RM Special Bodies. . .  estates,vans,cabriolet  etc

RM Special Bodies made 1940s / 1950s. Immediately after the war the metal shortage and rush to get life and businesses back to normal  involved various innovations from Riley. They sold vehicles as a rolling chassis ie engine often with bonnet, wings and radiator grille to be bodied elsewhere. Immediately postwar only car manufacturers that could export their cars would be supplied with steel under rationing but wood, aluminum and ex military materials were available . This resulted in numerous top end London shops having deluxe vans  and larger numbers of 'utility vehicles'  and provided a sporting way beat high UK purchase taxes on non-commercial vehicles. As they were considered commercial you did not pay the 33% purchase tax also on  1 June 1948: The Motor Spirit (Regulation) Act 1948 was passed, ordering a red dye to be to put into some petrol, and that red petrol was only allowed to be used in commercial  + 'utility' vehicles. A private car driver could lose his driving licence for a year if red petrol was found in his car. RM estate cars were then termed 'Utility cars' but I have stuck to the more common modern estate cars rather than confuse. (In the US they are 'depot wagons' later altered to 'station wagons' as working people used them to collect parcels from the freight depot ie the station) . Petrol rationing was re-introduced for five months as a result of the Suez crisis of 1956 and a few conversions were made though none seem to be Rileys. They also had further tax exemptions for certain professions to buy them evading even more tax but restricted to under 30mph and a number of later re-bodied RM special bodies retain this marking on the speedometer. . . more info below. For contemporary conversions such as the 'Bertone' etc click here

Other countries purchase rolling chassis for their own coachbuilders and are bespoke designs not chopped saloons although some may be a 'grey area' due to the passage of time:-

Swiss ( Basel)   post 1945 Walter Köng 1948 Riley Transformable Saloon

Netherlands post 1945 Verheul Carrosseriefabriek

Swiss 2 (Basel+ Zurich)  post 1945 Reinbolt & Christe', Carrosserie Worblaufen,Sportscar AG of Zurich/Keller

Italian post 1945  Bertone; Stabilimenti Farina; Stanguellini; Vignale;

Other countries also made contemporary and later  bespoke designs from saloons and CBK chassis :-

Australia post 1945 RM Conversions inc. Head Brothers of Murrumbeena


Rolling Chassis Sale Data :- 1.5 litre (34 chassis accounted for in Taylor's book) from the 227 of all models known to be  sold

1946 Coventry  2 x RHD

EVE 570  36S10183  Estate/Shooting Brake  (alive still maroon) ;

ETR 582  possibly number for 36S10287  Estate / Shooting Brake, (1946 estate now maroon first registered in Portsmouth)

1947 Coventry 14 x RHD 

Chassis known to be sold but not numbers not matched to registrations and or bodies:- 37S 11749, 37S 11836, 37S 11842, 37S 1206, 37S 12515, 37S 13960, 37S 12918, 37S 12946, 37S 13110. Any major refurb get the torch out !

DEA 223 37S 11879 ( Drophead alive on dvla now black first registered in Dudley,West Bromwich ) by Princess Coachcraft,

EVN 808 ' the Flying Greenhouse'  registered December 1948 in  Middlesborough,North Yorkshire ( alive on dvla now blue)

EWV 624 37S 11836 December 1947 Brown built Salisbury first registered in Wiltshire alive, (location known on DVLA as the family prefer privacy).They had a pair made, but sold the second to a friend see EMR 972

HAB 681 37S 12324 ( Estate not on dvla noted as broken in 1972 was steel panels and wooden frame to a  Massey design first registered in Worcester)

HWF 993 37S 12525 ( Massey Estate/Shooting Brake ), first registered Sheffield

FWF 999   sold 1948  on '47 chassis  (Massey Estate / Shooting Brake not on dvla),one of these is probably on 37S 12515 first registered Sheffield

GWF 320  sold 1951  on '47 chassis (Massey Estate / Shooting Brake not on dvla), one of these is probably on 37S 12515 first registered Sheffield

FCR 338  37S Estate / Shooting Brake, by Dibben Southampton,registered Portsmouth/Southampton  not on dvla

FCR 339 37S12527 Estate / Shooting Brake, by Dibben Southampton,registered Portsmouth/Southampton  (alive on dvla now red) two nearside doors one offside originally possibly for a childrens home

42 EPB 37S 12701  ('Bertone Style'  last seen in Japan) big query on this car due to extensive remodelling over the years and conflicting ages,hence on 'special' page

SMX 308 Drophead from Trent Coachwork again 47 chassis registered 1948 in Middlesex/South East London one of three made

LKL 121 37S 13805 ( presumed Epps Drophead not on dvla  ),first registered Maidstone, Kent

EAP 801 37S 14019  ('Harveys Hearse' Estate / Shooting Brake / Van possible only one designed first registered in Brighton /East Sussex, now a green  Polish drophead and on the dvla as alive

CAN 832 Bonallack Estate December 1947 chassis number unknown (alive on dvla now cream),fastback styling first registered in West Hammersmith

CAN 102 Bonallack Estate August 1947 chassis number unknown (alive on dvla now green) first registered in West Hammersmith

