In 1934 the Riley Competition Department finished two specially prepared Imps in anticipation of that years running of the 24 Heures du Mans – chassis number 6024867 was road registered ‘KV 9475’ and would be driven by Frenchmen, Jean Trevoux and Rene Carriere as car number 39.
Riley had entered six cars for the 12th Grand Prix of Endurance and all were driven to the Circuit de la Sarthe via Brooklands in Weybridge for high speed testing en route. Trevoux and Carriere had an eventful race following an ‘off’ on the Mulsanne which necessitated repairs to the rear bodywork which cost the pairing two laps. All was not lost and after twenty-four hours, ‘KV 9475’ finished in twelfth position – this was crucial as it enabled Riley to win the Team Award. Their compatriots, Sebilleau and Delaroche also entered by Riley driving an MPH model finished second overall having looked good for the win following the ailing Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 of Chinetti and Etancelin which was suffering from a ruptured fuel tank.
Having been driven back to the factory in Coventry after Le Mans, ‘KV 9475’ was spared little rest and was turned around in time for the International Tourist Trophy held on the Ards Circuit near Belfast. One of eight Ulster Imps fielded by Riley, ‘KV 9475’ finished first in class and also set the fastest lap exceeding 72 miles per hour.
The Ulster Imp was then sold to John Gee who would campaign the Riley at meetings in the UK such as Donington and Southport Sands. After World War II, the Riley was sold by Bloomers of Grimsby who were Riley Agents and the Ulster Imp was bought by HW Motors of Walton- on-Thames, the home of HWM – the brainchild of John Heath and George Abecassis. The sales agent at HW Motors was Fred Hobbs who enjoyed nothing more than exercising the cars in stock, and so ‘KV 9475’ was duly entered by him for the Brighton Speed Trials. Soon after, George Lighton, a pilot living in Ashford acquired the Riley from HWM.
In May 1949, HWM had entered three cars for a race meeting on the Isle of Man and when Hobbs spoke to his local friend Mike Hawthorn, Mike informed him that his father, Leslie, would be flying his Fairchild Argus aeroplane to the Island. Having asked Leslie whether there was a spare seat on the plane, Leslie informed Hobbs that he didn’t have a spare seat but that he did have a spare plane – another Fairchild Argus and that if he could find a pilot, he could borrow the aircraft. Hobbs soon talked George Lighton who had continued to fly after the war, into flying them and some friends over for the meeting.
Lighton would return the Ulster Imp to HWM to be sold and it was in October 1949 that Leslie Hawthorn, owner of the TT Garage in Farnham bought the Riley for his son Mike’s 21st birthday. Mike duly used ‘KV 9475’ on the road until it started to make an unhealthy noise due to the flywheel coming loose on its taper! Leslie was a talented tuner of both car and motorbike engines and whilst the engine was being repaired, the cable brakes were converted to hydraulic brakes. Once complete Mike was keen to use the Riley on the road again, but his father decided it would be best saved for competition use.
On 2nd September 1950, Mike Hawthorn made his four-wheel competitive debut at the Brighton Speed Trials driving the Ulster Imp in the 1100cc class – he won. Two weeks later, Mike came second in class at the Gosport Speed Trials – things were looking promising ahead of his first race.
On 26th March 1951, Mike Hawthorn and ‘KV 9475’ won their class at the Gamston Race Meeting. Hawthorn went on to score victories at both Castle Combe and Goodwood with a final tally of six wins, four second place finishes and one third place finish. These results also earned Hawthorn the ‘Brooklands Memorial Trophy’ which was awarded by Motor Sport magazine. Hawthorn had thus captured the minds of numerous owners and was soon offered drives in other competitive cars resulting in more victories before moving on to ‘Works’ drives for Jaguar, Ferrari, Vanwall and the Owen Racing Organisation. Mike Hawthorn became the United Kingdom’s first Formula One World Champion in 1958 shortly before his tragic death in January 1959.
In the autumn of 1952, ‘KV 9475’ found a new home in London and was raced at Silverstone before passing into the hands of Geoffrey Akroyd who raced the car at Castle Combe. The Ulster Imp then moved to the North of England when Ian Jordan from Kendal became the next owner and subsequently John Brown from Burnley. In July 1957 an advert in Motor Sport magazine placed by Chiltern Cars of Leighton Buzzard listed ‘KV 9475’ for sale at £365. Mike Hawthorn wasted no time and bought back ‘KV 9475’ with plans to complete a restoration and then display the Ulster Imp in the showroom at the TT Garage in Farnham. Sadly, due to Mike’s passing the restoration was never completed and three months later word soon got out that Mike’s Mother, Winifred wanted to sell the Riley. One of Mike’s closest friends, Tom Mayhew tipped off their Riley owning friend Tim Ely about the car, and in agreement with Winifred that the Riley would be in good hands with Tim, a deal was struck.
Over the coming months Tim Ely then went about rebuilding the Riley with a view to racing the car in VSCC events – he already had a road going Riley Imp so felt it more appropriate to finish what Mike had started to do to the Ulster Imp for competition use. Hawthorn had discussed with Ely some minor modifications he wished to make to the car having already had plenty of circuit experience, namely a pre-select gearbox with positive stops instead of the vagueness of levers in a quadrant and in a central position as Mike had over-revved the engine by mis-selecting a gear and to update the braking system with a hydraulic one.
Ely then raced the car for a number of years with appearances at Silverstone, Castle Combe, Thruxton and Oulton Park with an annual trip to Prescott for the Hill Climb. Notable successes for Ely included a second place and three third place finishes in the Spero Trophy, a race held by the VSCC for pre-war cars up to 1100cc and victory in the 1100cc Class at Prescott having been runner up five times no less. Having retired ‘KV 9475’ from circuit racing, Ely continued to demonstrate and show the Ulster Imp with appearances at Le Mans, Ards, Dundrod and the many ‘Hawthorn’ Tribute lunches held at The Barley Mow pub in Surrey.
Ely’s sixty-one-year ownership of ‘The Hawthorn Riley’ is a remarkable story – he has kept what can be best described as a charming scrap book containing anecdotes about his friendship with the UK’s first Formula One World Champion, a large number of Mike’s race results and correspondence between previous owners of the Riley. In addition to the numerous magazine articles that have been written over the years on ‘KV 9475’, the Riley is also featured in the late John Gathercole’s book on the subject; ‘The Riley Imp, Histories and Profiles’.
One of just eight genuine Riley Ulster Imps known to survive, ‘KV 9475’ is arguably the most important example and forms an integral part in the history of motor sport having given Mike Hawthorn his competition debut.
Photo Credit: Riiko-Andre Nuud, Riiko Photo