In 1968, my mother bought a new Riley Elf from Moller Motors in Auckland. The Riley Elf was a swept up version of the Mini, with a handsome chrome grille and a tiny protruding boot. She had earlier had two second hand Minis and this was her first (and last) new car. It was an olive green colour, and my mother was a proud new owner. She used this car daily while travelling to her position as a school librarian and later after she retired. She also travelled to many spots in the North Island to visit relatives in the holidays.
I was away at Massey University during term time, but drove the car when I was home during the holidays. Until later in life when I became the owner of a Triumph 2000, it was the only car I drove that had a walnut finish on the dashboard. My wife and I did some of our courting in the car which was some feat as I am not exactly small, and the car was only Mini-sized (a fact that caused much mirth to one of my employees when my mother frequently turned up later in life in the car at our place of work).
My three teenage children also occasionally drove the car while staying with her. At some stage she had it repainted white, so it could be more easily seen by other road users.
In 2001 my mother had to go into full-time care, so the car which she had regularly used until then ended up at our place for several months. We kept the Riley at our house for most of a year as mum was reluctant to bid it farewell, but we all knew that my mother wouldn’t be driving again. Eventually its WOF expired and it would no longer start. None of the five grandchildren were in a position to take the car over, so it seemed that at the age of 34 it was bound for the car wreckers.
However I thought that there could be a local club of Riley enthusiasts. On the Internet I found that there was a Riley car club in Auckland, so I contacted them to see if they were interested in acquiring the car. Shortly after, one of their members arrived (in a Riley Elf of course), looked at the car and said he could take it. There was no money involved, as I thought that by the time any money was divided by five it just wouldn’t be worth it. He told me it would probably be used for parts to keep his own Elf running but I was happy with that, so two days later my mother’s old Riley Elf disappeared on the back of a truck. I really thought no more about it.
A few months ago, my now adult daughter Kate (who used to drive the old Elf when she was a student) was sent an Internet reference from someone she had met in Wellington, who also used to board at my mother’s house when he was a student. It referred to a Riley Elf in New Jersey, USA, which from its ownership records turned out to be the same Riley Elf that my mother had bought in 1968.
After several emails between both the current owner, and the person who restored the car in New Jersey a few years ago, it turned out that the Elf had not been used for parts, but had been used as a second family car in Auckland for a while, before being sent, in an unrestored state, to the USA. Once there the car was fully restored in its original olive green colour (although the roof was painted white similar to the UK Elfs rather than the one colour NZ ones). Even the underside was cleaned, sealed and painted. It is rarely used now, staying under its specially made car cover inside a garage in New Jersey. It makes an appearance at Christmas time when it is suitably decorated.
The new owners were amazed and delighted to hear from us in New Zealand.
We have an open offer to go and visit “Olive”, and who knows one day we might just do that.
She will probably out-live all of us!
By John Potter. Read more here.