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The Elf was designed to appeal to older "Buick and Oldsmobile" customers, with a miniature vertical grille, leather interior and a strange projecting trunk that pretty much ruined the Mini's perfectly cute lines



1968 riley elf mk iii


A luxury Mini blessed with marginally greater trunk space and an improved interior, the Riley Elf (along with its Wolseley Hornet stablemate) debuted in 1961, the duo being differentiated by contrasting chromed grilles in each marque's traditional style and the presence of a full-width wood veneer dashboard in the Elf.
Dating from the penultimate year of production, this right-hand-drive example was supplied new in the U.K. by Elliot Brothers of Bideford, Devon. Its current mileage is 36,284, and the car is finished in turquoise with matching leather interior. This is a rare opportunity to acquire one of the Mini's more-desirable, less-often-encountered variants in excellent, well-preserved, original condition.

{analysis}{auto}323{/auto} This Mk III sold for $6,755, including buyer's premium, at Bonham's Geneva auction held on March 8, 2004.
The 1968 Riley Elf Mark III represents the tail end of BMC's 1960s "badge engineering," wherein a half-dozen famous British names were reduced to different grills slapped on average family cars. By 1970, most were gone, including the Elf.
It had seen its genesis in 1961, when BMC was looking to expand the market for its tiny, front-wheel-drive, family car, the Austin and Morris Mini. The Mini had been on the market for two years and variants like light commercial vans, pick-ups and "woody" wagons were in production, but BMC wanted to go up-market with its down-market runabout.
The Elf was designed to appeal to older "Buick and Oldsmobile" customers, with a miniature vertical grille, leather interior and a strange projecting trunk that pretty much ruined the Mini's perfectly cute lines. Unsurprisingly, the cars were only produced in relatively small numbers until the newly formed British Leyland Corporation redesigned the Mini in 1969-and didn't invite the adults to the party.
It's hard for Americans to grasp how the Mini phenomenon spanned every strata of British society in the 1960s. Radford conversions had basket-weave panels, sunroofs and reclining seats and carried John Lennon, Peter Sellers and Peter Ustinov around Swinging London. The Sprints were chopped, nosed and decked with leaded-in seams and had ferocious Speedwell-treated engines. Ogle and Jem both made bizarre fiberglass coupes for your Mini running gear-as if anybody needed less space than a standard Mini offered.
The Elf (and the nearly identical Wolseley Hornet) was simply the "aunty" version, and perhaps its biggest interest lay in the availability of some bizarre Easter egg colors. The Mk I is the rarest model with only about 3,000 sold, but these are very basic cars with feeble 848-cc engines, sliding windows, long wobbly gear shifts, "crash" first gears, and more fragile CV joints than the later cars.
The Mk II came along in January 1963 and it received the hydrolastic suspension in September 1964, replacing the "rubber balls" of the originals. The Mk II engine was boosted to 998 cc, generating 38 hp and raising the top speed to 77 mph.
October 1966 brought the Mk III, with windup windows, remote gear shifter, fresh air vents in the dash, internal door hinges, and revised door handles. An automatic transmission was offered beginning in October 1967, and the manual transmission finally got full synchromesh gears in August 1968. The last Elf was made a year later, in August 1969.
Elf production accounted for only 30,912 cars over eight years (with Wolseley Hornets slightly behind at 28,455). By comparison a total of 5,387,862 Minis had been sold around the world when the car was finally discontinued in 2001. If you want to stand out in a Mini crowd, owning one of these oddball derivatives would be the way to do it.
But from a collecting standpoint neither Elf nor Hornet make a lot of sense. They were far from common, and as they're an elaborate variation on a cheap car, values will never support restorations. Many parts are exclusive, and grills and front clips, trunks and rear fenders are horribly expensive or just unobtainable. And when it comes time to sell, it's guaranteed you'll have considerably more difficulty moving your Elf than you would the equivalent Mini.
As with the Mini, rust is pervasive and can be terminal. Any car coming from England had better be very closely examined there-frankly, it's worth the air ticket to check it out yourself. Sills are load bearing, so rust there is a deal-breaker. Be sure to check the footwells too. Externally, rust appears around the seams, ahead of the doors and under the headlights.
Thanks to oil leaking from the engine onto the front subframe (a standard factory feature), it is less prone to rusting than the rear subframe, but both are a pain to replace. The gearbox and engine share the same oil, in a common sump, which does neither unit any good. When you drive a prospective purchase, listen for weak synchros and gear noise in second and third. Test the CV joints by turning hard left or right at low speed and listen for the telltale crunk-crunk-crunk. Avoid any automatics, as nobody can fix them in the U.S. (which is why you never see Austin Americas on the road).
If you're intent on finding a good example to import, Elves and Hornets were also assembled in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, where the climate is more forgiving and strange variations exist. I've even seen a South African Hornet without the piggyback trunk.
A closer hunting ground exists in Victoria, BC, Canada. Not only does it have a mild climate, but it's one of the top retirement destinations for British civil servants around the world. As the Canadians say, Victoria is the place where old people go to visit their parents, so there are likely some little-old-lady-owned specials to be found there.
Because Elves were only built through 1969, any car you do find will be a genuine '60s car, with no worry of it being a bogus late-model car smuggled into the U.S. with false papers, like so many Minis. (Any Mini with squared-off grill corners or square taillights is a '69 or newer, no matter what its registration says.)
If your Elf isn't rusty, you'll be surprised how many upgrades you can make using pieces from later Minis. The chances of finding a left-hand drive model are nearly nil, but you can switch one over easily enough if you're so motivated. Better to just enjoy driving it from the "wrong" side of the cabin. With the same diminutive size and go-kart-like handling of the original Mini, Elves are great fun as either city cars or vintage racers.
As most nice Minis trade in the $9,500-$15,000 range, I'd have to say the car pictured here was well bought.
(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.)-Paul Duchene{/analysis}

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