Cambridge-Oxford Owners Club organize Salisbury homecoming for rarest BMC Farina.
Wessex Motors of Salisbury announced the Riley Riviera in December 1960 and its believed produced 15 to 20 examples. Based on the Riley 4/68 it featured a more powerful Downton Engineering modified 1588cc MGA engine, disc brakes, wire wheels and many extras such as integrated spot lights. Wessex also re-profiled the large rear fins into a smoother more streamlined look that foreshadowed BMC's own facelift of the entire range in 1962. Wessex then created the Riley Silhouette in 1962 using a Rley 4/72 base car and the MGB's 1800 engine although only 3 were constructed.(The original Press and Publicity photo taken on Bourne Hill overlooking the 'Greencroft' public park area near Wessex Motors with Salisbury Cathedral in background.John Lakey was able to recreate the image although the original was taken when the trees had shed their leaves in December.)
Since the Club's MG and Riley marque secretary Mick Holehouse completed the restoration of his Riley Riviera, one of only two
remaining examples and the only complete and roadworthy one, interest in the Wessex Motors' Riley conversions, which for many
years had an almost mythical status, has increased greatly.
Two local publications, The Salisbury Journal and the Valley News, picked up the story and appealed for anyone with memories of
these cars to contact Mick as did the local BBC Wiltshire radio station (and their sister BBC local news website) who interviewed
Mick on their breakfast show.
A number of former Wessex employees made contact through these appeals and all were enthusiastic to see the surviving car so, with support from the club, Mick decided to take the
Riviera back to its home city of Salisbury and invite these former workers to come along for a buffet lunch to view the car and share their memories.
The club sent Publicity Officer John Lakey and a former BBC colleague of his, Jon Sales, to record the event in the hope that a TV documentary can be made about the Riviera project
at some point in the future as the club is committed to recording the history of these cars while they can.
Wessex Motors closed their large town centre premises, which is now a multi-story car park, in the late sixties after a takeover by Henlys which saw them move to a new out of town site but the Mercure White Hart Hotel on the opposite corner to Wessex's old site is still flourishing. They agreed to host the event in their car park on the Saturday before the local Wilton Supercar and Classic show where Mick had been
invited to display the car because of its local connections.
(Picture copyright by kind permission of Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre)
Saturday was blessed with fine weather and was a great success with 9 former
Wessex workers and their families attending at various times during the day and the car acting as a great memory jogger. Some of those attending had not seen each other for over half a century! The conversations were very revealing and showed that Wessex had ambitious plans for the Riviera which included possibly exporting them to America and selling bulk orders to the Police as high speed pursuit vehicles.
However, it was also obvious from the anecdotes and memories that Wessex had not thought through the financial case in enough detail to
make the project successful as various workers remembered there being a glut of left over engines!
Amazingly, it seems that Wessex failed to tell BMC of their intentions...
Unsurprisingly BMC were less than amused and the project faltered thereafter.
Some particularly interesting memories came from 86 year old Stan Gordon (left) who recalled making the re-profiled rear wings by eye initially
before crafting a template to create future examples. He explained that the driving force behind the project was Wessex Motors' larger than life
manager, Mr Goodfellow, an ex military man who wanted to see the Riley name "back where it belongs on a Riley touring saloon in the old style".
Apparently Mr Goodfellow literally drew the line he wanted on a new Riley 4/68 with chalk and left Stan to get on with cutting it up. Stan, like all the
other workers who attended, had particularly fond memories of Mr Goodfellow's glamorous personal assistant, a Mrs Bradley-Burt, who it seems
made quite an impression on the young men working there at the time!
Further information was gained the following day at the local Wilton show when Ian Porter (left), who served his apprenticeship at Wessex Motors' Andover branch where Mick's car was originally sold, recognized the Riviera. He had fond memories of the project and as a young man said it gave he and other apprentices cause for optimism about the ambition of the
company they were working for.
Alan Haddock, who worked at Downton Engineering at this time, also approached Mick during the show and was able to explain the Downton
Engineering connection and what engine work was done. John interviewed both on camera.
Mick's restored Riviera covered over 500 trouble free miles over the course of the weekend's journey from his home in Lancashire to Salisbury and back. The improved power and braking performance over the standard 4/68 really helping it perform well on modern roads.
If anyone reading this can add further information on these fascinating and rare cars, or Wessex Motors, Riviera owner Mick Holehouse would love to
hear from them and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 07970 902886