Nuffield and BMC took more than 20 years to squeeze all individuality out of the Riley marque, but with the new 4/Sixty Eight of 1959 they finally achieved it. To produce a One-Point-Five, which was little more than a tuned-up Wolseley 1500, which itself used a lot of Morris Minor and BMC engine in its make-up, was one thing - but the 4/Sixty Eight was even less distinguished. The miracle of it all is that the new car sold quite well - better in two years than the 11/2 litre RM-Series models had achieved in the first six years!
The new 4/Sixty Eight, in fact, was merely the fifth and last of the new wave of Farina-styled B-Series saloons which were introduced in 1958-59. I have already described the basic engineering of this car in the Austin A55 Mk II section, and the Riley complied with this in almost every respect. The first of the five cars (the Wolseley 15/60) had appeared in December 1958, and the Riley was revealed in April 1959.
In almost every respect the Riley was a clone of the MG Magnette Mk III (announced in February and built on the same assembly lines at Cowley), for it shared with this car the same chopped-back rear wing-line derivative of the basic body style, and the same 64bhp B-Series engine tune. Compared with the MG, however, there was a different nose style, with a special grille, and the Riley badge actually mounted on the bonnet panel above it, and there was also a unique instrument layout, complete with a rev-counter and walnut veneer backing. This meant that, by mid-1959, the same production lines at Cowley were churning out four different types of BMC B-Series Farina saloon, all with different grilles, badging, facias, seating and other details; but then, in those days, BMC was like that, and no-one was surprised!
Like the other early B-Series Farina-styled saloons, the Riley's wheel tracks were too narrow, and its handling was not at all reassuring, yet because it sold at the very competitive price of £1,028 there was no shortage of customers. On the one hand, the tragedy was that it was not at all the same sort of car as the traditional Riley - not even the Nuffield-inspired RM-Series Rileys - but on the other hand Riley dealers sold quite enough of the cars to keep themselves and BMC's accountants happy.
Perhaps The Autocar got it right when, in their first description of the car, they wrote:
' In addition to having more power than its predecessor, the 4/Sixty Eight, which has an integral body-and-chassis structure, is nearly 4cwt lighter, and its maximum speed should be faster by nearly 10mph. Despite this added performance, however, the 4/Sixty Eight is, perhaps, less sporting in character.'
The 4/Sixty Eight was only in production for 2 1/2 years before the BMC B-Series family was substantially revised. At the same time as cars like the Austin A55 and the Morris Oxford Series V became A60 and Oxford Series VI respectively, the Riley progressed from being 4/Sixty Eight to 4/Seventy Two.
Riley 4/68 specification
Produced: Cowley, 1959-61. 10,940 cars built.
General layout: Unit-construction, pressed-steel body-chassis structure in 4-seater, 4-door saloon car style. Front-mounted engine driving rear wheels.
Engine and transmission: BMC B-Series engine, 4-cylinder, ohv, in-line. 1,489cc, 73.02 x 88.9mm, 64bhp at 4,800rpm; 85lb ft at 3,300rpm; 4-speed gearbox, no synchromesh on 1st gear; centre-floor gear-change; live (beam) rear axle with hypoid-bevel final drive.
Chassis: Independent front suspension, coil springs and wishbones. Cam-and-lever steering. Rear suspension by half-elliptic leaf springs. Front and rear drum brakes; 5.90-14in tyres.
Dimensions: Wheelbase 8ft 3.25in; front track 4ft 0.87in; rear track 4ft 1.87in; length 14ft 10in; width 5ft 3.5in; height 4ft 11.75in. Unladen weight (approx) 2,507lb.
Distinguishing features from previous model: Entirely different car compared with earlier Rileys, bearing family resemblance to other related Farina-styled models.
Typical performance: Maximum speed 84mph; 0-60mph 20.6sec; standing 1/4-mile 21.9sec; overall fuel consumption 27mpg.
Launch Price: £1,028
Derivatives: The Riley 4/72 of 1961 was a further developed version of the 4/68. All other B-Series 'Farinas' were closely related, the MG Magnette Mk III being mechanically identical.
Fate: Discontinued in 1961 in favour of the updated 4/Seventy Two model.
Source: "The Cars of BMC" - Graham Robson (Motor Racing Publications, 1987)