The 24hp Autovia Saloon
As if unaware of the company financial and national circumstantial constraints on the family firm, Victor Riley embarked upon another V8-engined project, bringing to the luxury market in 1937 a completely-new car, badged as the Autovia. This vehicle, attributed to Autovia Cars Ltd, Midland Road, Coventry, was designed and built in-house by Riley on its own production line, but it must have seemed to those working upon it that the Riley management did not wish to advertise its genuine Riley origins.
It was, of course, in a different class, entering a market sector dominated by Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Lagonda and by that Coventry neighbour of Riley, the Alvis. These were long-established prestige marques, often supplied as complete chassis to celebrated coachbuilders for completion as distinctive and distinguished personal and chauffeur-driven transport for the very wealthy, aristocratic or nouveau-riche (Riley, by contrast, had only rarely sold chassis for completion).
No-one could have quibbled with the design and manufacturing standards of the Autovia project, the new car to be available in four-light saloon and limousine form, both bodies being the work of the famous coachbuilder, Arthur Mulliner. Indeed, the Autovia could boast a very modern, very high quality specification, with an impregnable box-section and tubular chassis, conventionally-suspended front and rear on semi-elliptic springs, with driver-adjustable damping of a system which was also responsive to road conditions. A torque tube and worm-drive back axle took the gearing provided by a 4-speed preselector gearbox, operating through a centrifugal clutch, in familiar Riley style and very large Girling brakes saw to the stopping power of this heavy car. Laden, it weighed in at almost 2 tons). Another interesting feature of the Autovia was the underslung worm driven DBS diff which facilitated a flat floor inside the car.
Enormous care was devoted to providing the driver and passengers with full insulation from the mechanisms of the Autovia and from road noise and vibration. This “super-Riley” offered class-competitive comfort and, it can be argued, managed to do so while being somewhat smaller overall, and certainly lower and less bulky, than most of the opposition, yet offering plush seating and excellent luggage capacity.
Yet contemporary road tests, while highlighting the car’s quality and comprehensive specification, somehow failed to endorse it unstintingly, describing it as “interesting”; perhaps the experienced motoring journalists had spotted the weakness in the Autovia marketing prospects – no-one had heard of it. And with its Riley lineage suppressed, it did not engage potential customers who might otherwise have known and respected the Riley tradition.
The potential jewel in the Autovia’s crown, of course, lay beneath its impressive bonnet. To those keen to know and enthuse about engines, this new car on the posh avenues might just have caught the imagination, for unlike some of the established luxury marques, this was a genuinely-fresh design, a 2,849cc V8, offering 100bhp and consistent 5,000rpm performance, more than competing with the often-larger, lazier motors deployed by other manufacturers.
This new V8 clearly benefited from the Adelphi 8/90 adventure, already sporting twin water pumps, and twin petrol pumps, with a hot-spot-assisted carburetter devoted to each of its cylinder banks. In overall configuration, it was almost identical, with 3 camshafts managing the breathing of its 2,849cc Monobloc unit, based upon two 90-degree-Siamesed 12/4 crankcases, with their familiar cylinder heads. Like that of the Adelphi, it is a magnificent engine in potential ….
Unfortunately, the time – and the Riley Company’s judgement – were out of joint. Despite a very prominent Motor Show and advertising campaign, it seemed that the purchasers of luxury cars – if they were buying any, at this late-Thirties stage – hardly noticed the Autovia, innovative and impressive though it may have been. In all, it appears that perhaps 4 Limousines were completed and sold, the remainder being the sporting saloon, amounting. With reference to Autovia production numbers I can confirm at least 5 limousines were produced in a total production run of 44 cars. The theory that the overall numbers were lower was brought about by a longstanding gap in the chassis number record, but I have managed to poulate that gap with at least 3 cars, suggesting that the chassis number series was unbroken from 63101 to 63144. (Source G Thomas 2016)
Few have survived.
The Blue Diamond Riley Services Autovia
One such rare beast is the Autovia saloon purchased by Blue Diamond Services. FUU 388, Chassis No 63144, was registered in London on the 15th of April 1939, just 6 months before the outbreak of war in Europe – and significantly, long after the collapse of the Riley Motor Company and the takeover of its assets by the Lord Nuffield. It was the final example of this model to be produced.
This car spent the years 1946 to 1958 on Jersey, owned by Francis Le Gros and registered there as J1613, before it returned to London and became the property of George H Hydes, of Oxford Street, who recovered its original registration. In the hands of its next owner, George Weaver, of Stourbridge, from 1960, it often featured in the annals of the Riley Register. Acquired by a Mr Pickering of Birmingham in 1974 it suffered overheating and was scheduled to be resprayed, but passed through the hands of two more owners, being described in 1982 as being in “surprisingly good” condition, but needing work. It was berthed for a time in the Llangollen Motor Museum, before being re-registered on the Isle of Man (MAN 6559). In early 1988, it returned to England.
This very special motor car will require complete restoration, a multi-faceted task which will call upon the diverse skills of the Blue Diamond workshop personnel. It will be a huge job, combining coachwork and interior repair and refinishing. The greatest challenge will be to revive the superb engine itself, a programme which will almost certainly demand the sourcing of parts which are no longer available, the original spares pool for such a rare model having been very small.
Let’s look forward to seeing and hearing (just – this V8 engine was renowned for its vibration-free running) the mighty Autovia back in good health.
It’s safe at last with Blue Diamond.