Five Irish Cars Just in Time for St Patty's Day
On the face of it, Ireland has largely missed out on Europe's love affair with engineering, building, and driving cars.
While MGs and Jaguars were being developed in England, and every populous country in continental Europe has had at least one fairly large carmaker, Ireland has long been relegated to occasionally building cars for other people.
But that's not to say that the Irish have entirely sat on the auto industry's sidelines.
A complex, continually evolving history has rendered Ireland something of a boon-and-bust land for new car production and development. With a market driven as much by taxation, both on locally-produced products and on imports, as by consumer demand, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland together have produced some decidedly stand-out cars over the last century.
There's more to Ireland's car industry than the DeLorean.
5. Henry Ford traces his roots in County Cork
Few industrialists had the reach of Henry Ford. The Michigan innovator's ideas on mass production transformed just about every corner of the world.
Due in large part to the complexities of building and shipping cars, not to mention numerous trade barriers, Ford opened plants just about everywhere—including County Cork.
In 1917, Ford began building Fordson tractors in Ireland but added cars by 1921.
Henry Ford's move into Ireland was more than just a business decision, however. His father's family was from County Cork, and their lineage there dates back to the tail end of the 16th century. The family retains close ties to County Cork.
Ford's Cork plant lasted until 1984, but at one point the automaker's two Irish-built models (the Escort and Cortina) represented nearly 75 percent of new car sales in the local market.
4. The first VWs built outside of Germany were Irish
After World War II, Irish businessman Stephen O'Flaherty moved from Ford's Cork operations to become the first Volkswagen importer in Ireland.
But rather than simply importing Beetles from Germany, duties made it more feasible for O'Flaherty to complete final assembly of VW's then-new Beetle in Ireland. Beetles were built in Germany and then taken apart and put in crates to be shipped to Ireland. Once over the pond, they were reassembled in Dublin. Initially, just a handful were finished in Ireland, but the operations were soon assembling thousands annually.
The process is known as CKD, or "complete knock down," and it is routinely employed by automakers today to circumvent import duties where a complete car is taxed higher than an incomplete one.
Most important in the grand scheme of things was that this marked the first time that Volkswagens had been built outside of their home market. Today, VW has plants all over the world, but not in Ireland, where production ceased in the 1980s.
The first Irish-built Beetle was later re-acquired by VW and is now part of the automaker's historical collection in Wolfsburg, Germany.
3. Ireland's homegrown sports car: The Shamrock
Appearing as if it was penned after a designer sitting in a bar gulping down Guinness overheard a conversation of what an American convertible from the 1950s looks like, the Shamrock was Ireland's first "modern" domestic car.
Truthfully, the Shamrock's connection to Detroit goes deeper than its cartoonish appearance. Backed by an American and designed to be sold in the States, it was deeply flawed from its inception.
Heavy and laughably underpowered, the Shamrock was also very poorly built. Its body was molded from Fiberglas, which fully covered the rear wheels on the first few. If you got a flat, you literally had to take the car apart to fix it.
After 10 cars were assembled, the company went under and the rest of the parts the company needed to build cars were chucked into Lough Muckno, a local lake.
2. America's DeLorean arrives in Northern Ireland
Certainly Ireland's best-known automotive product, the DeLorean DMC-12 was as much a breakthrough as it was ultimately a failure.
Ex-General Motors executive John Z. DeLorean solicited celebrities for his new car company, which wound up being located in Northern Ireland thanks to a $120 million investment from a British Government keen on reinvigorating the constituency's suffering economy.
DeLoreans were built en masse beginning in 1981 after numerous delays, but slow sales and a host of other issues rendered the company insolvent the next year. Adding to the company's problems was the fact that DeLorean himself was arrested a few months prior for trafficking cocaine as a means of raising funds to keep his company afloat.
Three decades on, DeLorean certainly stands out as both a sordidly high and low point of Ireland's auto industry.
1. A last hurrah that lives on today (kind of)
Ireland's new car industry ends, at least for now, with the Thompson Motor Company (or TMC) Costin.
Noted ex-Lotus automotive engineer Frank Costin is probably best known for founding British sports car manufacturer Marcos (the -cos was derived from his surname), but he was recruited in the early 1980s to build a decidedly track-focused sports car for Wexford, Ireland-based Thompson Motor Company.
Although it looked like a Lotus 7, the Costin's tubular space frame was so sophisticated that, after TMC's late-1980s demise, the design was bought by American sports car builder Panoz for the company's Roadster.
About 40 were built and they enjoyed some racing success.
A little more trivia: Costin's brother, Mike Costin, is the "Cos" behind Cosworth. These Irishmen knew their sports cars.