RM ownership should be a pleasure but new owners can
encounter a few snags which might detract from this. Below are some
tips born from experience which will help with some of these snags.
Getting Comfortable To be properlyin
control of the car you need to be comfortable in the seat and able to
reach all the controls without stretching. The seat can be slid
backwards or forwards by releasing the lever on the seat runner by the
side of the seat. On early cars there is a knob which can be pushed
release the seat. After adjusting the seat position make sure the lever
is firmly re-engaged. On later cars the lever moves sideways but
adjustment is the same. The steering wheel can be moved in or out
after the clamp at the back of the steering wheel boss is released.
is also a very limited amount of up/down movement available for the
steering wheel when the clamp holding the steering column to the parcel
tray is released. Always make sure that all clamps are fully tightened
after use. Since the steering will be heavier than on a modern car you
may want to sit a bit closer to the steering wheel than you would in a
To the left of the clutch pedal is a foot rest which will help brace
the driver during cornering.
RMs usually start quite easily. All cars seem to vary
slightly but usually a bit of choke will be needed and possibly the
ignition will need to be slightly retarded especially on 2½
litre cars. The necessary knobs on the dash board are easily reached
and do not present a problem. Once the engine has fired the ignition
can be returned to its usual position and the choke can be eased in a
little until the engine has warmed up. It may be necessary to wind the
handle throttle control out a little to keep the engine running at slow
speed in cold weather.
All 2½ litre cars apart from the very earliest are
fitted with electric petrol pumps so when the ignition is turned on you
should hear the pump ticking as it primes the float chambers. Once they
are full it will probably continue to tick every few seconds. If it
continues to tick like a machine gun there is a problem which needs
investigating. All 1½ litre are fitted with a
mechanical pump which is silent in operation so there is no obvious
indication whether it is working or not. It too needs to prime
the float chamber when the car is first started and it can only do this
while the engine is turning and this can take few spins of the engine.
It is possible to prime the float chamber by hand using the lever on
the pump but this usually result in dirty hands or sleeves so most
people will let the starter motor do the priming for them. It is not
uncommon to find 1½ cars which have been converted to use an
If you need to start the car using the starting handle be
not to grab the handle in your fist to try to spin the engine. If the
engine kicks back you may get injured. Be sure to keep your thumb on
the same side of the handle as your fingers. That way, if the engine
does kick back, the handle can roll out of your hand. It is also safer
to use the left hand to pull the handle up. If you use the right hand
and the engine kicks back your hand will come off the handle and swing
to the right and the rapidly turning handle might come round and hit
the back of your wrist or arm. If you use the left hand your hand will
swing away from the path of the handle.
New owners may find themselves crunching the gears
particularly when changing down. The flywheel is heavy particularly on
2½ litre cars so it takes time for the flywheel to slow down
after the accelerator is release and the clutch depressed. Gear changes
need to be made slowly with a short pause as the lever passes through
neutral. If you want to change down quickly double declutching will
help a lot and toe heeling the brake and accelerator pedals will make
things even more enjoyable but for normal driving neither are really
necessary. Just change gear slowly.
There is no synchromesh on either first or reverse gears so a
small amount of crunching as either is engage from rest is almost
inevitable but it can be greatly reduced. Before engaging either gear
pull the gear lever back against the synchromesh in second gear. This
will slow things down in the gearbox and is almost as good as having
synchromesh on the other gears. Sometimes first or reverse refuse to
engage. Just release the clutch pedal and try again.
Stopping the Car
All RM brakes should be good especially those fitted to the
later cars. On earlier cars the front brakes are fitted with leading
and trailing shoes whereas later cars have twin leading shoes. Leading
shoes are more efficient than trailing shoes as the rotation of the
brake drum gives them some self servo action. The pedal should feel
hard without excessive travel. If not, then maintenance is needed to
ensure that the car is safe to drive. Hand brakes too should be good
although later cars use a long cable with an outer sheath covering most
of its length. With the handbrake applied hard the sheath can often be
seen to compress a little thus giving then handbrake a slightly spongey
feel. If the car is left parked on a slope it is good idea to leave it
in first gear if facing down hill and reverse gear if facing up. On a
very steep hill also leave the steering positioned so that should the
car roll the front wheel will immediate jam against the kerb.
We all like to avoid emergency stops so leave a good gap to
the car in front. He may have an emergency and slam his brakes on hard.
He is probably driving a lighter car with disk brakes and can stop
quicker than you can so leave the extra space. If you do have an
emergency and need to slam on the brakes make sure you hit the clutch
pedal at the same time as you hit the brake pedal. As noted above, the
flywheel is heavy and the engine takes a while to slow down so if the
clutch is not disengaged the brakes will have to slow not only the car
but the engine as well. Remember also that the rear axle has a ratio
around 4:1 so the load on the half shafts will be 4x the load needed to
slow the engine. You will have heard that early 2½ litre
cars can be prone to half shaft failure and you will want to avoid this
happening to your car.
