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Riley RM vs. Rover P4

Can the RM or P4 provide Jag like satisfaction on a budget? Published: 22nd Aug 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Riley RM vs. Rover P4

What The Experts Say...

Considering that you don’t trip over them at shows, RM survival rate is astonishing; the Riley RM club reckons around 2000 – with a good chunk on the road – and spare parts and support similarly excellent; what isn’t available can be remade although Roger Lamb advises not to strip a car willy-nilly as it can distort the frame all too easily – such advice is in the club’s Restoration Manual, a must at only £25.

Once a Rover man, always a Rover man, proudly says P4 Driver’s Guild member Colin Blowers who has owned P4s since 1980 and estimates there’s some 2000 left – a far cry from the 14,000 he says were on the books when the Guild was started 40 years ago. Colin (who also owns a P6 3500 auto and a Rover 75) says the P4 is far better built than the later P5 and P6 replacements and running one is no problem so long as the rot hasn’t taken a hold. Colin has owned most derivatives and currently drives a 105R (automatic) and jokes he bought his first one some 30 years ago “just to see how bad they [Roverdrive] were, given the road test reports when new!”

Riley RM vs. Rover P4
Riley RM vs. Rover P4
Riley RM vs. Rover P4
Riley RM vs. Rover P4
Riley RM vs. Rover P4
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If any pair of motoring manufacturers summed up immediate post war middle class Britain then it has to be Riley and Rover even though their mainstream models were as different as chalk and cheese. Despite its Studebaker-inspired lines, the Rover P4, that was first shown at the 1949 Earls Court Motor Show, captured the essence of Britishness perfectly, with its wood and leather interior that was combined with safe and solid engineering. And yet, despite its more modern appearance to the Riley RM, the P4 was still tied to the staid ‘Auntie’ Rover image, where as the pre-war looking Riley had all the raffish charm, of an MG.

Both the P4 and RM represent a charming period in motoring and still remain good value as classic purchases with a difference. So cheer up if you can’t afford a Mk1 Jaguar anymore; simply lower your sights, but not, we can assure you, your expectations!

Which model to buy?

Looks are deceptive

Despite their differences, this pair have a lot in common, all stemming from such quality, sporting, charismatic and well respected brands. With its twin-cam engine, the RM Riley is sportier whereas the Rover was nothing but a staid old cruiser right from the outset. The RMA was the first and was launched in 1945 with a 1.5-litre engine, four-speed gearbox, torsion bar front suspension, hydro mechanical brakes and a reasonably healthy top speed of 75mph. However, Riley enthusiasts moaned it wasn’t a real Riley even though the press and the public were impressed with the flowing lines, luxurious interiors, excellent road holding and handling and acceptable performance. The 90bhp 2½-litre version of the twin overhead camshaft four was dropped into the RMB which also sported a longer wheelbase and larger body giving useful extra room and 90mph. In 1948 power was increased to 100bhp allowing the RMF to hit the ton in favourable conditions.

The RMC was a svelte 2½-litre, threeseater drophead, really designed for the American market and now very scarce as just 507 were produced. Another rare beast was the full four-seater 2½-litre RMD of which just 502 were built.

The RME, available from 1952-1955, was an improved RMA boasting full hydraulic brakes and a hypoid rear axle.

Ignoring the gas turbine project, the Rover was an utterly conventional car and dubbed the poor man’s Rolls-Royce. That central front light ‘Cyclops’ style proved too radical and in 1952 it bit the dust; the following year the more affordable 60 and 90 variants arrived. At the same time the gearchange was moved from the column to the floor. Servoassisted brakes arrived for 1956 as did a Laycock overdrive in place of the freewheel system previously available. The 105R (for Roverdrive) and 105S (for Synchromesh, denoting a manual gearbox), with twin carbs and servoassisted brakes followed before the swish new P5 arrived. Understandably, development of the old car slowed although subsequent facelifts with new model designations plus front disc brakes along with a better 2.6-litre six (100 model, denoting its 100bhp) kept the range alive until 1964; the most significant change being substituting steel for the previous alloy bonnet boot and door panels in 1963.

In total 130,342 examples had rolled off the production lines and the days of Auntie Rover were over and there’s a much better chance of finding the model you want compared to the Riley although, as always, condition counts more than trim or specs. Having said that, four-cylinder models are sluggish and the six is much superior in its speed and silky smoothness.

