A REMARKABLE 1948 Riley RMB has been shipped across the world from New Zealand to Hampshire by its long-term owner, who has donated it to the National Motor Museum Trust at Beaulieu.
James Welch, who had known the car for much of its life and had painstakingly restored it, generously donated the Riley to the museum and paid to have it transported to the New Forest.
This Riley RMB 2 ½ litre has a remarkable story to tell. Built in 1948 in Coventry, it was exported to a dealer in Switzerland, before being sent to the coachworks of Reinboldt & Christé AG of Basle. This specialist coachbuilding firm had carried out a number of body modifications to Riley drophead models, but this was to be the only saloon to receive the same treatment. Two German coins dating from 1949 that were found inside the car still accompany it, souvenirs of its time in Europe.
James Welch’s father, Pat Welch, acquired the Riley in 1955 as part-payment on his farm, after the car’s owner had brought it with him when emigrating to New Zealand. Joining a car club, Pat then started to compete in hill climbs and speed events, accompanied by his son.
“In January 1957, at age 15, I passed my driving test in the car,” recalled James Welch. “My father gave me permission to compete along with him in hill-climbs, before graduating to beach races and club circuit races.”
After a series of successes, including first place in saloon car races at international grand prix meetings at Ardmore, near Auckland, the Riley was finally retired from competitions in 1960.
“My father sold the car in 1970,” said James. “Soon afterwards the new owner’s son fell asleep at the wheel, when on his way to Wellington. The right side of the Riley was damaged and it was then abandoned outside for some years, hence the major deterioration.”
After languishing outside in all weathers, the stricken Riley was then stored for several more years in a shed.
The car’s spell of bad luck ended in 1985 when it was bought back by James, who started a total restoration, with help from the Riley RM Club. “I have been a Riley nut since 1955, so when I rebuilt my car I had to get it as near to perfection as I could.”
Having worked in the luxury car building trade in his youth, including a spell making body panels for Mulliner Park Ward on the Rolls-Royce assembly line, James carried out most of the work himself, including the bodywork, paint and the interior trim, leaving only the engine, transmission and seats to be rebuilt by professionals.
“After I sold my business in 1999, I could work full-time on the restoration of the Riley, spending up to 12 hours a day on it, sometimes seven days a week,” said James. “My guess would be that I have spent between 2,500 and 3,000 hours on the project. I spent approximately 150 hours on the interior fascia wood, while the hub caps alone took up 100 hours.”
The Riley finally returned to the road in 2007, still with just 55,000 miles on the clock. James covered another 5,000 miles before deciding to pass the car on. “I am 74 and with no beneficiaries,” he said. “I had dreamed that this car, because of its rarity, should go to a place where it can be exhibited for all to see. The time was right to send it off.
“I decided on Beaulieu as I had visited there and to me it was a very prestigious place, where the staff treated me as if I was royalty. Now I know I was correct and as the saying goes, ‘some things are meant to be.’ After having this car in my life for 61 years, I am so very pleased that it has gone to such a prestigious home.”
Once it had arrived in the New Forest, the National Motor Museum engineers could carefully extract the Riley from the shipping container that had protected it during its ocean voyage, before putting it on display.
The Riley joins the National Motor Museum collection of over 250 cars, motorcycles and commercial vehicles, which spans the history of motoring in Britain.
The Riley RM series, which includes saloons, a convertible and a drophead coupe, is well known in the classic car world for its attractive styling and lively engines. The Riley RMA and RMB saloons were both unveiled in 1946, and while the RMA was fitted with a 1.5-litre engine, the RMB boasted a more powerful 2.5-litre engine.
While a standard RMB originally produced 100bhp, this example’s 2443cc four-cylinder engine has been tuned to give 120bhp.
The Riley can now be seen in the National Motor Museum as part of a visit to the whole Beaulieu attraction.