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Rileys are easy to remember, impossible to forget

As the Riley Homecoming Tour made its way southward two years ago from the Bay Area toward Southern California, after Tom Cox, Tim Trevithick and Judy and Ian Hamer and their cars had left us, just two Riley dropheads remained, accompanied by support driver John Wood in his rented red Mustang; John would exit the tour the next morning. Our three vehicle armada arrived at The Paso Robles Inn to encounter a lone waiting man, who had been there several hours. He approached my wife Judy and me in our maroon and black drophead and Jim and Nancy Fletcher in their black drophead, which had been borrowed by us from Captain Max Munk (USN, Ret.).

He said he was Ray Boche, from Santa Margarita, twenty miles south. Thirty years earlier he had owned a postwar Riley saloon presently the property of Richard Kortum of Watsonville, California, far to the north. Our new friend Ray had driven north from Santa Margarita through Atascadero and stood in the central California sunshine for a couple of hours just to see Riley cars arriving in Paso Robles. Not many makes of car inspire that lifelong brand loyalty.

We chatted with him, let him examine the cars, putting him behind the wheel of one. Then we checked into the Paso Robles Inn for the night and he, satisfied by our encounter, went on his way. I thought of Ray Boche this summer when I was able to locate a former owner of Jim “Mac” McMahon’s 1950 green drophead with the front plate EIRE. Mac calls the drophead Kelly Riley.

It was in Ireland in last year that we first met Mac and his wife Gary. Less than a year after arranging for the loan of a car to Jim and Nancy Fletcher in California the Fletchers had responded with an invitation to drive their second Riley, a beautiful black RMA saloon called Lola, on the RM Club’s Irish Tour, three-quarters of the way around the island. Two days into the tour of twenty or so Rileys Mac and Gary, from the Washington, D.C. area, joined us with a rented modern car. I remember meeting them as our group took a fleet of taxis to a pub far from our hotel in Tralee. We contemplated liquid refreshment sufficient to make taxis back to the hotel a choice more intelligent than risking our Rileys at night on strange Irish roads with Guinness beneath our belts.

Then, almost a week later in Wales at the RM Club’s annual encampment, at Brecon, we were delighted to discover that Mac had much earlier been asked by the organizing committee to be the evening’s featured speaker. His eloquence and humor did much to raise the stock of all North American Riley owners among the rank and file of banqueting members. He revealed that he was late joining the tour because he and Gary visited Ballymena in County Antrim, from whence his maternal Irish grandmother had come. Later, he revealed that his McMahon ancestors were from County Monaghan.

As a bearer of the surname which gave our marque its name, I realized that I had not a clue what part of Ireland my people came from. I knew that Victor Riley’s people came from County Cavan, but did not know from whence came my own. I wanted what Mac had, a sense of what chunk of the auld sod had nurtured his forefathers and –mothers. It didn’t help that a day after Tralee in the West Country my wife had posed me in front of a ruin of an abandoned farmhouse and said, “This can be the old Riley place.” And before we left Ireland, Nigel and Jean Trotman had stopped their support car to tour a famine ship near Waterford that had carried immigrants from Ireland to America. I could not step on board. I felt like a descendant of slaves asked to set foot on a slaver. Thus started my personal Irish genealogical investigation and it all grew from Mac’s mention of his Antrim grandmother. He and Gary had been to Ballymena.

In the months since that time of perusing baptismal and marital records on Mormon microfilm and scouring cemeteries in Michigan and New York, I have learned that my Irish great great grandmother Mary Crilly came from Briarhill Townland in County Louth and her people farmed land owned by the Bellew family, whose castle is at Barmeath. We were nowhere near it on the Irish Tour. I have yet to learn where her husband, Owen Riley, came from. I am still on that case.

In responding positively to our invitation to attend the rally of Rileys in Indianapolis this September, Mac expressed the hope of discovering from co-participants more about the early ownership of his drophead, I began several feverish days of documenting the genealogy of its ownership. Not their origins as much as their identities.

When acquired with an assortment of agricultural vehicles in 2005 by a man in South Carolina who was not interested in owning, the car, the identity its former owner came from the RM Club, the car had been registered to an address in Woodland, California, not far from Sacramento. Mac wrote to Stanley Poole at it. He never received an answer, and there the matter lay.

I obtained the full RM Club file on the car by email from Gordon Webster in the UK. It revealed an owner preceding Stanley Poole, a Martin Pattengale. A Google search led to a man by that name in Fallon, Nevada, and after much massaging of public record data online from exotic sources I got first a fax telephone number and finally a voice telephone number. I called Martin Pattengale and was able to learn for Mac that we had a former owner who would be helpful, and, better than that, was a self-confessed packrat who would search both his intact memory and his vast collection of file boxes for ownership records and photos of the car. Mac and Martin Pattengale were set by me to talk about the car that each of them has owned.

Martin Pattengale remembered his Riley in much the same way as Ray Boche. He mourned it. He retained a strong fondness for Rileys, once having urged the late Bill Harrah without success to add a Riley to the Harrah Collection of classic cars. Although he no longer has a Riley, Martin Pattengale collects Ford Rancheros and has an AC Cobra.

I will continue to help Mac flesh out the genealogy of his drophead, its succession of ownership. Pattengale bought the car from a young man in Riverside, California, where Martin was completing his graduate work at the University of California at Riverside. It had been found in a declining state in a barn and the discoverer had revived it. After graduation, Pattengale drove it to Woodland, in Northern California, where he began work. The drophead drove from Southern to Northern California as fast and powerfully as any other car. After four years Pattengale sold it to Stanley Poole, who bought it for his son. We plan to learn more about the Pooles, owners of downtown business property in Woodland.

Poole or his son pulled the original engine, B4455, out of the car and replaced it with Mercury V6. Pattengale was genuinely dismayed to learn that from me. He loved the Riley engine and would not have replaced it with Cologne, German iron had the decision been his. (Mac retains the original engine.)

One dealership the car may have come from originally is Hornburg Motors, at the west end of the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the same dealership from which my drophead, originally almond green, was purchased in 1951 by a man from the Hancock Park neighborhood. I am told a high percentage of Nuffield Motors export Rileys were green. Hornburg was able to sell them as is. Other dealerships repainted some of them to more easily sell them to Americans, who wanted their foreign cars red.

A couple of months ago I was showing my no longer green drophead at a British car show in Woodley Park in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles and a man with a faint British accent looked at it and said, “I thought I knew every Riley in the Los Angeles area, but I don’t know this car; tell me its history.”

He identified himself as Michael Manes.

“You should recognize it, Michael,” I said. “You used to own it.”

We had spoken years earlier, but only by telephone. He spent a most of the next several hours of the show with the car. He could not let it alone. Once a Riley owner, always a Riley owner at heart. As I have said elsewhere, we don’t own Rileys, they own us. He didn’t say so, but I could tell part of him wished he hadn’t let it go. Like Ray Boche and Martin Pattengale.

If you would like a further update on the genealogy of Mac’s drophead, join us at St. Elmo’s in Indianapolis at 6 PM sharp September 19, the details of which, as part of the Indiana British Car Union’s Indy British Motor Days, are supplied on this site. I can testify, based on an Irish Tour and a banquet in Wales, that Mac’s a mesmerizing speaker.

Shown above: James “Mac” McMahon’s Kelly Riley, owned before him by Stanley Poole, of Woodland, California, and Martin Pattengale, of Fallon, Nevada. Click on Mac’s car; it gets bigger.

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