Simanaitis Says

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HENRY N. MANNEY III AND THE BROOKLANDS RILEY

SALON FEATURES IN R&T were generally of three types: the purely historical (“…and then on the morning of August 17, 1927, …”), the first-person tentative (“I might have driven this car in 1953…”), and then there were Salons written by Henry N. Manney III. 

The Brooklands Riley Salon, by Henry N. Manney III. This and other images from R&T, March 1978.

“The British,” Henry wrote,  “seem to have an affinity for stick, string, and knicker elastic conveyances like the Swordfish (‘String-bag’) torpedo bomber and the Brooklands Riley. Various protuberances deflect the breeze to the further joy of parasitic drag but the vehicle gets the job done anyway, bringing a certain jaunty air with it.”

As for the Brooklands moniker, Henry lamented that this famed circuit’s “shameful postwar departure was courtesy of the Labour Govt, which thought car racing was an upper-class pursuit.”

“It took English manufacturers a long time,” Henry commented, “to get over the lack of a suitable testing ground and I remember an announcement in the Motor in the late Fifties that now a certain very popular postwar saloon could be driven on those fast Continent roads without running its bearings. We always wondered why they kept doing 45 mph.”

Manney On Riley’s Tricar Heritage: “… apparently the Riley ones were less unsanitary than most. You just can’t image how awful most of these tricars were… not enough brakes to stop a pram, hot-tube ignition that set fire to the car at intervals, fixed-speed engines and so forth.” 

A Fabulous Engine. Henry noted, “Riley sprang a surprise on the world at the 1926 Shelsley Walsh hillclimb with the 9-hp Monaco fabric-bodied saloon, very avant-garde with its chopped top, low seating, integral trunk, and the fabulous Riley Nine engine.”

“Reference to the cutaway,” Henry observed, “will show hemispherical combustion chambers, high camshafts, short pushrods, intake one side and exhaust the other giving short ports, and, of course, ohv.” 

“Needless to say,” Henry continued, “the eyes of tuners all over England lit up at the sight of the Nine as practically the only 1100-cc sports cars were from Europe.”

Brooklands Riley Genesis. Reid Railton (soon to be of Napier-Railton fame) collaborated with the firm of Thompson and Taylor at the Brooklands track to produced a marketable sports model. Henry described, “This was accomplished by chopping 15.0 in. out of the Monaco frame, pinching it together at the back, arranging the rear leaf springs on outriggers, stiffening up the crossmembers, fitting a smaller radiator and proper water pump, and doing a mild hop-up to the engine including fitting two carbs and a four-branch exhaust.” 

Henry noted “Railton promptly entered it in the 1927 Autumn BARC meeting at Brooklands and it won by a mile at 91.37 mph…. The importance of the Brooklands Riley cannot be overstressed as not only did most of the later ERA and Grand Prix drivers get their early training in these models but the ERA itself was derived directly from the Brooklands’ successor, the 6-cylinder ’12/4’ of 1488 cc.”

1932 Ulster Tourist Trophy. The Salon car VC 8304 driven by Comm C.R. Whitecroft was to place first. 

Henry’s Riding Impressions: “Now it came time for a ride and after Rodney [the owner of VC 8304, Rodney Smith], who had wanted a Brooklands Riley since he was 13, fitted himself behind the stylish 3-spoke steering wheel…. I followed in approved racing mechanic fashion, placing my arm chummingly around the driver’s shoulders as quarters are a bit cramped.”

“The view forward,” Henry reported, “over a couple of classic Brooklands screens is vintage indeed, especially with the headlamps and radiator shell as scenery. The rad cap is typically English, having a sort of trombone spit key to bleed off vapors before a little screw is removed to release the lid, but the fuel filler is a massive flyoff affair looking as if it came off a steam loco.”

“The gearbox is a beast,” Henry said, “especially with a high bottom gear and crash pinions, and getting away from rest up to cruising speed involves a certain amount of crunching, double clutching or not…. Furthermore, ‘No matter what anyone says’ (quoth the proud owner), ‘cable brakes don’t work,’ although they did seem to produce enough retardation to get stopped in time.”

Henry concluded “savoring the feel of the road in the manner of those lost days before WW2 in England when cheap racing, cheap beer, those gorgeous girls in flirty skirts and meeting all your friends at Brooklands must have made England seem like Paradise. How sweet it was! Soopah!” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

2 comments on “HENRY N. MANNEY III AND THE BROOKLANDS RILEY

  1. Mike B
    October 14, 2021

    The Labour Govt was correct on one point: racing *is* for the rich (if you plan to have a chance at success i.e. winning the odd competition). However, it missed the point about it being vastly entertaining for the plebes to watch (and bet on) the toffs or their chauffeurs circulating at speed (and occasionally pausing abruptly) on various courses.

    Huzzah for Henry M. Manney, yr obdt srvnt!

  2. Mike B
    October 14, 2021

    Sorry, that’s Henry >N.< Manney. Fumble olde fingers before finishing coffee…

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