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1951 Riley Convertible

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SAN FRANCISCO:  Al Edridge of Palos Verde, CA was born and raised in England in the 1950s and started looking for a unique British classic car to restore in the late-1980s. He spotted a classified ad for a reasonably priced 1951 Riley convertible. Al remembered these swoopy beauties from his youth so he grabbed it even though it was only about 80% complete and in many pieces.

The car was purchased from a soon-to-be-notorious Southern California collector / restorer who also contracted with Al to start restoration of the car as well. Thousands of dollars later, both the restorer and the restoration project disappeared leaving Al's Riley dream in limbo for over a year. One day Al received a letter of apology from the reluctant deadbeat and the address and key for a storage lockup in the San Fernando Valley. After paying back storage fees, Al was able to view what he still had. Funny how things work out, but he not only found his car, but an incomplete 1 1/2 liter saloon and a bunch of RM series parts unrelated to either car.

The body and chassis were loaded on a trailer and brought out to Riley Club member Hema Ratnayane's house in Altadena, CA for refurbishment. Hema and his dad, T D, have been active in the SoCal British car hobby for years building and collecting Morris's, Healeys and MGs, and were deeply involved in RM Series Rileys since acquiring one about ten years ago. There the body was removed from the chassis and the work began. Al, a retired engineer, would take care of the mechanicals and the Ratnayanes would rebuild the body and chassis. They were also restoring their own convertible and Al will rebuild the mechanicals for them as well.

The chassis was sandblasted and powder coated while the body was checked for rot and damage. Though most of the wood was sound, the main timber sections down by the rocker panels that attach the body to the frame were rotted and needed replacement. When the body was ready to drop onto the frame it was discovered that all of the rubber blocks, metal pins, and attachment pieces needed to be replaced as well, so the job slowed down until the parts arrived. In the meantime, Al rebuilt the engine, retaining the original poured babbit bearings. The engine was first tested resting on it's oil pan on the garage floor and roared to life without a hitch! It's run well ever since. Al also rebuilt the best transmission, rear axle and brakes (remember, he got a few to choose from in the lock-up) and installed them on the finished chassis.

The finished and painted body was then installed onto the chassis. Al explained that this was quite a project in itself, as the long front-opening "suicide doors" required complete new wood framing and pretty accurate alignment. The wood framed body, even with new mounting hardware, needed to be shimmed and was flexible enough to make this a long and tedious process.

No less complicated was installing the convertible top and internal cabriolet headlining. This had to go back to the trim shop three times before a proper fit was obtained. While the carpets were done in correct British Wilton wool, the seats were covered with a leatherette style vinyl for durability.

The restoration took about four years to complete, partially because Al and Hema Ratnayane spent a lot of time looking for the "right" parts. John Kirby, the spares secretary for the RM Club in the UK was an excellent source for mechanical bits, and Varlie Gordon from the US Riley club, who also lives in SoCal, helped with advise & direction and letting Al "borrow" pieces off of his completed car to replicate. All of the body parts were plated and painted off of the car and were fitted as they were needed. Al Edridge said, "The experience of restoring this car was quite a challenge but well worthwhile. With the help of other Riley owners in California and the club in the UK, the project made me feel like I was part of a big "Riley Team." It was a great car to restore, is fun to drive, and was a great way to meet the friendly group of Riley owners, both here in California as well as the British enthusiasts we met when we went to the Riley Centenary rally at Coombe Abbey in Coventry in 1996."

Al Edridge's Riley is beautifully restored and runs as good as it looks. The 2.5 liter OHV four can propel it's rather large and heavy carriage (about the size of a Kaiser Darrin) at reasonably high speed, though one must master the torque curve and know exactly where to shift. In fact, the whole car takes a while to get used to. It steers hard and brakes hard and then there's all of that shifting . . . But performance is not what the car is all about, though when you put it into the perspective of the other cars available in 1951, it's no slouch!

It is so beautiful that everyone on the street admires it. The Riley seems to exude classic style and good taste without any elitist overtones. Even the leftist of Communists won't take you to task for oppressing the masses as they would with a vintage Roll Royce, Jaguar or Bentley. Even the hot rodders are impressed (though I expect they are also mentally fitting it with a small-block Chevy V8), and the general public isn't quite sure what it is, but it must be something real special, and "it shore is pretty!" By Rick Feibusch AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Byline:  By Rick Feibusch AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:   The Classic Drive
Topic:  1951 Riley Convertible
Word Count:   941
Photo Caption:  1951 Riley Convertible
Photo Credits:  Rick Feibusch
Series #:   1999 - 57

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