The RM series was the last independently developed Riley before the company was swallowed up by BMC in 1952. Matt George takes a closer look at the RMA
RILEY RMA REVIEW
If the elegant, flowing lines aren’t good enough reason to buy an RMA, then how about the superbly crafted wood and leather interior? Or the torsion bar front suspension and rack-and-pinion steering that ensures it is as good to drive as it is to look at? An RMA provides a worthwhile reason to raid your bank account, but check any potential purchase thoroughly to avoid having to re-mortgage your house too.
1953 Riley RM
Top speed 75mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The Riley’s bodywork provides the most scope for time-consuming and expensive repairs. As well as the chassis and bodywork, there’s an ash framework to worry about too. The earlier the car, the more likely it is to have suffered where it arches up above the rear axle. The body mounts are welded to the chassis and usually rust in isolation. Front wings rust adjacent to the beading where they attach to the body, and behind the headlamp nacelle where a metal plate is welded beneath the wing for the wing support bracket. Check the rear wing beading carefully too – any bubbling means there is severe rust beneath.
Sills consist of metal-skinned timber. Assess them by opening both doors and lifting them gently, while looking for movement in the pillar. Boot floors rust along the rear edge where the join a stiffener, and if the body mounts in the boot floor are weakened, the rear body can sag onto the bumper irons. Boot lids also bubble along the bottom edge, with the spare wheel compartment lid below often suffering as well.
The 1.5-litre engine should be good for 100,000 miles. You’re looking for oil pressure of 25-40psi at a hot idle, rising to an ideal 50psi at a steady 40mph. Very high pressures suggest part-blocked crankshaft oilways. If the bearings are worn, you may hear a knocking – but not a rumble – under acceleration. This can be addressed by converting to shell bearings. The first signs of piston rings and cylinder bore wear will be blue smoke from the breather on the inlet side of the engine. The piston stroke extends below the water jacketing, and they occasionally break piston rings. Gearboxes last well, but weak synchromesh and jumping out of third gear on the overrun are the first signs of excessive wear.
Steering play is usually caused by wear in the floating centre eye that travels up and down the rack. There is scope for adjustment, but if it fails completely, then rebuilding is a possibility. Rear leaf springs sag over time, so check that the car sits level and that the springs have retained their curvature. If the front of the car has a tendency to pitch, tired rear springs and dampers are likely culprits. Lower front wishbones can crack on early cars, but a webbing stiffener added later and progressively beefed up throughout production did away with this fault.
Brake cylinders can be rebuilt, but on hydro-mechanical systems it’s vital that the plunger is in good condition and that the linkages are set correctly. Poor braking may be down to a badly rebuilt system.
Exterior fittings can generally endure rechroming. As well as rusting, radiator shells can suffer from starting handle damage when the guide tube cracks. Interiors last surprisingly well, and are usually saveable by the home restorer, providing the seats aren’t split or horrendously worn. Most are covered with a heavy-grained leather, so full professional retrims are subsequently expensive. Take this into account if a prospective purchase is in a poor state of repair inside.
Despite the slightly daunting list of potential issues, don’t get the impression that the RMA is fragile or unreliable. Thanks to robust engineering and eminent driveability, bagging a good one will allow you to enjoy regular usage, perhaps even on a daily basis. Performance is leisurely, but the RMA is about so much more than that, so why not bask in the sumptuous leather and wood trim.