Launched in 1926, the Riley Nine proved to be a turning point for the Coventry-based company, which had already been making cars for over two decades.
It was powered by a highly efficient 1087cc engine, which offered impressive flexibility and was coupled to an excellent gearbox.
The model was an immediate success and spawned a host of variants, from the staid 1927 two-seater tourer from Reid Railton to Parry Thomas’ low-slung Brooklands Nine sports-racer and the company’s own sports tourers.
Another of these Riley Nine variants was the March Special. It filled a niche in the 1931-32 seasons for a more sporting production Nine model, before the advent of the company’s Imp, and while the ‘works’ Brooklands specials were constructed.
It owed its genesis to the ever inventive Kevill-Davies and March Ltd., backed by motoring personality ‘Freddie’ Lord March, who produced a number of ‘March Specials’, which would grace a variety of maker’s chassis.
The Riley version combined the already sporting Nine chassis with a close-coupled four-seater tourer. With their trademark deep cutaway doors, built by John Charles and Sons at Kew, twin spare tyres at the rear and wire wheels completing the picture, this was a rakish tourer that balanced the existing Riley running gear with a ‘modern’ sporting feel.
After seeing the completed March Special, Riley Motors quickly embraced it, making it available through the dealer network. It featured in Riley’s 1933 catalogue, for £335, where it was described as making; “a very strong appeal to all sporty persons”.
It is believed that fewer than 60 March Specials were built, of which only some 25 are now known to survive.
David Petts was living in Melbourne in 1995 and was looking for a suitable restoration project; in particular, a unique sports car of British heritage, as he had admired such cars as a young man in his native England.
He chanced upon an advertisement in The Age newspaper one Saturday for a Riley Nine March Special, which was in need of a great amount of TLC – evidently a gross understatement. Still, a deal was done and the remains of a car duly arrived at David’s home on a trailer.
He now had the daunting task of fashioning this 60-year-old rusted and damaged jigsaw puzzle into the car you see here.
He began by researching as much as he could about the car, and what additional parts he might need to complete the challenging task ahead.
David’s research revealed that his was an Australian-bodied version, or copy, of a March Special. Some half-dozen 1932 Riley Nine rolling chassis had arrived in Sydney during the autumn of 1933.
By the 1990s there were only four and a possible fifth still in existence, one of which was in Victoria owned by Colin Dennis. Unfortunately, a great deal of history has been lost during the passage of time, but it is understood a Sydney coachbuilder constructed a two-door four-seater body on these chassis.
The coachbuilder is thought possibly to be Callow and Sadler, but this is only speculation – Colin Dennis supplied us with some photos of a French Ballot sports car that C&S had built a body for around the same time, and there are quite a few similarities.
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The BMC Experience Issue 8. Jan-Mar 2014 Magazine
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