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The latest Riley in Amy’s growing stable

Amy Roedl Tulk of Downey, California, is moving up in the world. From right hand to left hand drive. From saloon to drophead. Since returning from the Riley event in Indianapolis Amy married Jim Tulk, who attended with her. A catalog of their cars may be viewed at http:/www.baycityrodders.com at Member List & Photos. But it did not, when this was posted, include the absolute latest. After the death of longtime Riley Motor Club leader Varlie Gordon on May 15, 2009. Amy purchased Varlie’s louvered drophead from his sons. It is a car, as was its owner, deeply beloved to veteran club members. It is shown in front of Amy’s Spanish Colonial bungalow in Downey, California. Amy drove it there from Varlie’s place in Whittier. It is the first Riley in which your club president ever had the privilege of riding, driven a decade and a half ago by that most noble of drivers, Varlie, who was 94 when he died. When I spoke to him late in 2008 tracing down an earlier owner of Mac McMahon’s drophead, Varlie’s memory for club details was as sharp and coherent as ever. More about Varlie later.

As for the car, Amy said: Jim and I took it to Frisco’s in Long Beach for a car show Saturday night. It ran strong. What a pleasure to drive; no wonder they called it Magnificent Motoring. On the way home it reminded me so much of riding around in the Healey when I was a kid . . . the cool night air, my hair flying all around, the heat coming up from the floor to keep us warm . . . There was a fireworks show in Lakewood that we drove underneath . . . spectacular. I am so happy to have this car!

Amy and Jim are shown below among the carnivores at St. Elmo’s in Indianapolis. She’s just to the left of the famous first lady Judy Riley.

Vintage Riley automobiles are, of course, not really the property of their owners. We who maintain them know they own us. And so although Varlie’s car is now Amy’s it will remain Varlie’s forever. His glasses and cap were in the car when she bought it and she planned to keep them there.

If you would like a closer look at the car just click on it and it will enlarge.

Red meat and Riley talk in Indianapolis

Lex, the impeccable waiter, asked this crowd of diners at St. Elmo Steakhouse whether any of them would be interested in fish and there was not a sound. Carnivores all, we talked Rileys at the downtown Indianapolis institution, founded just before Riley began distributing its Tri-Car, in 1902. From left to right, in the photo you can click on to enlarge, are Bill and Doni Amis, of Norman, Oklahoma; Dave and Ellen Norton, of Saline, Michigan; in the foreground Mabel and John Thompson, of Webster, New York; just above Mabel with the scarlet shirt and broad smile is James “Mac” McMahon, of Lewes, Delaware; the tall fellow just right of Mac, grinning widely, is yours truly, John Riley, club President, of Los Angeles, California; the dapper gentleman next to me with his hand on his beautiful wife Bonnie’s shoulder is Bob Bryant, of Fairland, Indiana; the couple to the right of the Bryants are Jim Tulk and Amy Roedl, of Downey, California. Jim is a car fanatic new to Rileys and new to Amy and learning both fast. To the right of them is the First Lady of The Riley Motor Club Of North America, Judy Riley, my wife of a little more than 46 years.

We had expected Sandy Turner, our host member from Indianapolis, but he was unexpectedly held over in a sales meeting in Williamsport, New York, and arrived back in Indianapolis a couple of hours after this photo was taken. He joined us the next morning with the green drophead his father bought new. Health emergencies forced the last minute cancellations of Jim Harris, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, Kathy and Ken Nelson, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and my doppleganger, John H. (for Henry) Riley, of Mobridge, South Dakota. We missed them that night and the next two days we missed Jim’s saloon Chester, the saloon of Kathy and Ken Nelson and the drophead convertible of The Other John Riley.

Amy’s most recent love, a Riley RMB

Amy Roedl had been through tough times. A divorce, a fire in her house in Downey, California, and the things that go bump in the night with teenage kids. Everything is better now because she decided to splurge on this beautiful two-tone green and black Riley RMB. She bought it on eBay from Karen and Don Irving in Massachusetts and flew out to take delivery. That’s Amy and her new friend, who lives with her now, far from the snow, having been hauled across America by InterCity. Amy’s new Riley will stay home in California, but Amy will be among us at St. Elmo’s Steakhouse in Indianapolis. Riley cars will improve any life situation. If you don’t believe me, join us and ask Amy yourself.
Shown above: Amy Roedl and her black RMB with green bonnet. Click on it and it grows.

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.

