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Percy Voiturette & Replica
The Percy Replica at the NEC 2019 with Victor Riley
ln 1898 at 18 years of age Percy Riley completed the build of his first car. it had occupied him for two years. Educated at Coventry's King Henry Vlll Grammar School, showing an aptitude for mathematics and engineering the young Percy determined to enter the automobile age. He could count on his brothers to support him and the resources of the family owned Riley Cycle Company lay behind him but there were other factors to consider. not least being that father William, Managing Director of RCC, was not convinced that the "Automobile" had a ' future. Nevertheless, Percy, working evenings in the deserted Cycle Works manufactured components, and assembled them. out of father's sight. Avid reading of the motoring press in Coventry's Gulson Central Library had equipped Percy and elder brother Victor with a firm grasp of the state of. automobile development in the world. Victor was vital to Percy's progress as the law at that time did not permit Percy, being under 21 to buy the materials he needed, whereas his elder brother could. His car reflected Cycle Co. construction methods and transmission solutions, adaptations of available items, and constant refining. But his incorporation of mechanical actuation for the inlet valve made his engine more modern than many contemporaries...and this was by an 18 year old. Five or six year passed before another four wheeled Riley appeared, the brothers engaged with the manufacture of motor cycles and tricycles. ultimately using engines designed and manufactured by Percy at the Riley Engine Company. The Percy Car was forgotten following a successful trials and trips and it was in the 1930's that Riley (Coventry) Ltd unsuccessfully attempted to find it, with a "last heard of" in Belfast circa 1924. Nevertheless, it was the first work of an unsung and modest hero of the early British automobile industry who created one of the first cars in the City of Coventry, if not the first Coventry built car.
Geoffrey Havilland's history of the replica project until now showing the depth of research and work entailed click here and the unveiling click here
The Voiturette :
Started 1893 finished and working 1896. Basic dog cart construction with a 2.5hp single cylinder engine driving a leather belt to the rear wheels. ( At this time the flat leather design of belt was used with the sectional whittle type belts coming in later so slippage in certain weather conditions or hills must have entailed many many sessions of adjusting it underneath). Speed was governed by a hand throttle next to the steering wheel linking directly via rods to the engine brakes as wooden or leather pads on a lever would have been derisory and entailed the system of parking with a brick under the wheels. Suspension was pathetic but the car did have mud guards to protect against puddles and horse poop ( remember this age was predominantly horse power with four legs rather than petroleum).
The Percy car @ the N.E.C with the engine to be made and tested by Coventry University in 2020
The replica in the same position below with the background removed Wooden/rubber brake pads to the back wheel engine cover vented with louvres, wheel rather than tiller steering and simple carbide lamps
Prior Automotive history:-
Motorcars came into use on British roads during the early 1890s, but initially relied entirely on imported vehicles. The inception of the British motor industry can be traced back to the late 1880s, when Frederick Simms, a London-based consulting engineer, became friends with Gottlieb Daimler, who had, in 1885, patented a successful design for a high-speed petrol engine. Simms acquired the British rights to Daimler's engine and associated patents and from 1891 successfully sold launches using these Cannstatt-made motors from Eel Pie Island in the Thames. In 1893 he formed The Daimler Motor Syndicate Limited for his various Daimler-related enterprises. In June 1895 Simms and his friend Evelyn Ellis promoted motorcars in the United Kingdom by bringing a Daimler-engined Panhard & Levassor to England and in July it completed, without police intervention, the first British long-distance motorcar journey from Southampton to Malvern. Simms' documented plans to manufacture Daimler motors and Daimler Motor Carriages (in Cheltenham) were taken over, together with his company and its Daimler licences, by London company-promoter H J Lawson. Lawson contracted to buy The Daimler Motor Syndicate Limited and all its rights and on 14 January 1896 formed and in February successfully floated in London The Daimler Motor Company Limited. It then purchased from a friend of Lawson a disused cotton mill in Coventry for car engine and chassis manufacture where, it is claimed, the UK's first serial production car was made. Daimler shooting brake 6 hp, twin-cylinder, 1526 cc engine, mounted at the front of the car, four-speed gearbox and chain drive manufactured Coventry 1897 in the UK's first series production run Louwman Museum The claim for the first all-British motor car is contested, but George Lanchester's first cars of 1895 and 1896 did include