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1928 Riley Nine Special



Riley Nine Special

Recent engine overhaul and running nicely.

The Riley Nine, complete with its highly innovative four-cylinder engine, was a popular car in the bustling hillclimbing scene in inter-war Britain. The only problem was that the car didn’t exactly break the charts when it came to horsepower. So, how do you go about fixing that? Simple: you fit an aeroplane engine.

Riley Nine Special

Year of build: 1928
Engine: 6.1L I4
Power: 175 hp

In the relatively peaceful years of interbellum Britain, hillclimbing became a popular form of motorsport. Places like Wiscombe, Shelsley Walsh and Brooklands quickly developed popular followings around a brutally simple concept: bring a car and hurtle it up a hill as quickly as you can. Many British marques made their names at these hillclimb events, not the least of which being a Coventry-based company named Riley. Growing out of a company making bicycles, brothers Percy, Victor, Stanley and Allan Riley stepped up to producing automobiles not long before the outbreak of World War I. By the time of the Roaring Twenties, Percy and Stanley were on the verge of their most significant project. Named the Riley Nine, this little sportscar would go on to become one of the most successful of its time. Stanley was tasked with the chassis, suspension and body while his older brother set about the engine. This, as it turned out, was quite some engine. Small-capacity, high-revving, and in many aspects far ahead of its time, With its hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined overhead valves, it has been cited as the most significant engine development of the era. For hillclimbers, it had just one slight flaw: the name ‘Nine’ also referred to its power output. Sure, the Riley Nine was low-weight, but it needed some grunt to back it up and that was something that this engine sorely lacked.


So why not take out the engine altogether, and replace it with something more powerful? It was this exact solution that was opted for with this particular Riley Nine Special. You’ll sometimes find it referred to as the ‘De Havilland Special’, and for good reason: as was the style of the time, the stock engine was replaced by a 6124cc, air-cooled four-cylinder de Havilland Gipsy II aeroplane engine. It was originally designed to power biplanes like the de Havilland Gipsy Moth, but installed in the 1928 Riley it produced an estimated 175 horsepower - a staggering increase over the nine horsepower the car was originally produced with. The power is transferred to the rear wheels through a Rolls-Royce 20/25 four-speed gearbox with a straight-H pattern. In order to get it to stop, the car is fitted with 13-inch drum brakes.


Not long after the engine was fitted, the car, along with its creator, Dr. Geraint Owen, featured in an issue of MotorSport Magazine in April 1999 written by veteran journalist Andrew Frankel. In the article titled Aeroplay Frankel described the sensation of driving the highly unusual machine around Silverstone, writing how, “in full race trim, with headlights and fairings removed, the Riley is geared to pull comfortably in excess of 100 mph.” Frankel continues: “Your first approach to Copse Corner at full chat is more than a little unnerving. Air rushing under the front mudguards creates rather undesirable lift and the nose displays a distinct unwillingness to follow exactly the direction in which the wheels are pointed. A sharp jab on the throttle, however, is enough to break rear wheel traction and bring the front into line.”

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1928 Riley Nine Special


Item Location: Netherlands
Seller: RaceCarsDirect
Joined January 2009
  Mike Walters
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Company: RaceCarsDirect
Country: United Kingdom
City: Race Cars Direct
Phone: +44 (0) 7970 736644
+44 (0) 7970 736644
Condition Used
Trade or Private: Trade
Price: €190,000
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Added: 13/01/2024
Views: 4761

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