The Riley Pathfinder and the Two Point Six are five-six seater saloons produced between 1953 and 1959.
The Riley Pathfinder’s svelte coachwork marked a complete departure from the outgoing RMF although a separate all-steel chassis was retained and it shared the same ‘Big Four’ engine. There was a four-speed transmission, drum brakes fore and aft, worm-and-roller steering, and the suspension was by independent wishbones and torsion bars at the front combined with a live rear axle with coil springs.
Riley launched the Pathfinder at the 1953 London Motor Show, where its exceedingly elegant Gerald Palmer designed coachwork made it the centre of attention – ‘Go far and fast!’ urged the advertisements. At a price of £1,238 14s 2d, it was far from an inexpensive motor car but the top speed of 100mph with an acceleration of 0–60 in 17.5 seconds was very respectable and the specification included full instrumentation, adjustable steering, fog lamps and leather upholstery. There was a choice of bench or bucket seats in the front and one idiosyncratic detail was the right-hand gear change.
British Motor Corporation planning meant that the Pathfinder was intended to form the basis of the 1954 Wolseley 6/90. A consequence of this decision was the lack of the RM’s rack-and-pinion steering plus a suspension set-up more suited to the illuminated oval ‘ghost light’ motoring rather than enthusiastic Riley driving.
The 1956 model year saw the Pathfinder being offered with overdrive and automatic transmission options and the final models were fitted with semi-elliptic rear springs. In August 1957, it was replaced by the Riley Two Point Six, which was more visibly allied to the 6/90 Series III; the Pathfinder had a lower stance than its stablemate but the latest model had the same suspension settings as the Wolseley.
And so, for £1,412 7s, the buyer gained what was essentially a Wolseley with 4bhp extra power from the BMC C-Series engine, flashing indicators and some vibrant duotone paint options. The top speed was 93mph with 0-60 in 17.4 seconds and Motor Sport found that ‘driven sedately the new big Riley is pleasant to handle’.
Two Point Six production ceased in May 1959.
The Riley Pathfinder’s engine was a 2,443cc S4 DOHC unit with twin SU carburettors while the Two Point Six was powered by a 2,639cc S6 OHV plant. Transmission for both models was either a four-speed synchromesh manual, with an option of Borg Warner overdrive or three-speed automatic on later cars.
The Riley Pathfinder and the Riley Two Point Six are best regarded not as sports saloons but as grand tourers, the former’s wonderfully torquey engine truly suiting it to this role. Some drivers may prefer the column-mounted selector for the automatic transmission although it is surprisingly easy to acclimatise to the floor gear change.
Potential owners should consider the scarcity of original spares, especially early gearboxes, and the sheer rarity of the Two Point Six. The sills and the front valance should be closely checked for signs of corrosion.
The Pathfinder was the last car to be powered by the famous ‘Big Four’ engine and the Two Point Six was the first of the badge-engineered Rileys. Both are fascinating and stunningly handsome cars.
Rivals to the Riley Pathfinder included the Jaguar 2.4 Mk.1, the Rover P4 90 and Sunbeam-Talbot 90 Mk. II and the 90 Mk. III. The Riley Two Point Six competed against the Rover 105S.