French and German components. In 1891 Richard Stephens, a mining engineer from South Wales, returned from a commission in Michigan to establish a bicycle works in Clevedon, Somerset. Whilst in America he had seen the developments in motive power and by 1897 he had produced his first car. This was entirely of his own design and manufacture, including the two-cylinder engine, apart from the wheels which he bought from Starley in Coventry. This was probably the first all-British car and Stephens set up a production line, manufacturing in all, twelve vehicles, including four- and six-seater cars and hackneys, and nine-seater buses. Early motor vehicle development in the UK had been effectively stopped by a series of Locomotive Acts introduced during the 19th century which severely restricted the use of mechanically propelled vehicles on the public highways. Following intense advocacy by motor vehicle enthusiasts, including Harry J. Lawson of Daimler, the worst restrictions of these acts, (the need for each vehicle to be accompanied by a crew of three, and a 2 mph (3.2 km/h) speed limit in towns), was lifted by the Locomotives on Highways Act 1896.Under this regulation, light locomotives (those vehicles under 3 tons unladen weight) were exempt from the previous restrictions, and a higher speed limit – 14 mph (23 km/h) was set for them. To celebrate the new freedoms Lawson organised the Emancipation Run held on 14 November 1896, the day the new Act came into force. This occasion has been commemorated since 1927 by the annual London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.(from Wikipedia)
The first working car engine was probably the Benz one shown here as a Benz Motorwagen modern replica. The priceless original is in the Deutsches Museum in Munich and is not working. This shows the complexity and danger of the first vehicles. The engines were improved by Ford in the USA and mainly by De Dion Bouton in France who shipped many many engines to Coventry for the burgeoning motorcycle industry . As these were common and reasonably price it makes sense that Percy was influenced by the De Dion engine crankcase design etc although the design is similar it is NOT by them but of similar vertical type . To give background on this age of vertical engine check the video from the expert on early motorcycles in a video by Bruce Lindsay which shows a similar engine working and method of construction and on this one the 1897 tricycle working unfortunately both with annoying music.
Lighting:-The oldest headlamps were Carbide lamps, or acetylene gas lamps, which are simple lamps that produce and burn acetylene that is created by the reaction of calcium carbide with water. Acetylene lamps were popular because the flame was resistant to wind and rain. In the Uk these were mainly the "King of the Road" carbide/acetylene bicycle lamps made by Joseph Lucas and officially patented in 1880 . (Joseph Lucas was born in Birmingham, England in 1834 and possessed natural business acumen, beginning in the early 1860s as a dealer in paraffin oil for domestic lamps and other products. In 1875, he opened a small workshop with five employees. The early product range included ship’s lamps and in 1878 the first cycle lamp appeared on a Penny Farthing). In 1882, Joseph formed a private partnership with his son Harry, trading under the title of Joseph Lucas & Son. . A new factory was built, which later developed into the iconic Great King Street premises and became the hugely successful Lucas Electrical business in Birmingham. Although electric headlights came on the scene in the 1890s the technology wasn't strong enough to unseat the acetylene type lamps as seen on Percy's car.
Article by the Riley Family of the origins of the company from Midland Telegraph December 5th 1930
HOW COVENTRY MADE MOTORING HISTORY.
. . . . . .The arrival in Coventry streets of a Belle tricycle and the Pennington motor-raft in 1896 aroused the keen interest of the young Riley element. It is not an official part of the Riley story, but it has frequently been stated that Mr. William Riley became quite , alarmed at the " crazy " ideas of his sons,' who were anxious to turn his sedate cycle factory into an experimental shop for motor engines, which were not being made in England at that time, and which were only enjoying a hazardous existence on the Continent.
RILEY CAR IN 1898
What extent it was due to paternal assistance or to personal enthusiasm way be a matter of opinion, but the fact remains that in 1898—only two years after the Daimler Company was formed--Mr Percy Riley had produced the first Riley Car, every portion of which was built in the Riley Cycle Company's works to his own designs. The engine of this car had at least one outstanding feature - it had a mechanically operated inlet valve in place of the automatic inlet, operated by the suction of the engine, which was the general but inefficient practice at that time. It is claimed to have been the first time this device had been successfully operated in automobile engine design. At all events it later became the stumbling block of a continental firm who sought to impose a patent royalty on the use of mechanically - operated valves in England.
