Car: Shamrock, 1959

Ireland has few car-making boasts, despite Henry Ford’s establishment of a Model T assembly plant in Cork as early as 1917. But the Shamrock is a rare exception, built with the ambition of captivating US customers.

1959 Shamrock
Spurred on by the success of the Nash Metropolitan, the Anglo-Irish Shamrock aimed to conquer US hearts yet proved an utter flop.

Possibly inspired by the American success of the Nash Metropolitan, Californian businessman Wilbur Curtis decided to up the style stakes by selling a shrunken copy of the contemporary Ford Thunderbird, yet powered by the same Austin 92ci (1,500cc) engine found under the Metropolitan’s two-tone steelwork. And he’d make sure it had that desirable “import” aura by building it in Europe. He chose Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland. The fiberglass-bodied car came together, with help from Canadian race driver Alvin “Spike” Rhiando, around a simple ladder-frame chassis with almost every mechanical component taken from the Austin A55.

1959 the Shamrock car
1959 the Shamrock car
1959 Shamrock car
1959 Shamrock car

As a European-size car, it looked over bodied on its 98in (2.5m) wheelbase, with huge front and rear overhangs, and a narrow track. However, unlike the Metropolitan, it was a full four-seater convertible, with optional removable hardtop. Production only started after a move to Castleblaney, County Monaghan, and Curtis was bullish, anticipating 3,000 sales in 1960 and 10,000 annually thereafter. No doubt underfinancing scuppered the plans, though, together with several serious design flaws. Reports vary, but no more than ten were made in six months, and the remaining stock of spares was rumored to have been dumped in a local Loch. Four survive today.

“The Irish T-Bird at half the price, reports Motor Trend; special design reinforced fiberglass resin body. Top-rated speed 90mph—an honest 38mpg economy.”

From a Sales Leaflet for the Shamrock, 1960

Specification: model of the car Shamrock

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Castleblaney, County Monaghan, Ireland
HISTORICAL STATUS: production car
ENGINE: four-cylinder, 91ci (1,489cc)
LAYOUT: front-mounted engine driving the rear wheels
BODYWORK: two-door, four-seater convertible
TOP SPEED: 90mph (145kph) (claimed)
NUMBER BUILT: approximately ten