Join us as Rileys rally at Indianapolis

Rileys at Lime Rock, 2005
The Indiana British Car Union in its wisdom has selected Riley as marque of the year for its annual fall rally and show late this September. This will give Midwestern Riley owners their first major event. In recent years events have transpired at Lime Rock, Connecticut, Los Angeles, Palo Alto and Palos Verdes, California. This year, on short notice we apologize for, we shall meet between both coasts in the heartland.
Our table at St. Elmo
The Riley Motor Club Of North America invites all Riley owners and aficionados to attend this year’s Indy British Motor Days event in Indianapolis from Friday, September 19, through Sunday, September 21. Details of how to register for the event and book the Brickyard Inn are at http://www.geocities.com/indybritishcarunion/

Please cut and paste the above address into the URL box in your browser and when the page comes up select Indy British Motor Days 2008.

We shall begin Friday night with an event for Riley attendees only, a dinner at 6 PM sharp in the Directors Room at St. Elmo Steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis, a drive of a quarter to half an hour from the hotel. If you will be attending, please reserve seats at the Riley dinner by email to John Riley, at jr@rileymotorclub.com.
Riley folk at Palo Alto, 2006
In keeping with the tradition we inaugurated upon the last minute cancellation of Victor Riley as featured speaker two years ago at Lime Rock and Los Angeles, we will ask all Riley owners after dinner to speak briefly about their cars. After dinner we can join the locals for drinks at the hospitality suite back at the Brickyard Inn.

The ICBU event features a well-planned Saturday all-day rally in the countryside around Indianapolis. As an attendee without car last year, we was able to catch a ride in a local MG. The puzzles to be solved are ingenious and offer utmost challenges to both driver and passenger navigator skills. We urge you to book and attend the ICBU dinner at the Brickyard Inn Saturday night.

Sunday, cars will be shown in the fields surrounding an American Legion Post in Carmel, an upscale Indianapolis suburb. Sandy Turner, once editor of Rileyfax, the former journal of Riley Motor Club USA, is a prominent local Riley owner. His drophead will require lots of imported company, as all Rileys attending will be judged as a class.
Rileys & Riley-powered Healy at Palos Verdes
The last time the club was able to arrange a Riley only class for judging was in 2006 at the Palos Verdes Concours. Do not feel your car must be in excellent condition to attend. And if your car is unassembled or not able to travel, please consider attending without your Riley. As we have discovered at Riley events over the past few years on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s the Riley people who make the difference.

Please direct all questions about this event to John Riley at jr@rileymotorclub.com.

In days of yore this event drew as many as ten mostly postwar Rileys. Let’s hope we can double that on short notice and attract some earlier and later Rileys as well.

Shown above, Riley attendees at Lime Rock, 2005, Palo Alto & Palos Verdes, 2006; Directors Room at St. Elmo Steakhouse.

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 derekwad02@aol.com 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 HEMAVINTAGEAUTO@msn.com or Steve Tate of Yakima, Washington, at Bontate@aol.com. 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 iswc2@yahoo.com.

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.

Complete this cafe society Riley RMA


In my wanderings around the west side of Los Angeles and the self-contained municipality of Beverly Hills, where I have kept an office since 1967, an occasional fellow driver will look not just with admiration at my gleaming 1951 Riley drophead convertible but with joyful recognition.

“Is that a Riley?” is the unenviable question to which the asker obviously already knows the affirmative answer. The second sentence is never a sentence but a proud declaration.

“My father had a Riley!”

In the case of Derek Wadman, who left his suburban home south of London in Surrey 34 years ago to move to the U.S., his father in the 50s had an Austin Somerset, a car which would reach a top speed of just 67 miles an hour. It was his uncle who had a beautiful and faster black Riley RMA. He remembers motoring weekends alternating between both cars. It was then that the seed of potential Riley ownership was planted.

Much later, nine years before he was to retire from a position with a New York bank, where he was employed establishing and maintaining branches in the Middle East, he saw an ad in Hemmings for an RMA within his own 516 telephone area code on New York’s Long Island, and when he paid a call to see the car and the garage door was lifted he saw to his pleasure that it was black and right hand drive like his uncle’s.

Its owner had bought it a few years previously from a chauffeur on an estate in Oyster Bay, New York. That owner had remembered the chauffeur driving his employer, an heiress to the Woolworth fortune, from the estate into the village He had asked the chauffeur if the car was still on the estate. The chauffer said it was in an outbuilding and had not run in years. That intermediate owner proved not up to the full task of restoration before selling it to Derek. He did not identify the heiress as Barbara Hutton, but we are led to assume she was the owner. As is often the case with provenances of Riley ownership, there is no available paper trail. We are only reporting the anecdotal history of the car, not making any guarantees.

