Curbside Classic: When Is a Mini Not a Mini? When it’s a 1966 Riley Elf Mk III

(first posted 2/19/2017)    Wandering around beach town Florence, OR. Sunday after eating with my date at Mo’s, which is deservedly famous for its clam chowder, we ran across what I first thought was a nice Mini with a custom grill…then I saw the small trunk in the back.

What the heck is a Riley Elf Mk III? Browsing thru CC yielded little, but Paul posted two years ago that a nice looking Riley Elf was running around Eugene. I may have found it. (You most certainly did. PN)


I never did see the owner, so I couldn’t get any details, shots of the engine bay or a more in-depth story to add here.


I flipped a coin and decided it is a 1966 since it doesn’t have back-up lights which IIRC became mandatory in 1968.


Released in 1961 as more luxurious versions of the BMC Mini, the Riley Elf had longer, slightly finned rear wings and a larger boot that gave the car a more traditional three-box design. Wheelbase of the Elf remained at 2.036 m (6.68 ft), whereas the overall length was increased to 3.27 m (10.7 ft). This resulted in a dry weight of 638 kg (1,407 lb) for the Elf. The front-end treatment, which incorporated Riley’s traditional upright grille design contributed to a less utilitarian appearance.

The car had larger-diameter chrome hubcaps than the Austin and Morris Minis, and additional chrome accents, bumper overriders (which aren’t present on today’s car).


And of course a traditional British wood-veneer dashboard. The steering wheel is not original. The dashboard was the idea of Christopher Milner, the Sales Manager for Riley.


The name “Elf” recalled the Riley Sprite and Imp sports cars, also of the 1930s, (Riley’s first choice of name “Imp” could not be used as Hillman had registered it).The Riley Elf’s body was built at Fisher & Ludlow under their “Fisholow” brandname.  Early production Mark I’s had a combination of leather and cloth seats whereas all later models had full leather seats. Mark I models were equipped with single leading shoe brakes on the front.

The Elf used the 848 cc (51.7 cu in) 34 bhp engine with a single SU HS2 carburetor, changing to a single HS2 carburetor 38 bhp version of the Cooper’s 998 cc (60.9 cu in) power unit in the Mark II in 1963. This increased the car’s top speed from 114 to 124 km/h  (71 to 77 mph). Therefore, Mark II cars also came with increased braking power in the form of front drum brakes with twin leading shoes to cope with the increased power output.

Both Mark I and Mark II featured four-speed gearboxes (three synchromesh gears) with rod gear change, a.k.a. “magic wand” type. Automatic gearboxes became available on the Mark II in 1965 as an option. The Mark III facelift of 1966 brought wind-up windows and fresh-air fascia vents. Concealed door hinges were introduced two years before these were seen on the mainstream Mini. The gear selecting mechanism was updated to the rod type, as seen on all later Mini type cars. Automatic gearboxes were available to the Mark III in 1967 again. Full-four synchromesh gearing was eventually introduced during 1968. 30,912 Riley Elfs were made before production ceased in late 1969.

Just a few more shots, then we’re done. This is a beautiful restoration, as the paint and chrome work seem to be flawless throughout.