 KHA 832 Estate not on dvla 1947 unknown chassis number first registered in Dudley/Smethwick

OPG 33 from the Riley Record Feb 1948 in Leamington Spa @ Moss Agencies Design Godwin/Dobbs/Massey type possibly one of the missing Godwin cars

GWF 84  37S 14093  (Swain Estate / Shooting Brake not on dvla), first registered in Sheffield sold new  December 2nd for £1175 where the car was £913

H.B.H / Hayward, Biggs & Hill Estate, now shown to be early cars see below 2.5 litre car

Harold Godwin made three estate cars /Info from A.P.Bird personally from Harold Godwin @ Harold Godwin(1944) Ltd, in Suffolk Street, Birmingham letter to rk in files

1948 Coventry 1 RHD 38S 14056 ??  , At least 16 estates etc known but chassis numbers yet to be confirmed as building covers them

DCX887  ('Pigeon Loft' Estate / Shooting Brake first registered in Huddersfield not on dvla but alive),

EMR 972 Estate / Shooting Brake built Salisbury first registered in Wiltshire not on dvla probable  twin to EWV 624, Number 227 in the Daily Express Rally of 1952. Photo National Motor Museum 

EVA 626 Estate / Shooting Brake ( Vincents of Yeovil alive on dvla now green),

HTB 914 Estate / Shooting Brake not on dvla,first registered in Warrington Lancashire

JLJ 886 Estate/FH Coupe car, not on dvla first registered in Bournemouth

TMV25 Estate / Shooting Brake,  not on dvla first registered Middlesex/South London

JRH 244 Estate / Shooting Brake, not on dvla first registered in Swindon

DEA 593 by Jensen of West Bromwich , very similar to the Dibben Car 339 37S 13975 not on dvla/pic needed

Mapco Builders of Bankshill, Lockerbie Estate / Shooting Brake, single piece windscreen, four door, not on dvla

Urquhart & Sons, Station Road Garage, Petersfield, Hants. Estate / Shooting Brake,

Urquart Dropheads,supposed to have been built no trace left

MPF 423  Epps 38S14056 , first design  (5 made of this design )Number plate moved to 1932 Riley after car was exported

KKN 950 Epps Special  (5 made of this second design not on dvla ),

MPB 243 Estate by ?,  (not on dvla ) first registered in Guildford Surrey

? Fixed Head coupe,

Hector Dobbs of Southampton made at least 5 one was near Pewsey Wiltshire in the 1980's /RK

GWF 749 Commercial  Van, (not on dvla ) first registered in Sheffield

EFW 786 Commercial  Van, (not on dvla ) first registered in Lindsey/Lincoln area

Masserella's Ice Cream Van,

HOX 926 Frank Grounds 1948 Estate (alive on dvla now blue), Body was transferred to an RME chassis from a poorly RMA one

CJD  257 Bonallack Coupe August 1948 chassis number unknown (alive on dvla now cream),first registered central London

MPH 992 Drophead coachbuilt by ? November 1948 chassis number unknown (alive on dvla now blue) first registered in Guildford Surrey

1949 Coventry + Abingdon

1RHD 39S 16122 ( later 39D 16122 ie remodelled)

DAN 93 Bonallack coupe , (June 1949 now black)

Unknown Year to be checked:-

LWM330 Roadster Coachbuilt by ? (not on dvla ) first registered in Southport/Lancs.

SMX 882 Bonallack Estate (not on dvla ) first  registered in Middlesex/South East London

CJD  164 Bonallack Estate (not on dvla ) first  registered in Middlesex/Central London

 Rolling Chassis Sale Data :- 2.5 litre

HEA 576 /JMN 194 1947 Coventry became the Crosbie & Cowley special;

1948 Coventry 1 x RHD became six light saloon prototype

AKS 763 chassis 58S3536 lived at Crewe, Cheshire 2.5 litre Estate (alive on dvla now maroon)

SMF 867 one of the HBH / Hayward, Biggs & Hill cars not on dvla

2 x RHD became Drophead Prototypes

1 x RHS became Kong coupe

1 x RHD became the Motor Show Chassis

1949 Coventry 3 x RHD became Rheinboldt & Christe dropheads

1 x RHD became Head Brothers special Australia

1 x RHD Became Epps 'banana' car

CWH 676  Riley 2 1/2 litre Ice Cream Van ( could be a conversion)

NFC400 1949 Abingdon 1 x RHD became final Drophead prototype  (not on dvla )

1950 Abingdon 1 x RHD location unknown

1952 Abingdon 1 x LHD show chassis

One Pathfinder chassis was produced 2440 and later either used at Cowley or rebodied

WVW 100 apparently July 1953 information needed please alive !