In fourteen years Derek has completed 85% of what has become an older bare metal restoration. The exterior was sand-blasted or chemically cleaned. It was rewired with an Autosparks fabric loom. He installed flashing side and tail lamps to augment its trafficators. He installed a vinyl top and stainless steel exhaust system. Its doors need to be rehung and its resealed gas tank installed.

The car currently resides in Stamford, Connecticut, in the care of an upholsterer who would require $1000 to complete the upholstery for a perfect match. A new buyer could of course elect to bring the interior elsewhere for completion, if that is his or her choice.

This is a 1947 Riley, reportedly imported from the U.K. by John Sims “Shipwreck” Kelly, the University of Kentucky football star who played early NFL football for the Brooklyn Dodgers football franchise the same year, 1933, that my father, Jack Riley, played for the Boston Redskins. Unlike my father, Shipwreck and a teammate bought the NFL franchise themselves. Shipwreck married Brenda Frazier, the New York debutante of the year for 1938 and was married to her when the car crossed the pond. Brenda graced the cover of Life that year. It is not known whether the car passed onto the Woolworth estate before or after Kelley divorced Frazier in 1956. A famous later portrait of Frazier by Diane Arbus shows the wear and tear of latter life on denizens of café society. Like Barbara Hutton, Frazier died a recluse. Were Barbara Hutton, Shipwreck Kelly and Brenda Frazier riders in the 1947 Riley RMA that Derek Wadman has for sale? We can’t say for sure. We do know that it is for sale for $11,000 and that its next buyer might further pursue its provenance. That has never been a matter of importance to its present owner.

If you are interested in the car, whether or not your father or uncle had a Riley, contact Derek Wadman at derekwad02@aol.com.

I drove a similar but slightly later black Riley RMA last year with a contingent from the Riley RM Club of the UK around Ireland and also to the club’s national meeting in a damp field in Wales. It was an exquisite driving experience. As one who is used to the heavier chassis of a “twonarf” liter car, I was impressed by how delightfully light were its controls. My car was “Lola,” the longtime proud possession of Jim and Nancy Fletcher. Nancy drove the Fletcher daughters to school in Lola. One could not ask for a more beautiful car.

Unless, of course, you have your sights set on a drophead. Derek Wadman also has an interrupted Riley drophead restoration for sale. It’s nowhere as far along as the RMA, and has a Ford straight six engine grafted into it. Its price is exactly the same, $11,000.

2008 Postscript: In mid-August, Michael P. (Mickey) Shemin travelled from New Jersey to Connecticut to view this car. He was impressed enough to purchase it from Derek Wadman. That doubled Mr. Shemin’s collection of postwar 1&1/2 liter Riley RM saloons and left Mr. Wadman focused on selling his drophead, shown above. Mr. Shemin is editor and publisher of the weekly Bayonne Evening Star Telegram. Much later he added a third car to his fleet of Rileys, Barclay Redman’s drophead convertible.

2015 Postscript: Mr. Shemin suffered a financial reversal and this fine automobile was resold by a New Jersey bank which had received it as collateral. It passed via eBay to our member in Island Lake, Illinois, the Dutch theologian A.F. Den Exter Blokland, who completed its restoration and has it running well; it often appears at car shows in his area. Mr. Shemin also sold the drophead once owned by Barclay Redman to Don Milligan, whose son s set to restore it. The club hopes Mr. Shemin will accumulate another collection of Riley automobiles when his fortunes rise again.

What a gorgeous Riley drophead!

Welcome to Magnificent Motoring, the online website of The Riley Motor Club Of North America. This site has undergone a thorough remodeling.  This is the first page of the second phase of its existence.  The Riley Motor Club Of North America is the successor to Riley Motor Club USA.   It supports owners and aficionados of all Riley-badged cars made by the British firm and its successors.  Riley first built bicycles and moved on to automobiles in the earliest days of the Twentieth Century.   It remains most famous for its racing cars of the 1920s and 1930s.  The company went broke in the late depression by trying to compete with Rolls-Royce with a marque called the Autovia and was acquired by Lord Nuffield and ultimately became part of BMC.  Its post World War II RM cars, widely exported to attract revenue to a cash-strapped postwar economy, are the most famous Rileys outside the U.K.   Among the last Riley cars was the Riley Elf, a corporate cousin of the Cooper Mini and Wolseley Hornet, made in the late 60s.  The Riley marque was acquired by BMW when it bought the Rover group and kept as some other Rover marques were resold.  She’s beautiful, isn’t she?  Wouldn’t you like to see the rest of her?