Elf is eleven in the Deutsch, and today's Nice Price or Crack Pipe Riley is truly a Mini that goes to eleven. The seller says it's like a minuscule Rolls Royce but is its price not mini enough?
The position of Riley in the history of the automobile is notable, but did not become so without the enmity of its founder. Coming straight outta' Coventry, William Riley Jr. bought the Bonnick Cycle Company all the way back in 1896. Riley's son, Percy was the catalyst for moving the renamed Riley Cycle Company to, at first motor bikes, and then the new fangled automobiles, despite his father's protestations from moving beyond the genteel bicycles that were the company's bread and cucumbers.
At age 16, Percy built his first quadracycle which notably featured an innovative mechanical intake valve. By 1903, he and his brothers cut dad loose, forming their own Riley Engine Company which provided engines for both Riley Motorcycles and Singer Motor Cars. William Riley moved from bicycle production to that of detachable wire wheels for car and bike, following Percy's invention and patent of the same. For the next three decades Riley made a name for itself on both road and track, and named their sporting models after their racing successes - the Booklands and Ulster.
Inevitably financial difficulties led to Riley's consolidation with other British brands -first with the Nuffield Organization, owners of Morris, MG and Wolseley, then through that concern to BMC, and then to its eventual demise at the cruel hands of British Leyland. Before that however, Riley felt the effects of another British automotive innovator - that of the legendary Sir Alec Issigonis.
Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis already had the Morris Minor to his credit when he began the back of the napkin drawings for what would eventually become the BMC Mini - perhaps the most iconic car in Britain's history. The brilliantly radical Mini was so successful that BMC mini-me'd it to all their companies, including Riley, where its trunked and be-fin'd visage went under the moniker of Elf.
With its upright grille, extensive chrome trim, and that aforementioned trunk, this 1968 Riley Elf gives the appearance of a Mini that's putting airs, which is exactly what it is. As Issigonis envisioned it, the Mini came across like Doctor Who's Tardis - tiny outside, while seeming impossibly vast within. The Elf eschews Issigonis' nothing extra vision and tacks on both a stumpy trunk extension and roll-up windows eliminating inches of elbow room within.
Making up for that somewhat, this Elf's interior is luxuriant with a full-width dash made from fine woods and wall to wall throughout. Eyeball vents bookend twin burl-wood glove boxes and provide a volume of air flow that the British would describe as sufficient as long as you're not one of those whining complainers.
The four seats are upholstered in what looks like either leather or vinyl, and there's a shockingly out of place pop-up sunroof that is all the more annoying when one realizes that Britax roofs are still available. The steering wheel is a large two-spoke affair, and sits at an angle that will be familiar to anyone who has piloted a Mini in the past. A long spindly gear shift lever allows communication to the full-synchro four-speed gearbox.
That gearbox represents a fascinating aspect of the Mini and hence Elf's design. Predating Autobianchi's Primula, which was the first production car with the now ubiquitous transverse engine and side-mounted gearbox, the A-series in the Mini sat directly below the engine, and shared its lubricating fluid. As you can imagine, that makes frequent oil changes and selection of lube quality extremely important.
Being a last of series III this Elf originally came with a 998-cc edition of the OHV A-series four. It received a single inch and a quarter Skinners Union side draught, which resided mere inches from the driver's right knee. The seller says that this car now has a rebuilt 1275 - the big boy pants of the A-series line. That engine can be tuned to make surprising amounts of power, and in a car with only 1,450-lbs to fling around, it'd be pretty entertaining. Hydrolastic suspension means sleeping policemen can be ignored. The mileage on this one has also been ignored, but there is a litany of updated and replaced parts that make it more than attractive - to the right buyer.
The seller notes that the Elf was described back in the day as a mini Rolls Royce, and this one - due to condition and uniqueness in the market - has been priced as though it were that venerable brand. The $27,000 the seller is asking would buy you a herd of original Minis in likewise condition, and from the driver's seat only the dash and lack of traditional vertical grille visible through the windscreen would be evident differences. That being said, this car is a viably righteous classic, and is the last in the line of a storied British marque, both reasons to give it consideration.
So, what would you consider, is $27,000 for this Elf mini enough? Or, does that price make you think the seller might just be a troll?
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