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Made in Britain Phoenix

By Roger Fountain

Phoenix book cover

This is an amazing story. The book covers the unbelievable transformation of a pile of burnt-out scrap to a beautiful recreation of a 1930s sports car.

‘Phoenix’ is much more than a technical ’How-to-do-it’ manual. Throughout the book there is a strong vein of personal and human interest anecdotes, making this a thoroughly interesting and entertaining read.

It has been a lifelong ambition of Roger’s to design and build his own car. A particular dream was to build a car based on the pre-war Riley sports cars, which, in their day, enjoyed frequent successes in racing, rallying and amazing long-distance journeys in virtually unmapped territory. This narrative follows his dream through his initial ideas sketched on a sheet of paper through triumphs, disasters, trials and tribulations until he finally achieved his ambition and now has a beautiful example of pre-war automotive engineering standing in his garage as testimony to his creativity, persistence and determination.

The journey began when he was given the phone number of a 1934 Riley owner whose car had been destroyed in a barn fire. After driving the 200 mile trip to inspect the burnt-out car, and it was completely burnt out, with nothing remaining of the body, Roger returned with his truck and trailer and loaded up the remains. On arriving home he was able to give the charred and rusting pile a closer examination, and it was obvious that the chassis had escaped most of the damage and would make a sound basis for his new project. Thus work began, sourcing replacement period parts, designing, repairing, refurbishing and fabricating.

First he created a prototype with scrap wood, cardboard, paper and scrap metal to establish the form of his creation incorporating the original chassis, front axle, some brake components and other parts salvaged from the fire and subsequently restored. He was anxious to utilize as many original parts, especially the chassis, to retain, as he put it, the soul of the original car, to maintain its heritage as an example of a golden era of English automotive design.

After much research and many phone calls, he assembled the components he needed and the long process of the build began. At a point when the car had an identity, Roger decided it was now an appropriate time to re-register it on a ‘Sorn’ ticket with DVLA. It was a shock to be informed that according to their records the vehicle had been classified as a Category A write-off and no longer existed. Furthermore, any surviving parts had to be destroyed and be registered as being so. By now Roger had invested many thousands of pounds in the project and almost three years work, and was not about to admit defeat. During the next ten months he had many communiqués with DVLA, and then with the insurance company that had written off the car. After an inspection by an independent engineer, requested by the insurance company, finally he was successful in reinstating the Riley on DVLA’s books and as a bonus was allowed to retain the original registration.

With this major issue out of the way, the build continued, but with more unforeseen hurdles. It became obvious that Roger himself was in need of some restoration, and during the five-year process of creating his life’s dream, he had surgery for a complete knee replacement, and a year later, even more major surgery to repair a broken back, a result of a horse riding accident many years ago. The recovery from this operation demanded very light duties for some weeks and an offer from a good friend saved the day when he gave his time to keep the project rolling. Before the project was completed Roger again had surgery to eliminate prostate cancer, thankfully successful, and finally the day came when he was able to drive down the road in his creation. It has been on the road for about a year and has already won a couple of awards. Roger and his wife Penny have now enjoyed several hundred miles motoring in the Riley Phoenix, and look forward to many more.

About the author

Roger was born in Derbyshire in 1942, and was educated at Swanwick Hall Grammar School. He then took a National Diploma in Design (NDD) at Derby College of Art before doing a post-graduate year at London University, obtaining an Art Teacher’s Diploma (ATD). He taught art for a short while before moving to London in 1965, working in an advertising agency as a junior designer. In 1967 he moved to Toronto, Canada with his wife Penny where he worked as a magazine art director for five years before going freelance. He formed a commercial design studio and ran that business for seventeen years before selling the company and retiring due to health reasons in 1989.

He and Penny returned to England and now live in Lincolnshire. He spends his time restoring sports cars and racing cars from the fifties and sixties. He has been deeply involved in motorsport for many decades, and has competed in rallies and races up to an international level for more than thirty years, racing in Europe, America, Canada and the UK. He retired from active competition in 2005.

He has also enjoyed several architectural restoration projects. The largest, and he says the last, is the conversion and restoration of a derelict Georgian stable and coach house into a residence, in which he and his wife now live.

Although he has written several articles for magazines, Phoenix is his first book.