Run by Martin Buckley
Owned since April 2016
Total mileage 18,132
Latest costs nil
BLUE DIAMOND NEEDS A POLISH
I’ve always been intrigued by the Riley Pathfinder and its offspring, so the chance to capture one was not to be missed. The car in question is a Two-Point-Six, the rarest of the lot (2000 built from 1957-’1959) and probably one of the least numerous BMC models of all. Interestingly, until now, Riley had completely passed me by – even the badge-engineered stuff, never mind the RM and tasty pre-war gear.
The Two-Point-Six bridges the gap between ‘pure’ Rileys and the BMC cars. For those who don’t know, it has the C-series ‘six’ (the Pathfinder had the high-cam ‘four’ from the RM) and is, in effect, a badge-engineered Wolseley 6/90.
I think the only other one I’ve ever seen was in a Lincolnshire scrapyard 15 years ago. I have no awareness of them from my childhood, although I might have confused a passing example for an MG Magnette or a Wolseley 4/44. In fact, they share only the rough shape with their smaller brethren.
This one came by way of William Cadbury (of the chocolate-making family), who, despite having owned all manner of exotica, has a weakness for BMC’s work. Some years ago, he managed to find and buy his mother’s old Two-Point-Six, a much-loved car in which he had many happy family trips as a child and which, as a teenager, he drove.
The short version of my car’s history is that Cadbury bought it as a donor. It came from a man in the Midlands whose father had owned it since the early-’60s, and apparently it had been laid up since 1964.
A copy of the Birmingham Evening Post from 1969 was lining a box of tools in the boot, so perhaps it was last used slightly later, but it’s certainly not seen the road for many a year. Under the rear seat I found a long-lost marble, a reminder of the days when children could be kept entertained by something less sophisticated than a DVD player.
Sadly, the Riley was initially stored in a leaky garage, hence the rusty front wings and scuttle area. Happily the rest of it is quite solid and reasonably complete, other than a few bits of trim that were required to finish the other car. Wings aside, I’m not sure that I’ll paint it: a quick once-over with WD40 brings it up quite well. I have tried to coax it into life, but no joy as yet. And yes, I did remember that it has positive-earth electrics.
I’m under no illusion as to the amount of work there is to do, but there can’t be many unrestored ’50s British saloons out there. Instinct tells me that the way to proceed is to get the poor thing running and driving, and then take a view on how to tackle the body. Exactly what I’ll do about the wings remains to be seen, but presumably they can be patched; that appears to be what has happened to Cadbury’s car.
The Riley is too good to break. The leather and wood are rather nice, as are most of the panels and it’s particularly clean in the boot. Cadbury tells me that the engine is seized but that shouldn’t be a problem. If it is, I might fit a 3-litre unit from a Farina. According to Mike Connor of Purly Road Garage in Cirencester, it was a common mod in the ’60s when these cars were still in regular use. He had two, and put 3-litre engines in both.
Happily, PRD 643 is a manual, which means that it has the nifty right-hand gearchange. I’m fairly sure it has overdrive, too. As well as being a pretty car, it conjures all that magical ’50s imagery of police Wolseleys in Scotland Yard, or Inspector Martineau in Hell is a City (one of my favourite films). All that I need is a tub of Brylcreem and Johnny Dankworth on the radio.
One source of inspiration has been the YouTube videos about a Wolseley 6/90 rebuild by ‘Junk Yard Tom’, who got his car together in an amazing seven months. I did further homework on the model by ordering a copy of Christopher Balfour’s excellent Auto Architect, the biography of Gerald Palmer.
Chris kindly sent me some additional notes from a guide to the Pathfinder by David Rowlands, which whet my appetite even more. One interesting point that came up in these histories was that Palmer’s long-term plan was to develop a twin-cam version to put the car head-to-head with the Jaguar MkVII. That raises the question of whether an XK engine would fit. I think the Riley will replace my Austin 3-litre on the basis that I don’t need two BMC barges in my life. I have no idea of what parts are still available for the Two-Point-Six, but suspect the answer is not many. I’ll be pleased to hear from anyone who has a pair of front wings!
‘It conjures all that magical ’50s imagery – all I need is a tub of Brylcreem and Johnny Dankworth on the radio’
The Two-Point-Six looks rough after many years in storage, but is quite solid.
Leather needs a clean but is in good order. Buckley poses proudly with his latest toy. Vast sprung wheel and wellstocked dash.