In those days some very primitive methods were adopted of controlling the engine speed. One of the systems in use was that of closing the inlet valve thus preventing the ingress of 'explosive' gasses.In designing his first engine Mr Percy Riley preferred the system of holding the exhaust valve open, claiming that the cooling of the engine was materially improved by allowing it to take in cool air via the exhaust port. The Pioneer Riley car was in use in Coventry for a number of years and was eventually sold in Belfast. Several attempts have been made to recover it and bring it back home but it has been completely lost sight of, and an offer of £50 for information leading to its recovery is still good.
Greatly to the disappointment of the young members of the Riley family, they were unable to proceed with the production of these early cars. It was particularly unfortunate, in view of the great promise which the pioneer vehicle held out. It is true that the plant of the Company did not permit of car production, but there may be the additional reason that, whereas the market for pedal cycles was good and reasonably certain, the manufacture of motor I cars was extremely expensive and even more speculative at that time. English roads (were in a very poor state, and motor cars were far from popular. Something in the nature of a compromise was effected. In the years 1899 and 1900, besides making bicycles, the . Riley factory was producing motor tricycles, fitted with engines made by some of the beat-known manufacturers of that period. A little later a fourth wheel was added, and, what was known as a Riley Quadricycle, was produced. A Riley motor tricycle put up a track record at about this time. The younger Riley element was dissatisfied with this modest progress. Mr. Percy Riley . , who was in charge of the more progressive section of the Riley Works, had been, engaged in his spare time upon the production of a new water-cooled engine, of what was then the very generous proportions of 8hp.ln this unit he improved upon his original mechanically-operated inlet valve, and incorporated a method of varying the lift of the valve, thus regulating the speed of the engine to the required r.p.m. This engine was extremely successful, and incidentally it was discovered in 1913 driving the plant in a Coventry foundry, still doing well, and showing few signs of wear, despite a hard life of 13 years.
The three Riley brothers—Percy, Victor, and Allan—were so enthused with the successful running of this engine that they approached the heads of the Riley Cycle Co. (Messrs. William and Herbert Riley) with persistent requests for the purchase of plant, and the provisions of the necessary money, for the manufacture of these power units on a commercial basis. It was a, very severe disappointment to them that their enthusiasm found little response from their father and uncle, who were still undecided as to the wisdom of entering into this very uncertain market. Neither the money nor the plant was forthcoming. In this dilemma the Riley brothers took a bold step. Pooling their own resources. they obtained financial assistance from both their mother and father, and made arrangements for the purchase This interesting 1905 Riley model was also exceptionally well sprung, and its success paved the way to still better things. The next step was to produce a 9 h.p. water-cooled twin engine, and by 1906 the little tricar was carrying full elliptic springs. This 9 h.p. Riley tricar was a very popular machine, and enjoyed quite a vogue. It was fast, tractable, comfortable, and of good appearance. In its day it left little to be desired in the cycle-car sphere. In competitions it frequently swept the board," its only serious competitors being the late Wilbur Gunn, in his 9 h.p. Legends, and the 9 h.p. Singer tri-car, which was fitted with the Riley engine. Meanwhile, it was found that by the abandonment of the cheaper machines, a number of old friends had been lost, and Mr. Stanley Riley, who had just served his apprenticeship with the Riley Cycle Company, was allowed to try his hand at the design of a smaller and cheaper tricar. He produced a 5 h.p. model, selling at £685, and it proved a popular success. One of these cars is still in excellent running order, and frequently appears at carnivals and rallies. Eventually it was found that the single rear wheel was holding these little vehicles back. There were serious tyre troubles on the rear wheel, for tyres were not perfect in those days, even to the extent that they are to-day. In 1905, the original Riley 9 h.p. car was produced, selling at the remarkable figure of £l68. It was much faster than anything else in its price class, and even exceeded the 9 h.p. Tricar in popularity. It was built upon a flat duplex tubular frame, with quarter elliptic springs all round. The same engine and gear box was used as in the Tricar, and final drive was by a central chain to a rear axle carrying a differential. It was a consistent winner in sports events—a fact which was not surprising, as it was actually the well-tried Tricar with a fourth wheel. of the required plant o n sufficiently generous terms to allow them to forge ahead. They launched the Riley Engine Co. The original factory was known as the Castle Works, adjoining the Cook Street gate, while a part of the old city wall formed one side of the factory. .
