All the Makes: Railton to Rover

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(1933 - 1949)


(1935 - present)

Founded in 1935 by T L Williams to take over making the Raleigh 3 wheeler delivery van, a vehicle that Williams himself had designed in 1933, and one that Raleigh no longer wished to make. Powered by a 750 cc V-twin engine driving the rear wheels through a 3 speed gearbox and shaft drive, in 1939 the engine was replaced by Reliant's version of the straight four cylinder 747cc Austin 7 side-valve engine. In 1952 a four seater was launched and, in 1956, the bodywork was changed to fibre-glass.

The company then went on to make other composite-bodied specialist vehicles, such as the Scimitar, Saber Six and Reliant SS1 sports cars, along with the three wheeled varieties such as the Reliant Robin, Regan and Rialto. The Sabre Six was powered by a Ford six cylinder engine, and when it was replaced by the Scimitar coupe in 1966 the new Ford V6 was used, and arguably best of all was the 1968 hatchback/estate GTE which could reach 193 km/h, seat four adults and presented some very useable cargo space, qualities very rare in a sports car. It quickly garnered a stellar reputation, even Princess Anne became a customer.

As for the three-wheelers, the Regal was replaced by the more up-to-date Robin in 1973, then a four wheeled version named the Kitten was launched, this even being made under license in India as the Dolphin. Reliant was also responsible for the production of the 1970’s fun car, the Bond Bug, a sporty three wheeler designed by the Ogle designer Tom Karen.

In 1982 the Robin was replaced by the Rialto, then in 1985 the Reliant SS1 made a fresh assault on the budget sports car market. Reliant's expertise in the area of composite car body production also saw the company produce lightweight body shells for Ford RS200 Rally cars and new fiberglass bodied London taxis, the "MetroCab" - the first to have full wheelchair provision, manufactured by a division of Kamkorp. Reliant has provided designs to several other manufacturers, including Autocars in Israel and Otosan in Turkey in the 1960s, MEBEA in Greece and Sipani in India in the 1970s.

In 2001, production rights for the Reliant Robin were sold to B&N Plastics, but production ceased in 2002. Reliant has since concentrated on importing "speciality" vehicles from European manufacturers, including Piaggio, Bultaco and Ligier.

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(1898 - present)

Founded by Louis Renault and his brothers Marcel and Fernaud as the Société Renault Frères in 1898. Louis provided the engineering expertise, while the brothers concentrated on running the business. Their first car, the “Voiturette”, was sold to a friend of Louis after he took a test ride. The company turned to motor racing to raise their profile, and Louis and Marcel quickly garnered success in the first French city-to-city races.

Marcel was tragically killed in an accident during the 1903 Paris to Madrid race, and although Louis would choose never to race again, he remained committed to motor racing, his company taking out the inaugural Grand Prix race of 1906 in a Renault AK 90CV.

Renault went on to manufacture cars, taxis, buses and commercial vehicles in the pre-war years, however they turned to munitions, airplanes and even the Renault FT-17 tank during World War 1. Louis Renault was honored by the Allies for his company's contributions to their victory, and by wars end Renault was the number one private manufacturer in France. A dark period for the manufacturer came during the next conflict, Renault using their factories to manufacture trucks for Nazi Germany.

Just how Louis Renault should have played his hand during this dark period of history remains debatable, but following the liberation of France in 1944 he was arrested and sent to prison; he would be killed (broken neck) before having time to prepare his defense.

The Renault industrial assets were seized by the provisional government, their factories becoming a public concern. Against the odds, new chief Pierre Lefaucheux would lead the company into a resurgence, mostly attributable to the wonderful 4CV model, a car that rivaled the German Beetle and British Morris Minor.

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(1904 - 1936)

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(1899 - 1969)

Riley started out as a family concern, for many years working as master weavers. With a downturn in trade to both Germany and Austria William Riley, who had inherited the business from his father, decided he needed to diversify, and so in 1890 he acquired the Bonnick Cycle Company. Against Riley’s wishes, his five sons would experiment with engines, and in 1899 the company had manufactured their first powered tricycle. In 1902 brothers Victor, Allan and Percy (the designer) would start the Riley Engine Company, manufacturing engines for both their fathers products, and others such as Singer. They would patent the mechanically operated inlet valve, and in 1907 the detachable road wheel.

