Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Riley was numbered among Britain’s most successful manufacturers of sports cars, sporting saloons, and even luxury limousines.
Their characteristic, slightly raffish and aristocratic styling did not survive the 1952 merger of the Nuffield group (including Riley) with Austin, which formed BMC. It took five years for the merger to bear fruit: twin replacements for the Morris Minor 1000, to be launched as the Wolseley 1500 and then later, the Riley 1.5.
It was a radical change for the Riley. Fifty years of sporting elegance was replaced by a four-door, mid-size family saloon on which awkward curves vied uncomfortably with straight lines. The Riley 1.5 looked like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to look American, or just a little like a Jaguar, if only by its suggestive grille shape.
It was safe, solid, comfortable, and at least it was more powerful than the Wolseley, with which it shared so many Morris Minor components. Both were fitted with the BMC B-series engine, but the Riley’s twin SU carburetors gave it substantially more clout. It also had some of the same attention to interior detail of its more magnificent Riley predecessors, like the walnut veneer and extensive dial arrangement of the fascia.
The Riley 1.5 was successful enough to warrant a Mark II version, an almost entirely cosmetic style-tweak that enabled it to be sold in a sporty duo-tone version, and in 1961, a Mark III, with lower suspension.
In fact, BMC’s Australian-built Riley 1.5s incorporated more changes than were ever made in Britain. In its place of origin, the Riley 1.5 is a monument to motoring decency. Impeccably behaved, and both comfortable and speedy, it belongs neither to the past nor the future. It’s in the middle.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1957 (until 1965)
1,489 cc Straight Four
Top speed of 84 mph (135 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 24.8 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Riley 1.5 had a high final drive in the axle, which meant it could cruise comfortably at speed. For a small car, it also proved surprisingly lively in contemporary races and rallies. Its Riley ancestors would have approved.