The Engine Co. was started in 1903, Mr. Percy Riley leaving the Riley Cycle Co., Ltd., to take over entire control. At that time the Riley Cycle Co., Ltd., were buying engines for their tricycles and quadricycles, but public opinion was slowly swinging round in favour of motor cycles. The Riley Engine Co. therefore concentrated upon lighter engines, and was soon turning out a range of 3 h.p., h.p., 21 h.p. t and 41 h.p. power units, all of which incorporated a novel and patented Valve gear, consisting of a single cam and two rockers.
" VALVE OVERLAP " PIONEERING.Another of Mr. Percy Riley's important innovations was the system of valve overlap, which he appreciated far in advance of other designers, and he made his first road experiments in this direction on a twin air-cooled engine of 6 h.p. Then the forecar was added, the result being a tricycle " the wrong way round," i.e., with two wheels in front instead of behind. A very successful 4.5 h.p. watercooled engine was built for this machine. In the first place it was fitted with a lever operated clutch. Later a two-speed gearbox was added, with a band-brake, and 'a foot controlled clutch. This proved to be the last of the cycle type of machine which tho Riley concern built with a diamond type of frame. Already the saddle had been replaced by a comfortable upholstered seat, and the machine had become. the connecting link between a motor cycle and a cycle car.
In 1905 a machine was produced which constituted a considerable advance. it, was a 6 h.p. tricar, and really consisted of a three-wheeler motor car in most senses of the word as it was then understood. The engine was water cooled, of entirely new design, and a three speed gear box and clutch was fitted athwart the frame. The final drive was by roller chain to the single rear wheel. Even the gear box was designed by Percy Riley, with patented features, and it incorporated a reverse. In many novel respects thin little car was ahead of its time in its own lightweight class.
The gears for instance. were of the constant mesh type—a system which has been talked of quite a lot in the last year or two. Instead of the teeth gliding in and out of engagement to offset changes, dog clutches were used. The result was a gearbox which was genuinely fool-proof and remarkably silent. while the teeth could not be damaged when changing gear. This gear box had also many of the elements of the latest " pre selector gear box " which has caused a motoring sensation within the last two years. The box was so arranged that the lever could be forced into any position in the gear quadrant, regardless of car speed. When the car speed and engine speed approached the correct ratio, the gears automatically engaged themselves under the action of the coil spring gears Aing this dog clutches.
This interesting 1905 Riley model was also exceptionally well sprung, and its success paved the way to still better things. The next step was to produce a 9 h.p. water-cooled twin engine, and by 1906 the little tricar was carrying full elliptic springs. This 9 h.p. Riley tricar was a very popular machine, and enjoyed quite a vogue. It was fast, tractable, comfortable, and of good appearance. In its day it left little to be desired in the cycle-car sphere. In competitions it frequently swept the board," its only serious competitors being the late Wilbur Gunn, in his 9 h.p. Legends, and the 9 h.p. Singer tri-car, which was fitted with the Riley engine. Meanwhile, it was found that by the abandonment of the cheaper machines, a number of old friends had been lost, and Mr. Stanley Riley, who had just served his apprenticeship with the Riley Cycle Company, was allowed to try his hand at the design of a smaller and cheaper tricar.
He produced a 5 h.p. model, selling at £85, and it proved a popular success. One of these cars is still in excellent running order, and frequently appears at carnivals and rallies. Eventually it was found that the single rear wheel was holding these little vehicles back. There were serious tyre troubles on the rear wheel, for tyres were not perfect in those days, even to the extent that they are to-day. In 1905, the original Riley 9 h.p. car was produced, selling at the remarkable figure of £ l68. It was much faster than anything else in its price class, and even exceeded the 9 h.p. Tricar in popularity. It was built upon a flat duplex tubular frame, with quarter elliptic springs all round. The same engine and gear box was used as in the Tricar, and final drive was by a central chain to a rear axle carrying a differential. It was a consistent winner in sports events—a fact which was not surprising, as it was actually the well-tried Tricar with a fourth wheel.