The War Department ‘9’

The Riley 9 War Department (or WD Tourer) was, as the Blue Diamond team discovered last year, a study and reliable steed.

It’s relatively non-descript styling hides a well designed and rugged character– perfect for military, overseas or even long distance rallying!

What follows is a letter from a Mr J.O.S. Millar describing his exploits in New Zealand. He was sent out in 1932 by a Glasgow sheep dip manufacturer Youngs, to sell their product all around the country. As you can imagine, the roads were pretty rough and his first two cars were WD Specified Nines. The second car is now owned by Mike Gregg from whom the attached letter and pictures are from and best of all, it’s still a goer!

Many thanks to the Riley Motor Club of Australia NSW for allowing part of this article to be reproduced.

22 April 1985

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your letter on Riley Cars. I can give you some information on the two Riley War Office Rileys I used to cover New Zealand (almost farm to farm in 1932-34).

I was sent out from Glasgow in 1932 to introduce ‘Youngs’ Sheep Dip to N.Z. One of our Directors came out before me to find suitable agents – The Farmers Co-op. He must have thought that he was going to “Darkest Africa” for the car was fitted with two spare springs strapped under the running boards, spare pistons, valves cotters, etc, etc and two spare wheels with “Grader” tyres. We drove to Whangarei where he left me, handing over the car, a bunch of leaflets on our dips and the remark- “New Zealand is yours, do your best.” Some assignment!!

The Riley was most suitable for the rough pot-holey shingle roads of the time (50 years ago).

All the roads were shingle or clay in the back blocks, except for a few miles of tar seal in the cities. The road graders ploughed up and down to relevel the shingle which was “tracted” by the wider wheelbase American cars that predominated, so the British narrow wheeled-based cars spent most of the time with wheels one side riding in heaped furrows of shingle.

I did 34,000 miles with each car, the second 7289 was sent out to me before I had finished with the first 77-717 , and I think Dexter Motors collected it for me ex ship. Both cars did Ninety Mile Beach to Bluff each year. The first one 77-717 I sold for 120 pounds to Thomas Brothers, Kereone Road Morrinsville in 1932-33.

The second Riley did 34,000 miles and was sold to Mr Cameron, manager of O. F. C. A. Dunedin who sold it to Charlie Bell the grain manager in 1934. I cared for the cars like babies, the engine, gear box, front brake drums and steering joints were washed down with petrol every week. I once decarbonated one of the cars, and ground in the valve set in a hotel yard in Marton on a Sunday morning using the tools from the tool case in the leather side panel in the drivers door.

The exhaust system had two mufflers, a flat one under the running board on the near side, and from there a pipe went to a cylindrical one near the back of the car. The shingle soon wore a hole in the flat one from the constant spray of stones from the front wheel. I could have had a steel plate welded on to protect the muffler but chose to cut it out altogether. I was young enough in those days to enjoy the “zoom zoom” noise the engine made after this. The seats were leather with rubber inflatable cushions.

I drove these cars night and day and at the weekends all around New Zealand twice a year and remember the clay roads in North Auckland and Waikato and Taranaki, the snow covered and icy roads in Central Otago and the MacKenzie Country and the endless dust and heavy shingle. I remember one night about 10pm driving down from Mt. Cook in freezing weather in the open touring Riley. My legs and feet were frozen and I found difficulty in working the pedals.

I went back to Glasgow after 2years in N.Z. in 1954 on leave. I returned with a fine big Wolseley car but this was a bad choice for it was really a city car.

I sold this car to Dominion Motors in Wellington and bought a 2O/7O Hillman, a fine big car, strong and equal to any American car. We found that British cars at that time were not well represented and were difficult to sell even after one year’s use.

We believed that the first 50,000 miles were the best in any car and it. should be changed. I was free to buy a new car every year and had several Ford V8’s and many Chevrolets. I changed my Chevrolet cars with Dewar and MacKenzie in Oamaru for £3O and I must have had 1O or 12 Chevrolets until the war put a stop to this satisfactory trading. My last car for my work with Robert Young & Co was a big Wolseley, one of the finest cars I ever drove.

Our own WD – HX 6507 well and truly proved itself over 1,600 cold, wet and occasionally snowy miles on the Monte Carlo Historique Rally last year. During these four days, the car worked its way into our hearts. All around, it were larger in capacity and cylinders but our ‘wee’ WD kept pace — and importantly, didn’t suffer any mechanical issues. The report of our journey can be found here.

It was a real case of the Tortoise and the Hare. During the remainder of 2016, I covered an additional 8,000 miles in the WD including a 6-hour motorway commute to Blue Diamond.

Today marks 12 months to the day since we departed from John O’Groats and I know that Gordon, I and the rest of the team all wish we were back on the ramp in the WD again this year!