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1933 Riley Race Car |The Gentleman's Racer

Troy Cooper has a passion for British cars. In his garage is a Sunbeam Alpine, an Aston Martin, and his prized 1933 Riley. Troy found himself intrigued by the open-air raw feeling of the old gentleman’s race cars and set his sights on acquiring one. He found the car in Britain and imported it to Canada. Troy tells us his story about the car, and we hear from master mechanic, Bruton DeGroot who helps keep the car on the road.


Hi everyone, I'm Bruce Hitchen and this is Center Lane. Today we're at the home of Troy Cooper. Now Troy has a beautiful 1933 Riley. This car is amazing! He had bought the car from someone in England. He had it shipped over to Canada and he's keeping this car in meticulous condition. The car was already restored when he got it but he looks after it and he has a mechanic that we're going to speak to as well and find out all the things that need to go into keeping this car road worthy. Now, if you like this episode then please subscribe to my channel. Right now, let's take a look at the car.

I was open to a pre-war car in in nearly any condition, providing it was repairable or or potentially restorable. This particular car was fortunate where a significant amount of the the the work was previously done to a very high degree of quality and attention to detail by the previous owners.

You know when I was 15, I'd saved up my paper route money and had the opportunity to buy a barn find old British Sunbeam Alpine that I then subsequently worked on restoring through, you know 15 & 16 years of age and you know, became my first car. And I enjoyed that experience, that hands-on understanding of what made the car run and work all the details surrounding that. And that kind of fed into and and developed my passion for for that the experience of driving. And the appreciation that I received on the road from others with an older car and and the maintenance and the the care and of those cars. So I purchased this one when I was about 19 years old and I've had it ever since. And it has been a you know something that I've really enjoyed. It still drives like a, drives like a dream and it was truly built for you know country back roads and what's really amazing now is my two, my two boys regularly and routinely drive drive that car. So I can envision and see myself when I was exactly his age driving the very same car and so it's been neat to to watch that entire cycle occur.

I have an appreciation for all cars. One of my earlier cars also was you know an American muscle car that I enjoyed quite a bit and it was it was a force to be reckoned with for sure and it really, I enjoyed, I enjoyed that side of it. I've you know many friends have got a wide variety of European and domestic cars but my exposure, interests and opportunities have always kind of lent themselves back to, back to British cars.

That allowed me to start to kind of really define you know the holy grail or what I was really deep down passionate about with with these cars and what I was pursuing which was the the ultimate visceral driving experience. The gentleman's racer. The uh, something that kind of really brought back the origins of driving and what it meant to to experience that.

As I began to kind of develop and refine my my appreciation and desire to kind of acquire a pre-war car, that began you know years of research and you know predominantly looking online but also at the various you know, All British Field Meets and you know there were a number of owners in the Lower Mainland both here and of course in Seattle as well that had these some of these vintage pre-war cars. And so I would, I was finding myself paying more and more and closer attention to these cars when I would see them and learning about them and understanding kind of what made them tick and appreciating the mechanics and how they were manufactured, built, and maintained, and owned.

I was fortunate with this particular car through an extensive amount of research, this one became available in the UK and I worked with the seller and the the company that he had brokered the car through. And through multiple conversations with them a decision was made to to purchase the car and import it to Canada

Surprised at the time to to hear of an unanticipated delay by the UK Government as they wanted to review the purchase and ensure that the car didn't hold any value from a heritage perspective. So they stopped me from exporting it for a period of time until they finished their review and then they released it.

I was pretty happy when I first got my hands on the car. There wasn't a lot of work significantly to do to the car, other than just simply a slow methodical process of dismantling, rebuilding, and fine tuning. A lot of the basic maintenance and general understanding of the car itself. I do myself but in most cases you know, I definitely consult an expert, master mechanic who does help with the finer details of the, particularly the engine, the drivetrain, the aspects of the car were, you know, I don't want to take a chance or an unnecessary risk.

I was a diagnostician in the regular world for years and years and years, working on your average everyday cars. A fully certified mechanic but I specialized in doing everything no one else wanted to do. So that was, that was how I kind of, I always find those problems interesting and intriguing. People would come and say, "my car's had this problem for a long time. No one else can seem to fix it", and I'd be like, well somebody's got to be able to fix it.

It's an interesting role on this car because my technical experience comes in but Troy has a lot of knowledge, so it's really fun to work with him. And so now I work on some of the rarest cars in the world. And I always find it fun because it's unpacking something new every time. We work on a lot of old Ferraris or... It was mostly European that I was doing for a long time. German and Italian and English stuff.

Burton has been instrumental in working with me with this car to to maintain it and to have it operational and on the road on a regular basis.

This is called a fourteen-six. Fourteen was the horsepower rating and six was the amount of cylinders. Now the horsepower rating was only a taxable horsepower rating so it actually doesn't have 14 horsepower. Now this engine would probably be producing upwards of 100 to 120 horsepower. Back in the day it may have been in the 60-70 horsepower range. So this this engine has dome pistons installed. As soon as you start raising compression ratio from the very low compression ratios these engines would have had back in the day, modern fuel you're able to increase compression ratios significantly and you get a lot of power gains from that. And then we have the dual SU carbs, like you said, they're interesting and very simple carburetor and they work great for a lot of cars like this. We looked up the rpm range on it and actually for the day this is a 4000 plus rpm motor which is quite high.

And I see, which I find interesting, it comes with spare spark plugs and things. Now is that an indication of the time, that these parts failed regularly?

These cars, the races were typically a little bit longer. They would have done sometimes 24-hour races, sometimes even longer. And during that time period, fouled spark plugs were not uncommon. The amount of combustion that would go by the rings back in these days too would contaminate your oil so you'd have to make sure that your oil was fairly clean. in these motors. They had softer bearings, oil was a really important part to be able to change while you go and change often because they had a lot of contamination issues.

It's a big drum brake system so it's got shoes in it like you would see in a drum brake system but instead of a wheel cylinder pushing it out there's a cam that gets pulled by a cable. And there's a pulley system that goes under the car that runs the cables to the centralized point there. So you push the brake pedal, and the brake pedal pulls all the cables. And the cables are, they're like bicycle cables except ten times thicker. So they're big thick cables but you apply the, you apply the brakes, it pulls a cam and that camps separates the drums or sorry separates the shoes and then and applies it to the drum and slows the car down. Like, this transmission you actually move the gears into place. So the shifting mechanism physically moves gear. Today's transmissions, manual transmissions, use synchronizers so you're not actually moving any gears, the gears are all in place. And you move a collar that locks the gear to a shaft so this wasn't that way. This was, you move the gear into position and now that the drive goes through a different gear set.

So the car of course, it has a foam filled fuel tank in the back. But adjacent to that it's also got, it's also got a storage area which of course has got anything that we need for traveling. Tools, tonneau cover, and of course, you know, copper leather hammer for removing the knock on hubs there. As well as different tools and accessories for what maybe may be required for general operations of the car.

For me the car is unique it is simplified in its industrial design and its mechanics. Shape, form and function is is as close to perfect, in my perception, as as a car can get. So the car in itself is is everything that I've always wanted to experience driving. It's that freedom, that uh, the freedom of being in an open-wheeled, pre-war, race cars as someone could ever dream or hope to be in.

You know it is a challenge to to drive, it is a challenge to take out, it's a risk, but it's also a responsibility to show people what these cars were and what the experiences are and hoping that there remains an interest and a passion that does extend to the next generation. And so these cars will find a home and a steward beyond me for future ownership. Of not just this car but others like them.

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