Riley San Remo

Great car, light body of doped fabric stretched over wood frame, like early airplanes. Got its name from having won one of those rallies. This is what I left in England when I sailed for Hong Kong in 1935.

Riley was my favorite make, for some reason.

Car-owning Europe — or at least the aristocratic or well-healed part of it — went mad on rallies. Starting from remote and exotic locations: Tallinn, Esthonia, or Stavanger, Norway, or Riga, Latvia, and usually routed through the more rugged and wintry parts of Switzerland, they'd end up somewhere on the Mediterranean coast; Monte Carlo was a favorite. Here those who had made it would polish off the soil of travel and indulge in a Concours d'élégance, a slow parade up and down the seafront to show off the handsome and expensive coachwork-to say nothing of the handsome and expensive drivers and passengers. The name of the terminus would be that by which the rally had been known, hence the San Remo, Monte Carlo, etc.

The pursuit of the idle wealthy, these affairs served also as champion developers of the automobile. Heaven knows how many mechanical advances and conveniences grew out of the need for self-preservation in the wintry wastes. The fronts of the cars would be adorned with as many powerful headlights as could be fitted on, all with metal grids to protect the lenses. I remember reading how one crew, beset with driving snow and icing windscreens, got out the metal shears and cut vents in the top of the bonnet to let hot engine air flow over the windshield.

The routes used to make an effort to include a traversal of the Grossglockner Pass in Austria, at that time one of the more daunting tests of an automobile, spoken of with a kind of reverent awe. I recall reading, in a Car magazine, tips on tackling the dreaded Grossglockner: "Make sure you have a strong, well-built car, with lots of power. It must have especially strong and reliable steering, and very good brakes." Years and years later, when Mother and I were driving the Opel to visit some of her Eisenhower students, roosting deep in the Austrian Alps, she suggested a slight detour to take in the Grossglockner, now a toll road. As we sailed effortlessly up to the top and down the other side I remembered the cautious recommendations of so many years back, our Opel obviously strong enough in every category to satisfy the requirements with no problem at all.

Rileys, it seemed to me, were particularly successful in these enterprises.

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