This latter invention would have almost universal appeal to the burgeoning worldwide automotive industry, with 183 manufacturers taking up patent rights so they could use the detachable wheels on their iterations. Naturally enough the decision was made to concentrate on wheel manufacture, and in 1911 bicycle manufacture was discontinued.

Enlisting the help of Harry Rush as designer, Riley would release their first aptly named “Light Car” in 1919, but the cost of bringing the car to market proved too great, and the company went into receivership. Lord Nuffield would come to the rescue, buying the company privately before later selling it to his own Morris conglomerate.

In 1926 Riley took the wraps off its prototype “Riley 9”, the “Monaco” version arguably the first small car to feature fully enclosed saloon bodywork. The 9 used a completely new engine featuring overhead valves, and they would soon find success on the track – extremely popular for the time, approximately 6000 would be sold between 1926 and 1929. After the war Riley was only ever a shadow of its former self, the 1953 Pathfinder being the last to use a Riley engine.

In 1961 a Riley version of the Mini was launched – afforded a better standard of trim it was obvious that by now the company lived on by name alone. But even that was short lived, with British Leyland pulling the plug on the name entirely in 1969.

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(1906 - present)

Arguably the most famous partnership in automotive history belongs to Rolls Royce. Having acquired a Deauville car, Henry Royce was so dissatisfied that he decided to build his own; somewhat of a perfectionist his first car, the 10hp, ran with unsurpassed precision. It would impress many, none more so than one Charles Rolls, who offered to sell as many cars as Royce could manufacture. A partnership was formed, and Rolls Royce born.

At first there would be only one model, a running chassis 40/50 that required the purchaser to obtain a body from a coachbuilder (a practice not uncommon for the time). As demand grew, the company would move from Manchester to Derby, then came the smaller Twenty, powered by a new overhead valve six of 3.1 liters, which would grow to 4.3 liters by 1936.

The 40/50 was replaced by the awesome 7.6 liter Phantom, which featured a hypoid rear axle with allowed the body to sit lower on the car, resulting in a significant handling improvement; this would be the last car designed by Royce, he passing in 1933. Subsequent exports to the US market would ensure the marques survival through the difficult depression years, there even being a factory set up in Springfield Massachusetts (in 1919) to build cars not only designed for US conditions, but to avoid the crippling US Tariff’s. The Phantom III of 1935 was powered by a V12 to help it compete with the best Detroit could offer, it fitted with independent front suspension.

The company would garner a stellar reputation during the Second World War with the Merlin engines fitted to Britain’s Spitfire fighter and Lancaster bomber. After the war Rolls Royce switched to providing their cars with factory fitted bodies, each built with the same care and precision that went with the chassis and engines. It has always been the case that Britain has produced the finest in quality combined with upper-class,  the Silver Ghost, Silver Cloud and Silver Shadow are without peer, and only one company would have dared manufacture cars of this ilk, one founded by a perfectionist of course.

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(1904 - 2005)

Founded in 1877 in a partnership between John Kemp Starley and William Sutton, the Coventry based bicycle company would be at the forefront of modern bicycle design. Car manufacture would commence in 1904 with a range of single and twin cylinder sleeve-valve engines, one of their cars even taking out the 1907 Tourist Trophy race. The company would supply motorcycles to both the British and the Russian Armies during World War 1, along with Maudslay trucks and Sunbeam cars to government orders.

Models released after the war were much better sellers than the pre-war sleeve-valve models, and from the 1920’s the company expanded manufacturing a wide range of cars, although it was not until the 1930’s until the company managed to turn a healthy profit, under the management of Spencer Wilks. The Rover’s became renowned for their quality, and by the World War 2 the company had garnered an enviable reputation among the upper middle class. The 1948 P3 was the first all new iteration to follow the war, it sharing its new inlet-over-exhaust engine with the other newcomer, the Land Rover.

The P4 would follow in 1949, featuring a beautiful new saloon body and paving the way for a long line of high class and beautifully made iterations, including the P5 of 1959. Such were the profits being made from the venerable Land Rover that the company was able to experiment with such things as gas turbine power, one even competing at Le-Mans. The 1963 P6 2000 set the benchmark for executive style transportation, featuring all-round disc brakes and independent suspension. Rover would become part of the troubled British Leyland conglomerate in the 1970’s, the halcyon days now reserved for the history books.

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