Those of you who have been following OUMF recently will have seen that we now have a current project in the form of a Riley Kestrel. This has been on display to the public at the NEC Classic Motor Show in November 2022, and many will have seen it in a particularly sorry state… body panels missing, half painted, no interior - the list of things that were missing or badly damaged was probably longer than the list of what was present. Some of you may wonder, what prompted this departure from the dedicated competition car projects to date, and where did this car come from?
However, before I address these questions, I should first say that – possibly to the surprise of many - this wasn’t how we got it, even though it was fully running and driving when it arrived! So, how on earth did the car end up in the state that is in now?
This story begins - remarkably - in the winter of 2019. OUMF were having one of our weekly team gatherings, at which Ding informed us that a functioning Riley Kestrel was being offered, as the owners thought might be adopted as a race car project. The couple presenting this generous proposition were none other than Harris and Carol Khairuddin, uber-enthusiastic leading lights of the hugely OUMF-supportive Riley Owners Club. We were told that the car was now running, driving, and in roadworthy condition, having spent thousands of pounds on renewing the floor – right before they moved house and lost their garage. Its 24,000 miles from new had prompted their desire to save it, but it still required some further work and dry storage to prevent it from dissolving on the street. We obviously didn’t quite know what it was or what kind of race car it might represent, nor what we’d do with it - we just wanted to save it.
In our rampant excitement, we all Googled what a Riley Kestrel was, since the name obviously didn’t strike any chords with 18-year-olds like me. Turns out, it was basically an Austin 1100, but with Riley badges in place of the Austin badges, leather trim and a 1275 engine. Whilst Austin 1100s/1300s are still (relatively!) common nowadays, finding a running Riley Kestrel in the UK is a rarity. We were then made aware of the unavoidable caveat – that the car was a long way from Oxford, in Swansea, and needed to be collected by trailer. This would be an expensive outing which somewhat dampened the excitement, and prevented us from packing our ratchet straps for an OUMF road trip there and then.
While plans were being made, COVID-19 came and swept away any prospects of a sashay to Swansea - so, no Kestrel for us.
Through the years of restrictions that ensued, lockdown after lockdown, everybody ‘Staying Alert’etc. etc., we felt that this elusive Riley Kestrel was slipping further and further away from us. Experienced advice also warned against making it a race car prep project – as any amount of effort would still see it come last behind the lighter, faster Minis that it would ultimately race against. As the vulnerable Kestrel braved further seasons exposed to wet Welsh weather, I began to feel that the kind offer would never actually come to fruition - perhaps we were just chasing a dream! But Harris and Ding kept in touch, and kept the project’s embers glowing, anxious that we didn’t lose this opportunity! Ding made every effort to make sure this Kestrel was kept on our agenda, with ‘Kestrel Roadtrip - Swansea’ championing the OUMF to-do list on our whiteboard through the pandemic years that followed.
Fast forward to December 2021… two years after the offer was made – the deed was done. Ding
and Seb Paul made the pilgrimage to west Wales and retrieved it –it ran, and drove and everything!
Just like we were promised! Even then, with the multi-coloured beast here in Oxford, I was still left scratching my head at how someone could bear to part with it after so much time had been lavished on it. The Khairuddin’s saw OUMF as the best carers for their little four-doored unicorn, and entrusted us with a wonderful project to keep us busy – something that we are still thankful for to this day!
We found that the engine did seem to idle a bit oddly, so I took it upon myself to warm it up and give it a little run for its money. The brakes were a slightly spongy, and the readings on the dashboard clocks seemed to have absolutely no relation to the car it was attached to, but, at first glance those were minor, quick fixes. Everything on this car was going to be minor, quick fixes! No?
I parked it up, fiddled around with the twin SU’s to get it to idle to something less akin to a tractor, and more like the 1275 A-series it actually was. I got that car running so sweet, totally by ear (not to brag), so I thought I found my new calling! I parked it to the position you see on the photo, patted myself on the back and called it a night.
