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Big Four

The pre war 2½ Litre  was called various names  16/4, Big Four and Blue Streak amongst them. The quality of the engine was superb but released on the outbreak of the second world war and in too many formats  so unfortunately launched too late (1937 to 1940). It slotted into Riley's range immediately below the 18 hp V8 model. Announced in September 1937 for the Earls Court Motor Show  it became one of the two genuine Riley models in the 'rationalised' range that followed the 1938 takeover by the Nuffield Organization. Using   a 2443cc straight-four engine with twin cams and S.U carburettor which developed 82 bhp  that had first seen the light of day in 1927.  It was capable of a top speed of around 80 mph utilising a its 3-speed Borg-Warner gearbox with Freewheel and Dual Overdrive, which engaged automatically by easing one’s throttle foot above a certain speed in either top or the middle gear . Another anomaly was the fact that both its inlet and exhaust manifolds were  on the nearside, despite its still retaining the principle of the crossflow cylinder head so an easy quick identify for 'loose engines' . The chassis was a lengthened version of the one used on the Riley 12 hp which was introduced at the same time and  offered with 5 bodies plus as a chassis, all but 4 or 5 of the vehicles sold had either the Adelphi, Kestrel or Continental bodies.

Production Models  sold by  Riley 1937-1938 were:-

Adelphi 4-door Saloon; Chassis  38AX costing £405 new

Riley  Continental also referred to as the Close Coupled Saloon; Chassis  38BX costing £415 new

Touring Saloon using a Briggs body @ £385

Riley  Kestrel 4-door Fastback Saloon; Chassis  38KX costing £415 new

Lynx Chassis  38LX costing £415 new

Chassis Only format £335

Production Models  sold by  Riley 1937-1938 were:-

Nuffield saloon cars 49S  £385 on 12hp page as it keeps Nuffield cars together being so rare

Drophead Nuffield cars 49D saloon £410 on 12hp page

Kestrel cars 49K saloon £410

Chassis Only format £310

Prototypes & One-offs included a  Riley 2½ Lynx (1937-38); Riley 2½ Maltby Redfern (1937-38); Riley 2½ Touring Saloon (1937-38). The engine survived the war and was used in the RMB, Roadster, Drophead and re tuned for the RMF, and stayed on until 1957 used  in the Pathfinder model and by Donald Healey to great effect, in his own cars  increasing in power from 82bhp to at least 110bhp .

. . . . .The first of a large order for RILEY CHASSIS from Messrs. P. E. Williams, Sydney, Australia, form an impressive-looking queue. The Riley Company has also received most encouraging business from India, South Africa, Lisbon, Singapore, and Borneo. from The Sketch - Wednesday 08 November 1939

 Stunning 1938 Blue Streak Kestrel belonging to Greg Morris in NSW/Oz pics by Stephen Sneesby
"Manufactured in 1938, this Riley Big Four carries 'Redfern' four-door tourer coachwork by Maltby, a company founded during the Edwardian era in Sandgate, Kent. In 1926 company founder John Maltby sold out to a Mr Redfern, chairman of whisky distillers, Johnnie Walker, whose sons took over the running of the coachworks. The revitalised Maltby acquired a number of agencies and provided catalogued designs for several manufacturers, which included its 'Redfern' brand dropheads. Maltby is noteworthy as the first British coachbuilder to automate the folding/unfolding of the convertible hood, initially (in 1935) using the 'Jackall' system's hydraulic pump and subsequently by means of an electric motor. '38BX 1224' is the only known example of a Big Four chassis bodied when new by an independent coachbuilder, and is featured in the Riley Register Series Vol. 2 section dealing with the 16/4 models (pages 88 and 89). In the last year the car has undergone extensive yet sympathetic restoration to its current beautiful condition after being in storage for many decades (see photographic record on file). The engine has been completely rebuilt and as a result behaves beautifully, starting easily and pulling strongly with excellent oil pressure. Maltby's unique coachwork takes the form of an open, all-weather body with wind-up windows, the projecting boot being an unusual variation of this particular style. The doors hinge back from a central pillar in a manner similar to several bodies built on Rolls-Royce 20/25 chassis by neighbouring coachbuilders Martin Walter; clearly some cross pollination was going on between the two companies in the 1930s. " info and pics from Bonhams sale in 2012


In the Company Accounts & Balance Sheets to 31/12/1939 held at Warwick Univ. 574 12hp and 68 16hp are recorded as sold. In the 1940 Acc.& Bal. sales were £45K for 12hp and £13K for 16hp. In the 1941 A&B sales were just 12 hp @ £790. Some of the 16hp would have been 49K Kestrels but any 29S, SS or D's are to be treasured,For the12 hp Nuffields click here

Big Four Adelphi ( now in correct location)

Stunning 1939 Riley 16/4 Kestrel Saloon in Australia by a Melbourne photographer sicnag

Soon after Nuffield took over, the car was resurrected as a 16 HP Big Four, from 1938 to 1940/41 with wire wheels and finally with disc wheels. Options were standard tune, Special with twin carburettors, or Sprite with different cams, magnetos etc. Many were sold as 'Kestrel Sprites' marked with the chassis designation SS plus the upgraded interior for Kestrel Sprites included a rev counter. The Riley 2.5 litre (83.5 bhp) engine arrived in 1938 and was their most powerful engine up to this point also having an overdrive gearbox . The 4 cylinder 2.5 litre unit became known as the ‘Big 4′, ’16/4’ and ‘Blue Streak’. This new engine was reputed to have the efficiency of an overhead cam engine and a rating of 16 horsepower, although the horsepower figures are the traditional RAC Rating, and bear no relationship to bhp or kW.  . The Riley 16/4 Saloons were built from 1937-40, basically a lengthened version of the Riley 12hp and like the 12's many were exported with many in Australia. In 1939, a 6 light Kestrel Fastback Saloon with the last of the 16/4 Kestrels using plain bonnet sides, smaller headlamps and a revised radiator shell. After the War in 1945, this  evolved into the Riley RMB. 

  Riley 16/4 Blue Streak Kestrels (also  Big Fours) are very rare machines with about 32 being known in total (as yet !)

  EVC 880  (49K159*) Nuffield upgrade, mega rare. This one has a trunnions rather than the ball joint at the front end of the torquetube; a different fuel tank with twin fuel filler caps; many differences in the toolbox and floorpan area as well as subtle differences with the frame/doors etc. To find the true RMB similarities it needs an RM specialist to crawl over it as it appears to be the 'missing link on wheels'. Many thanks to Bruce Maitland for the info

1941 Riley 16 Kestrel a seriously rare transitional car to the RM's © CLIFF JONES PHOTOGRAPHY