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Little Classics news: 10 September 2013
Images: John Lakey, Cambridge Oxford Owners Club

Cambridge-Oxford Owners Club: Riviera Reunion

Riley-RivieraThe Cambridge-Oxford Owners Club organise a Salisbury homecoming for the rarest BMC Farina, produced by Wessex Motors in the 60s: The Riley Riviera.

Wessex Motors of Salisbury announced the Riley Riviera in December 1960 and it’s believed produced 15 to 20 examples. Based on the Riley 4/68 it featured a more powerful Downton Engineering modified 1588cc MGA engine, disc brakes, wire wheels and many extras such as integrated spot lights.

Riley Riviera rear wingWessex also re-profiled the large rear fins into a smoother more streamlined look that foreshadowed BMC's own facelift of the entire range in 1962. Wessex then created the Riley Silhouette in 1962 using a Riley 4/72 base car and the MGB's 1800 engine although only 3 were constructed.

Since the Club's MG and Riley marque secretary Mick Holehouse completed the restoration of his Riley Riviera, one of only two remaining examples and the only complete and roadworthy one, interest in the Wessex Motors' Riley conversions, which for many years had an almost mythical status, has increased greatly.

Two local publications, The Salisbury Journal and the Valley News, picked up the story and appealed for anyone with memories of these cars to contact Mick as did the local BBC Wiltshire radio station (and their sister BBC local news website) who interviewed Mick on their breakfast show.

A number of former Wessex employees made contact through these appeals and all were enthusiastic to see the surviving car so, with support from the club, Mick decided to take the Riviera back to its home city of Salisbury and invite these former workers to come along to view the car and share their memories.

Riley Riviera now and thenThe club sent Publicity Officer John Lakey and a former BBC colleague of his, Jon Sales, to record the event in the hope that a TV documentary can be made about the Riviera project at some point in the future as the club is committed to recording the history of these cars while they can.

Wessex Motors closed their large town centre premises, which is now a multi-storey car park, in the late sixties after a takeover by Henlys which saw them move to a new out of town site. However, the Mercure White Hart Hotel on the opposite corner to Wessex's old site is still flourishing, which is where it was agreed to host the event on the first Saturday of August.

Riley Riviera past employeesThe day was a great success with nine former Wessex workers and their families attending. The conversations were very revealing and showed that Wessex had ambitious plans for the Riviera which included possibly exporting them to America and selling bulk orders to the Police as high speed pursuit vehicles.

However, it was also obvious from the anecdotes and memories that Wessex had not thought through the financial case in enough detail to make the project successful as various workers remembered there being a glut of left over engines! Amazingly, it seems that Wessex failed to tell BMC of their intentions... Unsurprisingly BMC were less than amused and the project faltered thereafter.

Some particularly interesting memories came from 86 year-old Stan Gordon who recalled making the re-profiled rear wings by eye initially before crafting a template to create future examples. He explained that the driving force behind the project was Wessex Motors' larger than life manager, Mr Goodfellow, an ex-military man who wanted to see the Riley name "back where it belongs on a Riley touring saloon in the old style".

Apparently Mr Goodfellow literally drew the line he wanted on a new Riley 4/68 with chalk and left Stan to get on with cutting it up.

Riley Riviera at Wilton car showFurther information was gained the following day at the local Wilton show when Ian Porter, who served his apprenticeship at Wessex Motors' Andover branch where Mick's car was originally sold, recognized the Riviera. He had fond memories of the project and as a young man said it gave he and other apprentices cause for optimism about the ambition of the company they were working for.

Alan Haddock, who worked at Downton Engineering at this time, also approached Mick during the show and was able to explain the Downton Engineering connection and what engine work was done.

Mick's restored Riviera covered over 500 trouble free miles over the course of the weekend's journey from his home in Lancashire to Salisbury and back. The improved power and braking performance over the standard 4/68 really helping it perform well on modern roads, which showed what appeal it would have had at the time of production.

If anyone reading this can add further information on these fascinating and rare cars, or Wessex Motors, Riviera owner Mick Holehouse would love to hear from them and can be contacted at: or by phone on 07970 902886.

Contacts to print for 'The Cambridge-Oxford Owners Club' please: Club hotline phone number: 07966 249 506


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