Riley Kestrel that kept 'flying'
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Not a teenage dream car but 45 years on, it remains loved
When Sue Douglas was a teenager her father, Bob Gudex, said: "Have I got the car for you." She was delighted - it was 1972, and she really wanted a VW Beetle - but this 1934 Riley 9 Kestrel turned up on the trailer. Given Bob had owned Rileys in the UK in the 1950s, perhaps she should have been suspicious...
Sue's husband, John says: "It needed reassembly. My understanding is it was original, but its previous owner had dismantled it and couldn't complete it, so Sue's dad finished it, the first of many he's restored since." That was when the seat covers were redone - in imitation leather - and the wood. It became Sue's first car -- the nuclear-free NZ sticker on the rear window was applied back then.
John arrived on the scene in 1974. "When I first met Sue she knew I was a car nut, and when she said she had a Riley Kestrel I asked if it was a 30s one. I think I was the first person she had met who knew what it was."
He's been washing and polishing it since. "I used to set tappets, and had it repainted about 15 years ago, but I'm no mechanic, though they're really simple, these old cars," he says. Almost a 3D puzzle that logic can fix.
Back in 1981 the Riley was the couple's only transport, "Until we bought a lovely Fintail Merc. Sue would go to work in the Fintail, and I'd put the kids in the car seat [in the Riley] and drive round the block to get them to sleep."
It had an engine rebuild in the late 1980s, "We couldn't afford it, but it had to be done." Local mechanic Geoff de May did the work, and it was rebored and resleeved by a motor reconditioner in Tauranga.
"It was redone as standard, and recently had the fuel pump replaced with a Zephyr one," John said.
It's an 1100cc, twin-cam motor with two huge Zenith carbs. There's a four-speed manual crash box with cable drum brakes and semi-elliptic suspension.
The tyres are original style: "30 or 40 years ago, when Firestone Christchurch was closing, I bought eight - and I still have four spares in the basement."
However, the electrics are 12V - and have been for the past 45 years. It needed those 12V electrics in the days it was the family car. "Sue used to drive it to Te Puke when she was a midwife, back in the 1980s and early 90s, several times a week until the electrics went ... going on a bendy hill road."
The instruments include a lovely big clock - which doesn't work - an amp meter, an inaccurate speedo, and an unreliable fuel gauge. "I keep a five-litre petrol container in the boot, such is its accuracy. And a tow rope and brass crank handle, and a rubber mallet for the knock-off hubs."
The couple no longer drive the car at night, "Although the headlights are magnificent, it's turned into a sunny-day cruiser," and its regular commuting days are also over but it still does the occasional work run. Otherwise it's used once or twice a week, as far afield as Whakatane and Whangamata. "We're tempted to go to Napier's Art Deco, but we'd take it on the trailer."
The car is still Sue's, in name at least - she was overseas when we visited, so couldn't speak for herself - but after more than four decades, John is clearly hooked. "I love its look. Some people have a painting, I have a car I regularly rub down - I don't polish - and I enjoy going for a drive on a sunny day. I like that it's difficult, it's challenging."
It's different to anything modern. The levers on the steering wheel include the manual advance and retard, and the headlight switch - the high beam was via a floor-mounted switch, though there's now a dash one too, while halfway down the steering shaft is a hand throttle, used when warming the engine.
And of course, because the brakes and handling were designed for a more gentlemanly pace, "You have to anticipate, you have to drive ahead of yourself. Many modern cars are just plain boring, this isn't."
So, do the kids drive the Riley? It seems not. John's theory is that because of the family's love of old cars, they grew up with breakdowns, and a relationship with the AA. "They heard parental arguments about the cost of repair bills, and are well used to seeing cars on the recovery truck." For them, cars are just a tool to get from A to B.
But not for John and Sue, nor her dad Bob, now 93.