1938 Riley Blue Streak 16/4
Extremely rare 2 1/2-litre sports saloon; lots of history, from long terms storage for easy recommissioning
Riley’s moto ‘as old as the industry – as modern as the hour’ was starting to look less of a reality as the 1930s drew to an end.
Sales were falling sharply, Riley's relatively modest output making it increasingly difficult for the Coventry-based concern to keep ahead of the competition. By this time, the likes of Morris and Ford were able to offer equally technically advanced products for less money.
Factor in a series of reliability issues brought about by badly executed cost-cutting measures and by 1937 the writing was on the wall. Come February the following year, the receivers were in, ironically talking to BMW of Munich (who now own the Riley brand) about a merger, as well as nearby Triumph who were the preferred option. In the end, nothing was to come of this and in October 1938, Lord Nuffield had taken over the company’s debts, paying off the creditors to the tune of £140,000.
A savaging of the model range left just the 1 ½-litre 12/4 and a new 2 ½-litre ‘Big-4’ to uphold Riley traditions. This included the elegant Kestrel sports-saloon which could be ordered on either chassis. Very few were produced with the bigger engine prior to the outbreak of war, making this Big-4 Kestrel a 'rare bird' indeed.
The Kestrel's six-light body pleased the traditionalist as did its performance, which was excellent thanks to the lusty 85bhp 2,443cc engine and pleasant three-speed plus overdrive gearbox.
This impressive sports saloon is thought to have been built towards the end of 1937 although was not first registered until August 1938, presumably as a result of the hiatus at the factory. Its sale was authorised by the Receiver and the then manager of Riley (Coventry) to a Mr Nichols of Hull.
It is believed that he was Chief Designer at Blackburne Aero throughout the war, the Buff Logbook showing it was still in the Hull area in the immediate post-war era. His job moved to Filton, presumably to work with Bristol, their car division looking after the Riley. He was a resident of Clevedon as late as 1959.
Multiple bills from Riley Motors date from the early/mid '50s and additional bills from 1956 are included from Bristol Motor Company. It was clearly well maintained and constantly kept up to scratch, including a respray and a lot of work to the suspension.
By 1979 it was living in Suffolk, staying east with another change of ownership in 1989, with further bills from Blue Diamond during this time.
The file includes the current V5C, buff logbooks, handbooks, a lovely factory brochure, old bills and lots of correspondence.
Since arrival on site, we have been told that it featured in the TV drama Foyle's War, which would have been filmed in around 2002 or so.
The vendor acquired the car at auction in 2004 and enjoyed it for several years before it was put away in storage. He remarks that it was very brisk and interesting to drive, proving that the Big Four engine mated to a clever three-speed box with overdrive on top and second must have been a revelation in its day - almost a five-speed.
It had a guaranteed top speed of 91mph and a tuned example put in the magic 100mph at Brooklands before the war.
This car presents very nicely, with its attractive grey paintwork and original blue leather upholstery. It hasn't run for over 16 years now, so will require some recommissioning but what a car it will be - gracious, fast and comfortable.
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