Changing a Wheel
Punctures happen to us all usually at the most inconvenient
times and in the most inconvenient places. The first thing to be done
is to remove the hub cap without scratching it. An effective way to do
this is with a bent strip of steel as shown or an old push bike tyre
lever. Push the lever between the
hub cap and the wheel near one of the pegs which hold the hub cap on
and give it a sideways twist. This can be done one handed leaving the
other free to catch the hub cap before it hits the ground.
Next we need to loosen the wheel nuts a couple of turns. You might find
that they are too tight to be undone by the supplied tool but fear not.
A spark plug spanner is a good fit on the nuts so carry a socket version with a
½" drive and suitable ratchet handle or T-bar. If you are
worried that the nuts will be very tight, long ½" breaker
bars can be bought quite cheaply and take up little room in the boot.
Garages sometimes use power tools to tighten the nuts leaving them
overtight. This not only makes them difficult to remove but can lead to
cracking the wheels around the nuts.
With the nuts loose it is now time to jack up the car. Do not
change a wheel using just the original jack especially on sloping
ground or on a cambered road. It is necessary for the jacking point to
lifted a long way before the suspension unwinds and the wheel leaves
the ground. By this time the jack has become unstable. If a rear wheel
is lifted in this way the car will be so high that the other rear wheel
will have little weight on it and could easily slip. Should it slip
sideways the jack will twist in the jacking point allowing the wheel to
fall a long way as the car moves sideways. I speak from bitter
experience. Should the car slip towards the rear the jack could fold
under and collapse completely. Jacking up the front wheels presents
similar risks although with the rear wheels firmly on the ground and
the hand brake on the car should not slip either forwards or backwards
but a sideways slip is still possible. By all means use the original
jack to lift the car sufficiently to get a trolley jack or a screw jack
under the car but do this while the wheel is still on. With the car
jacked up properly give it a good shake to make sure that it really is
safely on the jack. If it is going to slip now is the time to find out
while the wheels are still on it. When lifting the car make sure that
it is lifted high enough to get on the fully inflated spare wheel but
do not lift it too high as the spare wheel will be heavy to lift in
place. With the spare wheel fitted on do the nuts up finger tight and
lower the car off the jack. The nuts can now be tightened properly and
the hub cap replaced.
See and Be Seen
Original RM headlamps are no match for modern headlamps. RMs
use tungsten filament bulbs with an output of just 36w on dipped beam
and 42w on main beam. Fortunately standard 7inch units are used so
conversion to better lights is easy. Sealed beam units can be fitted
and generally have an output of 45w dip beam and 60w main beam but even
these look very dim when compared to the lights on modern cars. Quartz
halogen units can also be fitted and these are much better to drive
behind. Of course they are not original but what matters more to you -
originality or safety?
The D-lights used at the back of the car are little better.
They are fine as number plate or stop lights but as tail lights
following drivers will find them hard to see in poor conditions such as
fog or rain. On a Motorway a fast approaching modern car may not see a
relatively slow moving RM until the last moment. Being mounted either
side of the number plate they are a long way from the side of the car
which can give a false impression of the width of the car. Even Riley
realised these problems and the 1955 model features extra lights
mounted on the rear wings. Earlier cars can be fitted with similar
extra lights too. Such lights usually have double filament bulbs for
use as tail and stop lights but since the RM uses the D-lamps for the
stop lights quite effectively the stop light filaments in the extra
lights can be used as fog lights.
The direction indicators (trafficators) originally fitted may
look good but are little use in modern traffic. Today all motorists
look for a flashing indicator and even if they see the trafficator with
its tiny 3w bulb they might not realise its significance. The
trafficators fitted to open RMs are set very low down and are
very difficult for other motorists to see. Fitting flashing indicators
to an RM is very easy and can be done very neatly. Motor bikes use
indicators which bolt on and can be fitted to RM bumpers without
looking out of place.
RM rear windows are small even on the RME and RMF models.
Mirrors mounted on the front wings are almost essential for safe
driving. It is better to use mirrors with convex glass as opposed to
flat glass. These give a much larger viewing angle and reduce the
dazzle from headlights on following cars. The outer edge of the mirrors
will align closely with the side of the car giving the driver a good
guide to the width of the car, if the mirrors will go through a gap
with a bit to spare then so should the rest of the car. Interior
mirrors which are simple pieces of flat glass can be changed to ones
which can be dipped. This is much better than using the original rear
window blind which blocks out all rear vision.
All RMs handle well. On original cross ply tyres they tend
to follow lines and grooves in the road but when fitted with radial
tyres they are directionally stable and need hardly any input at the
steering wheel to keep them nicely centred on the road. They hold the
road well during cornering with radial tyres again being better than
cross ply ones. On corners 1½ litre cars are almost
perfectly balanced with a secure neutral feel. 2½ litre car
have a tendency towards understeer but this is easily overcome by a
little acceleration to drive the car around the bend.. As a bonus,
radial tyres wear better than cross ply ones.