What’s the best to drive?

Blimey – it’s the riley!

Bearing in mind the fact that these cars qualify for free bus passes they both drive amazingly well. If anything, it’s the sportier Riley that feels the heavier and the brakes, particularly early ‘hydromech’ ones, struggle to cope from the speeds at which the car is perfectly capable of cruising.

On the plus side, thanks to the fitment of rack-and-pinion steering plus doublewishbone independent front suspension, the RM driving experience is surprisingly modern (much more than the pre-war body styling suggests) yet it’s comfortable too.

The RM is a heavy old thing and the 2½-litre models are noticeably quicker than the 1½-litre editions. But don’t be too quick to dismiss the smaller engine though as the 2½-litre RMs suffer from a heavier steering but can sit at motorway speeds all day. In a nutshell, the Riley is as sporty as MG Magnette ZA and, according to owners who have owned both, as good as a Jaguar Mk1.

In many ways, once you’re sat in a P4’s cabin, how the thing drives is almost secondary. So much thought went into this car’s cabin that the Rolls comparison, albeit on a lesser budget, is entirely justified. With its upright driving position and oversized steering wheel, it can feel like you’re driving a truck rather than a car. And considering the P4’s heft, the analogy is apt as they can have the responses of a truck, too.

However, that solidity also ensures that bumps are smothered, so progress is even more comfortable than in the RM. And that’s what the P4 is about – comfort not speed. While six-pot cars can keep up with modern traffic fairly easily, this is a car for enjoying the ride and occasion rather than burning up the streets.

Owning and running

Pretty evenly balanced

Both cars have good support from owners’ clubs and specialists which is particularly important with the Riley. The RM will be more expensive than the P4 to run simply because of the parts scarcity which naturally increases prices.

The P4 is amazingly durable, thanks to high quality thick steel panels. That’s why rotten P4s remain relatively rare; most are saveable but quite a few are cosmetically challenged, even if structurally sound. Replacement panels aren’t available although repair sections are.

Engine parts are generally plentiful thanks to Land Rovers being fitted with some of the various P4 units. This means, in general, parts supply situation is excellent. Even better, because all P4 engine bays have much the same layout, you can swap between the various power plants, whether four or six-cylinders and the Rover V8 has been shoehorned in to several P4s as well and makes a real Q Car says the P4 club!

Most really good RMs are well known within the club and they’re owned by long-standing members. So unsurprisingly, when those cars come up for sale they usually move between members which is why it’s so important to join the owners club.

Given the RM’s rarity and lack of popularity, spares and support is incredible! Most parts that you’re likely to need are available from one source or another (generally The Riley RM Centre Ltd, the spares operation of the Riley RM Club), but some parts are also from overseas suppliers. The RM Club has a growing list of workshop manual supplements and its forum is huge. Against this can be the cost of repair and overhauling the twin cam engines (£8000).

There are far more really good RMs around than you might think, and although a reasonable number of good cars come up for sale each year, demand still outstrips supply, says the club. Buyers only really want cars that are ready to go, so projects rarely sell easily. Roadworthy 1½-litre models (RMA, RME) are worth in the region of £1000-£1500 less than equivalent 2½-litre models (RMB, RMF), with the facelifted RME (from 1953) the least sought after of the bunch. If you’re on a budget, you’ll get the most for your money with one of these variants.

For something roadworthy you can expect to pay at least £5000, but better to spend £10,000 on something that’s probably already been restored at some point; shell out £15,000-£18,000 and you can secure a superb RMB or RMF. Most valuable of all is the open-topped RMD, which starts at £20,000 for a good one.

In comparison, P4s are dirt cheap with majority barely nudging five figures and decent runners little more then three grand, the sole exception being early Cyclops cars (£10,000+) and the 105R and S versions at slightly under the five figure mark. When you consider the price the Mk1 Jaguars are reaching, these better built Rovers are tremendous value. But for how long?

What the experts say

And The Winner Is...

There’s something about this classy Riley – witness their steep rise in prices of late (all Rileys to be fair) and we can see this continuing. The RM is a sophisticated sports saloon that mixed pre-war glam with fairly modernish driving standards. However, the more you look at P4s the more appealing they become. Cruisers rather than sprinters, the driver’s high seating position, which allows an early view of what’s coming MPV-style, epitomises this Rover’s view on motoring; it’s a cut above the rest. And the P4 may have a point.

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