What’s in a name, Riley Kestrel?
If you are the successful owner of a brewing company and you have a registered trade name that sparks a promotional opportunity, then, suggests Iain Robertson, why not go the whole hog and explore it to the endth degree, with Rachael Riley too?
In August 2020, a specifically restored 1935 Riley Kestrel 9 will take to Elvington Airfield, Yorkshire, in a bid to claim the UK Record for the fastest Wheel-Driven Vehicle over a Flying Kilometre. The record requires the car to make two set runs over a one-kilometre distance, with the average speed setting the ultimate time.
In order to claim the record, the 85-year old car will have to set an average speed of 171mph (just think about that, for a moment). Its original top speed was around 75mph. Former RAF base, Elvington, is one of the few UK airstrips long enough to entertain such an exercise and, fortunately, its surface is in good enough condition to make record attempts feasible.
In addition to setting the new UK Record, the Kestrel team will also be attempting other additional records on the day. While securing the record is no mean feat in itself, it is the car in question that marks this out as an amazing accomplishment, thanks to the skill and engineering prowess behind the record setting story, which will feature on a new TV show called ‘Built versus Bought’, scheduled to launch in September, on the Amazon Prime subscription channel.
The Riley, which is now known affectionately as ‘The Flying Kestrel’, was discovered in a dusty barn in Holland by Nigel McNally, CEO of Brookfield Drinks and, ironically, owner of the iconic Scottish beer brand, Kestrel Lager. Hidden away for the past 55 years, the dilapidated old car ignited McNally’s adventurous spirit immediately. The nominal connection was not lost on him.
Keen to put the car back firmly into the spotlight, he determined that the best way would be to break some records. In March this year, just prior to ‘lockdown’, he commissioned the services of renowned drag racer, Jon Webster, and his team, at Webster Race Engineering, to build the record-contesting machine. Since then, the Santa Pod-based team has worked tirelessly to transform the 85-year old car, which had not turned a wheel since 1965. As Jon Webster explains: “From the outside, we have tried extremely hard to keep the car as true to its original dimensions and appearance as possible, with only the most subtle of changes being introduced.
“To commence with, we lowered the front wings slightly, sealed the gaps between the body panels and inserted some louvres for the aerodynamics package. It’s underneath that the true transformation has taken place. The Kestrel’s original engine, which was gutsy enough in its period, has been replaced by an Audi, 5-cylinder 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, from a TT RS model. Now, it generates between 800-900bhp and features a custom drive-train.”
It is a major departure from what its manufacturer intended originally, a factor that is sure to lead to minor criticism from the classic car scene, even though the Kestrel was in such poor shape that it was already returning to nature. While substantial reworking and replacement of the body panels was essential, it was not the only aspect of the ancient British sports saloon that required support.
As Jon continues: “We strengthened the original chassis rails so that it could handle the vastly increased horsepower and engine torque and our team also installed a race specification, bespoke roll cage, although it is intentionally difficult to see it. Naturally, the transmission is all-new, as are the brakes and revised axles. All in all, in the right conditions, the Flying Kestrel will now scorch from 0-60mph in 2 to 3 seconds and continue accelerating to a top speed of around 220mph.”
Overall, the Riley Kestrel blends the past and the present seamlessly as its precision race specification engine and the much-altered underpinnings sit alongside its gleaming, freshly enamelled steel wheels, 1930s klaxon (horn) and its hand crafted interior, while it also retains its fastback styling from 85 years ago. Jon and his team have performed an outstanding job.
Team principal McNally outlined: “We were not only committed to restoring this old classic, but also to giving it a powerful and compelling new lease of life. It excites us as a team and we aim to use The Flying Kestrel as a core focus of the marketing of our popular Kestrel Beer product range next year. In all its glory, it will engage people wherever it goes. It has been super to watch this come together, albeit at a distance over the past few months. However, now we really can’t wait to see it in action!”
Rather conveniently, Rachael Riley, the letters and numbers presenter from Channel Four TV’s popular ‘Countdown’ series, took little encouragement to be present at the Kestrel’s unveiling, held at the famous Santa Pod drag racing strip, in Northamptonshire. Sharing a name helps but, as the Speed Record attempts are taking place in Yorkshire, where the Countdown series is also recorded, the connections seem to ring true.
Conclusion: While the brewing industry has been affected badly by the Covid crisis, it is most enterprising of a CEO to seek unconventional means to promote just one of his brands. That an old classic car has been saved from the ‘knacker’s yard’, albeit repurposed into something rather special, is also a positive aspect of the story.