Great Cars of Ireland

Originally published at Amazon’s “Car Lust” blog on March 17, 2011.  Edited and updated.

Here, for your St. Patrick’s Day viewing pleasure, is a picture of the most Irish of all possible Irish cars, a lovely green De Lorean DMC-12.

Green DMC

Pot of gold sold separately, leprechaun not included.

Ah, faith and begorrah (whatever the heck a “begorrah” is), sure as you’re born ’tis more to the story of Irish automobiles than green DeLoreans. Follow me to the end of the rainbow and we’ll take a look. (I promise to lose the phony accent.)

DeLorean’s short-lived operation in the Belfast suburb of Dunmurry wasn’t the only assembly plant on the Emerald Isle. From 1972 through 1983, Toyota assembled Corollas and Starlets in Ireland, probably from “complete knock-down” kits. There were also a couple of attempts to establish a native Irish car company.

ShamrockAmerican businessman William K Curtis founded the Shamrock Motor Car Company in the middle 1950s, with the objective of building a fiberglass-bodied luxury convertible for the U.S. market. The resulting Shamrock was a pastiche of late-50s styling themes: a then-mandatory wraparound windshield, plenty of Ford/Edsel/Mercury in its general squarishness, with a dash of ’55 Packard in the forward-canted headlights, some Rambler in the grille, and a touch of ’57 Chevy with the tail fins –and, unfortunately, a whole lot of ugly. It’s not so much 1950s styling as it is an unintentional parody of 1950s styling. The front quarters are particularly clunky, with their oddly-shaped wheel wells and misplaced character lines.

Styling wasn’t the Shamrock’s only problem. Though rather hefty of curb weight considering its fiberglass construction, the Shamrock was powered by a dinky 55 HP Austin four-cylinder–an engine that had trouble enough overcoming the inertia of the much-lighter Austin A55 it was originally designed for.

William Curtis had dreams of cranking out 10,000 Shamrocks a year from his factory in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, but only eight of the ungainly and underpowered beasts were assembled before the company went bust in 1959. Four Shamrocks survive, one in Seattle and the other three in Ireland, all kept carefully hidden lest they frighten the horses.

The Thompson Motor Company of Wexford did a much better job with its offering, the TMC Costin.


It was a relatively expensive car: Costin arm and a leg!

Named after its designer, Frank Costin, it was an interesting little hand-built roadster with butterfly doors, intended to compete with the likes of the Lotus/Caterham Seven. 39 Costins were assembled between 1983 and 1987, and they enjoyed some success in racing. After TMC went bankrupt, the Costin chassis design was sold to Panoz Auto Development Company of Georgia, which built another 220 or so cars between 1992 and 1997 with V-8 engines and different bodywork.

Ireland also has a very rich and active car culture. If you’re interested in old school wheels, the Irish Veteran & Vintage Car Club is the place to go. Their website has what looks to be a comprehensive calendar of car shows, meets, “runs,” and rallies throughout the country–and there are quite a few of them, even now in the “off season.” The IVVCC’s biggest event is the International Gordon Bennett Rally Ireland, a three-day combination meet and recreational driving tour held every June.  The video below is from last year’s edition.

Irish Honda

Juicebox hero.

Juicebox is a website that chronicles the Irish tuner car community. Up until I started writing this post, I would have never imagined that there would be Nissans, Hondas, and Toyotas with dropped suspensions, color-keyed rims, cold-air intakes, body kits, and chipped ECMs cruising the streets of Dublin and Cork, but, well, there are apparently quite a few of them. I’d encourage you to click through to Juicebox’s feature articles and photo galleries. There’s a lot of enthusiasm and some lovely work on display there.

In my brief excursion through Irish car culture, I was most impressed by the musclecar enthusiasts, of which there are a surprising number. American Muscle Cars Ireland is an organized club for Irish owners of big old Yankee iron. They’ve gone to the trouble of acquiring real American cars with gofaster-equipped V-8s, and they get together for meets, track days, and occasional “runs” on the public streets.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of our fellow gearheads in Ireland. On your next run, may the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be at your back, and may the Gardai leave their radar guns switched off. Éirinn go Brách!

–Cookie O’Dog’s Owner

I’ll leave you with the music video for what is, as far as I know, the only car song in all of traditional Irish music, the rebel ballad “Johnson’s Motorcar,” here performed by The Dubliners.

Photo credits: The green DeLorean at the top of the post comes from Photobucket user dmc12jz. The photo of the ill-fated Shamrock is from Wikipedia. The TMC Costin photo is from The tastefully-modded Honda “hatchi” was spotted at the 2009 Kilkenny Tuner Show by Juicebox’s roving reporter.

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