1969 Riley Elf.  

   The name "Elf" can be traced back to the Riley Sprite and Imp range of sports cars, from the 1930s. Wolseley were similarly racing sporty ‘Hornets’ back then too. When BMC commenced their badge engineering adventures in the early 1960s the up market 'booted' saloon versions of the 1959 Mini were given the names Elf and Hornet in deference to those days of sporting success and in hope of stirring the souls of the sentimental types into purchasing something different.  

   The Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet were launched in October 1961, Riley had desired to use the name "Imp" but as Hillman had registered it that particular title so Elf became the new badge-engineered Mini with a boot.  

   To distinguish the Riley and Wolseley versions they had different grilles and badging, the Wolseley having their famous illuminated badge too. Of the two the Riley was the more expensive one.  

   Critics weren’t exactly kind to the cars, or the prospective customers in BMCs advertising campaign. Small Car magazine printed “We guess it’s no exaggeration to say that the first Issigonis Wolseley Hornet/Riley Elf was among the ugliest, most uncomfortable and least desirable cars ever offered to the great British public. At any rate the one we tested in the winter of 1962 so disappointed us we couldn’t bring ourselves to write a word about it.” Car magazine's columnist L.J.K. Setright wrote “it is to appeal to those small-minded snobs who found the idea of a Mini intriguing but the name of Austin or Morris offensive and the evidence of austerity.”  

   Billed as a more luxurious version of the Mini, the Riley Elf saw the designers return to the more traditional three box saloon style. A modified Mini body-shell incorporated each marque's distinctive traditional upright grille design, both very different from the Minis, in an elongated nose. The rear was also considerably different to the Mini, lengthened to create a larger boot framed by longer, slightly finned rear wings. The external changes didn’t stop there. More external chrome brightened up the exterior on larger diameter hub caps and bumpers with over-riders. 

   Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet bodies were manufactured under the "Fisholow" brand name at the Fisher & Ludlow works. Some were further refined by the Park Royal based coachbuilder, Wood & Pickett. Wood & Pickett transformed at least one Riley Elf to the level of a Rolls-Royce luxury Mini limousine, but mainly they were interested in upgrading Minis. 

   This repackaging produced a car much more distinguished and considerably less spartan than the Mini, something accentuated by the range of two-tone colour schemes made available.  

   The Elf/Hornet wheelbase remained 6ft8inches but the overall length had become 10ft7inches. All this new bulk meant more weight for the suspension to handle, 1,416lb for the Elf and 1,403lb for the Hornet. All the mechanical features were from the Mini but more power (34bhp), was squeezed from the 848cc A-Series engine. 

   On the inside the cars had all the trappings synonymous of luxury with British cars of the era. Higher quality leather or fabric choices for the seats etc and full-width wood veneer dashboards, different for each marque, apparently the idea of Riley sales Manager, Christopher Milner.  

   During the 8 years of production both the Elf and the Hornet went through three versions. Initially the 34bhp, 848cc engine with single HS2 carburettor drove the Elf through a four-speed gearbox (only three synchromesh gears) selected by a rod linkage gear change. Stopping power was aided by single leading shoe brakes on the front. The early choice of leather or cloth seats was soon dropped in favour of full leather seats.  

   In 1963 the MKII Elf arrived with the single carburettor version of the Cooper's 998cc engine which pushed out 38bhp, the car's top speed rose from 71 to 77mph. Stopping power also increased with twin leading shoes on the front drum brakes. Matching the performance improvements was the introduction of the interconnected Hydrolastic suspension from 1964. While this system was more complex it improved the ride comfort and added more to the already legendary cornering ability. Other upgrades included a diaphragm clutch for the manual car and from 1965 optional automatic gearboxes became available.  

   The MKIII Elf and Hornet facelift version of 1966 became the first 'Minis' to feature wind up windows, fresh-air vents in the fascia, remote gear change linkage to a fully synchromeshed four-speed gearbox and concealed door hinges (two years before they appeared on the Mini).  

   Production of both Riley and Wolseley models ceased in late 1969 following the formation of British Leyland. Indirectly replaced by the Mini Clubman Models this move marked the end of the Riley marque.  

   Overall the Elf and Hornet were reasonable sellers. Between 1961 and 1969 30,912 Elfs and 28,455 Hornets built.  

   For enthusiasts the Riley marque remains attractive even in the 2000s, but sadly the Riley Elf is now a very rare sight on the UK roads. The contemporary view of the Elf and Hornet is of a good car with a lovely dashboard and interior. But they can cost a fortune to restore.  

   Some have become very famous such as the luxurious little Riley once owned by one Captain Douglas-Morris RN, Aide-de-Camp to Her Majesty the Queen in the early 1970s. He wanted a smaller but equally well-appointed limousine to use on the congested London streets so secured the services of Wood & Pickett to upgrade a MkIII Riley Elf to give him a small car that matched to his Regal Red Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow in its level of luxury equipment.  

   Still, the Riley name is long gone. When the Rover Group was purchased by BMW in 1994 there were faint hopes that Riley might be revived as the then BMW Chairman, Bernd Pischetsrieder, was known to favour defunct British marques. It never happened and although BMW still hold the rights to the Triumph and Riley marques only the MINI brand had made it back onto the streets.  

1/24th scale transkit.
Built by Rod.

   Our model is built from a 1/24th scale resin transkit by South African firm Scalekraft. This firm was run by master sculptor Guido Fieuw and through the 1990s produced a large range of resin kits and transkits of mostly old British and European race cars, prototypes and one-offs; the Mini range of Clubman, pickup and countryman models was legendary. 

   Now ultra-rare these kits were known to have good body shape accuracy overall with little if any distortion in the resin castings due to them being a little on the thick side. Smaller parts were not so good in the casting department so it is usually best to get detail parts from other kits were-ever possible.  

   Sadly, Mr. Fieuw had an accident in 2005 and never really got things up and running again due to a long convalescence.  

   The Scalekraft resin body fits (with a fair amount of persuasion) onto the Tamiya Mini chassis, in this case the Morris Mini Cooper 1275s Mk1 kit, kit #24039 first released in 1983. The kit has been re-released in several forms including an Austin Cooper version. Interestingly the box art for these two kits is strikingly similar, an observation equally evident inside the box where most of the parts are identical accepting the additional sprue for Austin grills and badges. 

   The same base kit, also with additional parts sprues, appeared as the Monte Carlo rally winning car from 1967 kit #24048 (1984) and a club Morris Cooper racing version, kit # 24130 (1993).

   Built by Rod in January 2001 the model was painted with Halfords acrylic car spray primer and paints. Interior and detail painting was done by hand with a brush, using Humbrol enamels, and Citadel acrylic paints and ink washes.