Ireland has produced a lot of amazing things over its history: arguably some of the world’s greatest writers, the greatest stout, the greatest crystal. Cars? Mmmmm…not so much. For St. Patrick’s Day, BestRide presents the handful of cars were ever produced in Ireland.
It’s not like the Irish were incapable of producing and driving automobiles. Hundreds of thousands of cars were built in Ireland, but all except for four were subsidiaries of large American companies, or they were simply knock-down chassis built elsewhere and assembled for the Irish market.
It had a lot to do with Ireland’s population. Just 4 million souls inhabited Ireland at the time, and the population declined as citizens emigrated en masse to America. Those four million people needed automobiles. The largest producer of cars was the Ford Motor Company in Cork, which at one time employed 7,000 people. Rather than importing cars whole, most other cars sold in Ireland were build as knock-down chassis and sent to Ireland for final assembly. Any number of cars from Morris, Hillman, Humber, Talbot, Riley, Chrysler, Plymouth, DeSoto, Vauxhall, Chevrolet, Jaguar, Dodge, Peugeot, Hudson, Leyland, Citroen, Opel, Mercedes-Benz, Wolseley, MG and Austin were put together by garages in Dublin.
Very few cars — just four that we could find — were completely built in Ireland, though, by Irish companies in Irish plants.
The Alesbury Brothers produced this light automobile in Edenderry, using an 8/10hp two-cylinder engine from Massachusetts-based Stevens-Duryea. Aside from the engine and the gearbox, the entire car was designed and built in Ireland. The Alesbury made its debut at the Dublin Motor Show in 1907. Alesbury was mostly a builder of wheels and bent wood for coachbuilding, and only nine Alesburys were ever produced.
The Shamrock was billed as the “Irish Thunderbird” when it was produced in 1959, featuring gigantic American-style bodywork. Trouble was, that was all that was gigantic about it. It rode on a 98-inch wheelbase, about the length of a Dodge Omni’s. Perched on that tiny footprint was a fiberglass body that hung over the front and rear by a foot up front, and more in the rear.
The fiberglass body had fins and spears and a convertible top. Promotional literature suggested that five people could fit inside, but they’d better be the size of the guy on the Lucky Charms box, not only because of the cramped interior quarters, but the fact that the car was motivated by a frighteningly underpowered 53hp Austin A55 1500cc engine.
Only eight Shamrocks were ever built.
DeLorean DMC-12 (1981-1983)
We’re cheating a little because DeLorean was an American company, based in Detroit, but the car was built entirely in Dunmurry, Northern Ireland, a suburb of strife-ridden Belfast. John Z. DeLorean was the former head of Pontiac and had a lot of influential friends in Hollywood, including Sammy Davis, Jr. and Johnny Carson, who he hit up for seed money in the venture.
The British Government, keen to provide jobs to people who had loads of time to sit around scheming how to overthrow it, invested $120 million in the process, also providing DeLorean with ample tax breaks to build a 660,000 square foot facility, symbolically straddling the line between the Catholic city of Twinbrook and the Protestant city of Dunmurry.
Hiring thousands of locals was great in theory, but in practice, hiring thousands of people who never built cars before wasn’t. Quality issues were immediate and paralyzing, requiring that quality assurance centers in the United States essentially re-assemble the cars before delivery to dealers. DeLorean needed to sell between 10,000 and 12,000 cars to break even every year, and only managed to sell half that in its best year.
TMC Costin (1983-1987)
Frank Costin was an aerodynamicist and the “cos” in Marcos, a British manufacturer of some really amazing sports cars between 1959 and 2007. The TMC Costin was an attempt to build an Irish-built rival to race cars for the street like the Caterham Super Seven and the Westfield cars that were both derivations of Colin Chapman’s original Lotus 7.
The TMC Costin overcame the limitations of a spaceframe cars like those by providing a frame built in three modules: A triangular center section where the passenger sit, which allowed for opening doors, a subframe up front to which the engine and suspension were bolted to, and a rear section to support the rear suspension and roll bar.
Its construction provided for full weather protection, thanks to its solid doors and windows. The rear section was interesting (and hideous-looking) because unlike any car like it, it provided room for luggage or — amazingly — “a section fitted with two rear-facing seats which are suitable for small children.” A PVC targa-style top provided some weather protection.
As a car, the TMC Costin was a failure, selling only 39 units before the company went bankrupt.
The chassis was spectacular, though, and American sports car builder Dan Panoz bought the rights to its design, which became the underpinning for the Panoz Roadster (above).
A tip o’ the flat cap to the TMC Costin is hidden in the Panoz logo, which features a small shamrock in the center.