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Let this strange Riley drophead adopt you

Note: substantial price reduction at bottom of this article.

As the owner of a completely frame off-restored post war Riley drophead convertible, that version of the postwar Riley 2&½ liter saloon with a tonneau-bar-tensioned convertible top, I take a special pride in having taken care of a car that spent from 1979 to 1998 in a garage decaying. Thanks to my expenditure and the incredible craftsmanship of Hema Ratnayake, one of the five hundred Riley drophead convertibles ever made returned to the highway. Only half of these still exist.

Derek Wadman bought one of them five years ago. It had been the project of a man in Winnetka, Illinois, a town I know well. I went to high school there. This fall I will attend my fiftieth high school reunion as a member of the New Trier High School class of 1958. Somewhere in that town a man worked on Derek’s drophead. He installed a Ford straight six engine coupled through an adapter plate to the original gearbox and rear axel.

Here is Derek’s description of work on the 1951 car:

Overall it is 50% through the restoration stage.
– Entire chassis and car body interior have been cleaned and coated with ‘Por 15’.
– All fenders, running boards, hood and side panels and trunk lid are primed.
– Rear body and doors need work.
– Gas tank professionally cleaned and sealed. New electric fuel pump.
– New wheel bearings, brake shoes, some piping and system overhauled.
– Needs interior and top (I have a very good and reasonable ‘North East’ US contact).
– Car comes with a $300 ‘Easy Wire’ (still in the box) kit.
Included is a new $525 (boxed, but tested) full set of ‘Dolphin’ antique gauges.

As a purist, I lament any drophead raised from the dead without its original engine. As a realist, I realize that not every owner and restorer shares my belief. My drophead has its original Jaeger instruments. Derek’s does not. We are not really the owners of these cars. They own us. Some of them who have lost their engines and steering wheels still require restoration. Derek’s drophead is one of them.

Its firewall was moved backward to accommodate the new engine. However it achieves restoration, whatever its power plant, it will always remain one of the most special cars ever built. For the truly obsessive, it would be possible to find a replacement RMB engine, and replacements for the original instruments and rebuild an original drophead. But that degree of dedication to the marque is rare on this side of the Atlantic, but not unheard of. It is, of course, up to the new owner. It is most important that there be one. At least someone who will let the car own himself or herself.

Derek’s price is the same was for the RMA below, $11,000. He can be reached at by anyone who wishes to be owned by this perfect car. He hopes whoever buys it will complete its restoration with the Ford engine or restore it to stock Rileyhood. He would prefer it not be chopped or further modified.

For those of you who might wish to undertake restoration of this fine automobile but do not have the skills to achieve it themselves, let me recommend the services of Hema Ratnayake of Azusa, California, at or Steve Tate of Yakima, Washington, at Both of them have extensive experience restoring Rileys for paying customers. Either of them could well take over the restoration that proved beyond Derek’s stewardship. Or, if you have the skills yourself, even better. A replacement Riley engine for this or any other Riley requiring a 2&½ liter engine is available in the west from Steve Tate or in the midwest from Dave Norton of Saline, Michigan, at

Those who attempt restorations of Rileys and deliver them into capable hands deserve special commendation in the world of Magnificent Motoring. Anyone wishing to buy one of Derek’s Riley RMs who wishes to transport them to either Hema’s or Steve’s workshops in the west would do well to use the services of Intercity Lines. They are easy to find on the internet. Tell them we sent you.

PS: To readers of the companion item below, do not confuse John Sims “Shipwreck” Kelly the football player and husband of a socialite with Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly the famous flagpole sitter of the same area. Not all Shipwreck Kellys were created equal or purchased beautiful Riley automobiles.

The owner listed this auto for sale on eBay and despite spirited bidding the highest bidder came less than five hundred dollars below the seller’s reserve price. This car is that bargain many would-be drophead owners have dreamed of, but the seller is not going to give it away. He will, however, still entertain reasonable offers.

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