The days are long passed when RM owners were often seen
exploring scrap yards looking for RM parts. I spent many hours in scrap
yards in and around London in the 1960s and 70s looking for parts to
keep my car on the road. At that time Rileys had stopped making spares
for RMs so none were available from Riley dealers and RM owners had not
yet banded together to have parts remade. I recall one long search for
an exhaust manifold for my RMF including a search through a scrap yard
just outside New Malden. In it I found a line of about 10 RMB
engines all fitted with the earlier manifold. In my ignorance I walk
passed them all not realising that these manifolds would fit my car
very little work and were of a much better design than the later one.
My excuse is that I was distracted by the sight of a Monaco at the back
of the yard still standing proudly on its wheels. Unfortunately for
people like myself, RMs never appear in scrap yards anymore so the joy
of digging into a pile of scrap and coming home with a treasured part
is denied to new owners. RM are still broken up from time to time so
diligent searching can yield results even today.
Between them the various Riley Clubs throughout the world
provide an excellent range of spares many of which they have had
remanufactured as there are no alternatives available. Rileys used
parts made by suppliers such as Lucas,
Butler,Jeager,Smiths,Wilmot-Breedon, Sphinx, Girling, SU and Tecalemit.
These people supplied parts to other car manufactures too so parts used
on RMs were often used on other marques. For example some Rover brake
parts are the same as those used on RMs and the SU petrol pump used on
2½ litre cars is the same as that used on the Morris Minor..
When looking for a part, the part number is an essential piece of
information and an internet search will often lead to a source of
supply. Auction sites such as Ebay are always worth checking as there
may be someone selling original parts or parts made for a different
marque which are the same.
On this web site you will find lists of part numbers for
brakes, Payen seals and fan belts.
Doubtless we would all like carry everything which might be
needed to correct any problem which could arise on the road but this is
impractical. Riley included a tool kit which contained 3
open ended spanners, 3 box spanners plus tommy bar, a spark
plug spanner, pliers, hammer, screwdriver, adjustable spanner, 1/8 Whit
spanner, jack, starting handle, wheel brace, tyre pump, grease gun and
brake bleeding kit.
So what compromises a sensible tool kit to carry today?
Perhaps the most important thing is a membership card for one of the
motoring organisation which offer a rescue service. You might be very
unlucky and something major could break, big end failure, broken
halfshaft etc. and you will need to get the car transported home to fix
the problem. It could also be something more minor but which needs a
tow off the Motorway. Hopefully you will never need a rescue
service but if you ever do it could be very expensive if you do not
Most breakdowns can be fixed quite easily with a small tool
kit. Any breakdown needing a more extensive tool kit is
almost certainly best fixed when the car has been taken home as it is
all too easy for a small job to escalate into a much larger one.
Essential items for the tool box are,
1. a set of open ended
BSF/Whitworth spanners. Short spanners are more useful than long ones
as there is not always a lot of room around the engine in which to work.
2. a BSF/Whitworth ½" drive
socket set including a socket for sparkplugs. The set should
include a short extension to reach the sparkplugs
and the wheel nuts.
3. a 2BA spanner
4. Two screwdrivers, a small one for
electrical work and a medium one for general work
5. a pair of pliers
6. a lever to remove hub caps
7. a strong jack such as a trolley jack
or a bottle jack. To be really safe you might want to consider a small
collapsible axle stand too
8. a roll of sticky plastic tape
9. an inspection lamp or torch
10 a length of wire to repair
electrical items or tie something up
11. a foot pump if there is room for it
12. radiator top up water.
13. a tow rope
It is also worth carrying a couple of spares such as a fan
belt and a set of contact points. If the spare wheel is put into its
locker upside down it makes a useful space to store small rarely needed
items such as these.
For garage use a more extensive set of tools will be useful and it will
probably grow as time goes by and the need for additional tools arises.
probably also amass a collection of special tools such as a torque
wrench, a puller and spanners bent
so that they easily fit onto particular nuts.
Where to get
If you need help with your car a good place to start is this web site
which provides technical information for RMs as well as many useful
tips. The Workshop Manual is essential reading as is the
Driver's Handbook. These are available from many sources including
being on the Maintenance Notes CD on this web site. There are many
books about Rileys and perhaps the most useful is the Riley Maintenance
Manual 1930-1956 by S.V. Haddleton. The data tables in this book are
Both the Riley Motor Club and the Riley RM Club have Technical Advisers
who can help as well as forums where members exchange experience. The
Clubs also have local meetings (usually monthly) and these are well
worth attending not only to talk to other owners but to look at their
Of course, other owners will be interested in your car too, so fire it
up and enjoy driving it.