ier to drive and live with than many of its con­tem­po­raries.

For­get MG. To many a mo­torist in the 1930s and beyond, Ri­ley was the pur­veyor of affordable and in­no­va­tive sports cars. ‘As old as the in­dus­try, as mod­ern as the hour’ was the com­pany’s motto. Ground-break­ing en­gi­neer­ing, turbo-cooled brakes (in 1919) and su­perb en­gines char­ac­terised the cars. That was un­til Mor­ris took over in 1938. Fear ye not, for Ri­ley was al­lowed a fair de­gree of au­ton­omy in pre-BMC days and the first RM, the 1 ½ -litre RMA, had the great twin­cam, over­head valve en­gine, along with other bonuses such as front tor­sion bar sus­pen­sion, rack-and-pin­ion steer­ing and hy­draulic brakes.

Our test car here is a later RMA, with some im­prove­ments such as a larger rear win­dow. There’s just about ev­ery styling cue you could want from this era on these ve­hi­cles: sub­lime, flowing, run­ning boards (on most mod­els, though not our 1954 RME), a split wind­screen, cen­tre hinged bon­net and a won­der­ful chrome ra­di­a­tor. Open the rear-hinged ‘sui­cide’ driver’s door and you are back in a ‘proper’ car cabin, with beau­ti­ful, soft, green pleated seats, a vast spoked steer­ing wheel you’d ex­pect to see in a some­thing at pre-war Brooklands, more pol­ished wood­work than a Vic­to­rian li­brary and a lovely in­stru­ment panel fea­tur­ing what ap­pears to be a line-up of town hall clocks, both round and square. Ac­tu­ally one is a clock but we also have a speedome­ter, am­me­ter, oil pres­sure gauge and fuel level dial.

Ac­ti­vate the starter, ease the de­light­ful short throw gear­lever into first, dig for the hand­brake and we’re off. Per­for­mance from the 1 ½ -litre en­gine isn’t go­ing to sub­ject you to G-forces but it is a lovely flex­i­ble unit with an ur­gent sound, ac­com­pa­nied by won­der­ful gear whine. What a place to be, look­ing out through the split screen over that bon­net, the wings gen­tly fall­ing away and… well, it’s al­most all too much. It’s Ruddy Marvellous.

Ri­ley is best cruis­ing at around 60mph, though it should be fairly happy at this speed all day. The cabin is a deeply glo­ri­ous haven of wood and leather, with won­der­ful attention to de­tail and qual­ity of ma­te­ri­als.

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