Contemporary Conversions Saloons etc to Coupe etc ie squished when new and rebodied

GOM 875 Mead Brothers 


 UK:- Almost every  make of British car and light commercial chassis ended up receiving wooden shooting brake bodywork at some stage, with many  'Woodies'  built in small, sometimes very small, batches by specialist workshops or commercial body builderss who had honed their skills constructing van, truck, and bus bodies. Many of these  often because they were working as a sub-contractor to a garage or car dealer did not put their name to the bodywork and others especially Riley seem to have been almost kit or purchased designs with the most common design being by  Robert B Massey Co., Market Weighton East Yorkshire. The earliest recorded was made during 1945  originally of paxolite ( the brown board in early electrical items) and a frame of Brazilian mahogany and registered May 9th 1946 and the latest 1951.

The cars were made from 1945 until 1952 mainly using the early 1947 chassis, though as in anything Riley there are variations. The initial reason was lack of steel for bodies immediately post-war and the incredibly large market of people wanting a new car. The Riley factory  seems to have suffered from an excess of orders more than most as they printed the following disclaimer in their first post 1944 ales brochure:-"Owing to the prevailing situation whereby the bulk of British car production is earmarked for export, it is inevitable that many potential customers of Riley cars will be disappointed at the long delay in delivery." Due to this the people with money to afford private coach-builders leapt at the chance to buy a 'rolling chassis' for a bespoke car.The Riley definition of a rolling chassis was a complete set of wings,running boards,bonnet,scuttle sides and in many cases doors ready fitted(optional extra);carrying as well a six months company guarantee which left them time to complete.

Another reason was the then anomaly in the purchase tax laws ( early v.a.t but more poisonous), which meant that a car was exempt if it had no back seats fitted and the rear floor  for carrying goods continued from the front seats to the rear of the vehicle. This law further specified that it needed an internal capacity of at least 72 cubic feet ( the reason for no baby Austin and Morris estates) and that there should be rear doors. The major drawback with this was that used as a private vehicle you only needed to pay the road fund license (then used to pave roads remove potholes etc) but the 'law' regarded it as a goods vehicle and you were restricted to 30mph or 'done' for speeding. Many later cars had a red marker line on the speedometer to help with this , very very necessary on the odd 2.5 litre estate.. The nice cheap buy then relegates the driver to tortoise mode or as was more usual extra mirrors to spot policemen. In some cases better braking systems were fitted as in EVE, as with a nice Riley engine they are designed to drive not pootle.

This loophole unfortunately meant that anyone who could build a passable chicken house thought he could construct a 'utility car' and quite a number of RM chassis suffered from this fate ( EAP ?). Most of the very poor ones luckily were rebodied at a later date with a standard saloon body ( Eddie Smith's car was one/ forgot the reg). By late 1947 the government were frantically trying to close all the loopholes and the laws were altered,but the cars were now borderline and the subject of a number of trial cases as they had been under construction. As the saving was the then purchase tax of 66% on any new car costing over £1000 it was a sum to be fought for.

In 1948 the 'red petrol' regulations   meant that any road vehicle which could be claimed to be 'private' and 'goods' was allowed to run on red petrol . This meant you could avoid both rationing and the 9d (3 pence) petrol tax. This meant a sudden revival of interest in the 'utility car' and if you were mobile, you did not moan about the 30mph restriction just check the mirrors . . .  a lot. The government obviously more efficient than normal very speedily stopped this new loophole but not until many owners had adapted their cars becoming a bodge upon a bodge and very very poor quality work.

Back to Riley s, very few cars displayed the conventional bulkhead plate as this was visual proof of  a factory built car. To further confuse matters some had their chassis numbers built over by the body, other did not appear to be stamped with one. Another odd feature is that often the builders would buy in various bits of RM ( and in early cases pre war) trim bright-work but not always use them in the same places they were intended. One example of this is my car EVE which uses the standard rear window channel around all the exterior windows and glass-work in all about 40 metres but this car was made with the factory. early cars also used an oak frame as did some of the saloons changed to ash by most better builders as less likely to split or Brazilian Mahogany in EVE ( never repeated). Side panels were ply, hardboard, altaplast(plastic), paxolite,wood, aluminum and in one late example steel sheet.

The RM estates and shooting brakes were therefore very much a regional variation depending upon the competence of the builder and most were only made in production runs of two or three with one brave man selling his designs for others to follow. They do have a problem at MOT as many testers will try to fail the car for rust when it is in fact dry rot or woodworm (still a fail next section). Ros K.







rolling chassis minus wings




Illustrations of how Riley packed the ckd cars ( complete knock down= rolling chassis ) 
All photos from a very rare Reference Book for the C.K.D. 1 1/2 Litre Riley Part 1 Chassis published by Nuffield Exports Ltd., Oxford, England Sales Technical Department Publication No.10 Nov-46 Ref KLA owned by the Riley RM Club All pics © from Riley RM Club as the only copy known scans avaialble from the club


Clubs in the Uk catering for this model:-

All other countries on the contact page. Due to public liability laws spares can only be sold to current club members. Both clubs have a considerable spare parts supply  so best join at least one to gain information, help, and  information from the experts who have already 'been there' . Cars are also cheaper with known histories sold via the clubs than ebay etc.
Riley Motor Club    rileymotorclub.org/  for all ages inc pre war cars originally a gents club of owners 

The Riley RM Club      https://www.rileyrmclub.org.uk  Started in the 70's to cater for the RM's only with large spares department