Riley reliquary

Readers of R. Memoranda, devotees to the preservation of 1945-1957 RM Rileys probably know all about the Koeng car shown at Windsor last weekend. I had never seen or heard of it before. I am not surprised it remained a one-off. Production RM Rileys were slimmer and well proportioned; maybe this one gave Donald Healey ideas. Walter Köng (1935-1999) a former Packard designer, may have designed this one for a Bentley Mark VI chassis, as several contemporaries did, in which case it might have been fine. It would look nbetter with bigger wheels. It certainly demands attention however, and the aluminium body looks in splendid condition. The RM Riley was a post-war thoroughbred with torsion bar ifs and a really gutsy twin-high-cam engine that could - just – provide 100mph on a good day. It was certainly the first quick car I drove, aged 19 or so, when such heavy steering didn’t seem to matter as much as it would now. Slotting a 2½ Riley into a parking space, even with relatively skinny tyres, demands strength that would astonish a power-assisted generation.

Poster on the window reads:

This is a unique and very special Riley. Walter Koeng was a Swiss coachbuilder who had bodied such illustrious cars as Bentleys, Mercedes, Cadillac and Delahey (sic) amongst others.

In 1948 he purchased from the Riley works in Coventry a 2.5 Litre running chassis. He then proceeded to create his dream car. The overall shape is very much Art Deco influenced and Aerodynamic with its sweeping lines and sensual curves that result in a totally individual creation of timeless beauty.

Walter was nothing if not an ultimate perfectionist, he must have spent long hours the design with all of its extraordinary detail (sic). The body is aluminium using aircraft technology, there are removable roof panels that give it its name of Transformable, but just to ensure unruffled coiffeur there are the original silk panels carefully stored in their own compartment that can be installed in place of the glass panels!

The scooped side panels were the first on a car, and later adopted by the designers of the Chevrolet Corvet (sic), there are so many other fascinating details, the boot for example opens by means of a button in the rear door jamb of the driver’s door!

Walter had planned the car to be the first of a series, he exhibited it at the 1949 Geneva Motor Show and although it attracted much interest the price was too high, hardly surprising considering the amazing attention to detail, everything had been hand made to exacting standards. So the car remained with Walter. Perhaps he was secretly pleased the car did not sell however because he drove and enjoyed it until in 1976 it passed to its second owner who was a lifelong friend in Zurich. This person, who continued to care for and cherish Walter’s creation, recently he felt that it was regrettably time to pass the car on due to his advancing years and the car now resides with a new owner in the UK.

So in a way it is a Riley that has come home, but in reality if cars have a heart then its spiritual home is in the clear air of Switzerland, because driving it, or even as a passenger it is impossible not to think of the single minded perfectionist who set out to create what he regarded as the most perfect automobile!

This is the first time the car has been shown in Great Britain. It is still resplendent in its original paintwork, everything on the car is original and in working order, the Riley engine still gives sparking performance, it has never been a museum piece, it was created to be used and enjoyed, and it is a credit to its creator that it still creates so much interest and pleasure 63 years from its inception.