The next time I went for a cold start, I found out that it was time for me to retire from my new self-appointed job as Chief-Expert-Ultimate-SU-Carb-tuner-man, as the car sounded absolutely rubbish. Maybe the carbs needed cleaning? We took them off.
And while you’re there, you might as well take the rocker cover off.
And while you’re there, why not take the head off?
This is the precise point where the ‘while you’re there’-ing started to get completely and utterly outof control. After a disappointing compression test, the cylinder head had to come off. We found that the valves were knackered, and the cylinders were totally shagged, with serious scoring evident in all four. Now the entire engine needed to come out for a rebuild!
If this was anything but an A-series, it would’ve been knocking, banging, exploding and all the rest of it, but this engine still sounded OK despite it being in such a wretched state. Yet another example of these engines and their relaxed tolerancing allowing them to run, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Once the engine came out, the block was stripped to have the cylinders re-bored, and then we had a
clear shot at the engine bay.
… So ‘while you’re there’, why not repair the famously rust-receptive engine bulkhead, oh, and the
inner wings, and then might as well respray the entire engine bay!
And while you’re there…
And why not just…
If we’re doing that, we might as well…
So, this went on and on until the car was fully stripped and prepared for a comprehensive restoration. Any rust was to be eradicated, all dodgy repair patches to be made good, and a shining opportunity for a project of an entirely new nature slowly emerged!
Up till now, every OUMF project has always had some kind of competition use planned for the finished article – and accordingly bucket seats are found, a roll-cages constructed, weight cut out, Lifeline systems installed, and all the paraphernalia that has brought the OUMF team so much success in so many fields of motorsport. Quite proper ambitions for students wanting to be the best race engineers…but for many complete beginners, working on race-cars can be a daunting experience, particularly if you’ve never picked up a spanner in your life. However this project has
been accessible and more welcoming for new members to both work on, and learn mechanical basics from – and we have all pulled together to produce a fantastic ‘OEM-plus’ Riley Kestrel.
As of March 2023, the extensive bodywork repairs are almost completed, thanks to R-Tech Welding and SGS Gases. The car has been stripped with our new MBX Bristle Blaster, and Zircoflex and Rustbuster Epoxy Mastic protected inside and out. The engine is rebuilt with a ‘hot’ Phil Taylor head and angrier Kent ‘fast-road’ cam – kindly machined by Owslebury Crankshaft Services and helped by Engine Parts UK, G&S Valves, ARP, and Think Automotive. An entirely new Zircotec- coated BTB exhaust system with Ashley LCB manifolds is now fitted (with no idea yet if it’ll be dead-silent or stupid-loud!). A period-correct Autosparks wiring loom compliments the equally ravishing Speedycables-restored clocks; the Hydrolastic suspension is renovated, with ‘Terry Waller’ pipes, and the front suspension is SuperPro polybushed - and so much more. As always, this couldn’t have happened without the generous help of OUMF’s key sponsors – and the super- supportive members of the 1100 Club - to all of whom we are incredibly grateful.
The car is currently poised to receive a full ‘Vanden Plas’ interior (and other vital parts) courtesy of Nick Laidlaw (if unfamiliar, think Rolls-Royce interior in an Austin 1100), with all the wood dash and cappings re-veneered, a full Akzo Nobel Lesonal respray, a Pilkington heated windscreen, and hopefully some slightly wider 13” wheels with grippy TOYO tyres. The aim of the project is… well…mainly to put back together everything we tore down and fixed! But also to have an unusual, fast-road-going OUMF ‘flagship’ Riley seating up to 5 members, to attend shows, road rallies and events – to be admired and enjoyed by all for what it is, and the standard to which we students have restored it…and learned so much in the process.
We hope that the car will be finished very soon - and I can finally lose my illustrious title as the only
member who’s driven the OUMF Riley Kestrel!
Jalal Mehdizada - Final year Motorsports Engineer, Oxford Brookes