Thursday 17 January 2019

A rare insight into our motoring history: When 50 brands assembled cars here

The 1939 model Adler Trumpf
The 1939 model Adler Trumpf
RBS Le Fanu, winner of the 1934 Bray street race
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

The assembly of cars on a grand scale here is often overlooked. It is not something one associates with more than a handful of big names.

But Bob Montgomery's new book, Motor Assembly in Ireland (out next Monday), tells a different story entirely.

In so doing it helps to chart the evolution of Ireland from an agricultural economy to an industrial one from 1933.

It can be argued that the motor assembly business has rarely been given due credit for the part it played in modernising the country and creating jobs.

I have a pre-launch copy of the book, and to say it is both comprehensive and fascinating is an understatement.

I cannot estimate the time and research that went into it, even allowing for Bob's encyclopaedic knowledge.

Did you know there were more than 50 different makes assembled here between 1933 and 1984?

Assembly in Ireland was diverse, as Bob's book shows, with some exotic names too. This is a wonderful compendium of facts, pictures, personalities and anecdotes. The bits I dipped into were hugely informative. I think it is a major piece of social history and a great gift or read, for anyone interested in motoring heritage.

Some little nuggets to whet your appetite:

• In 1930, just 4,346 cars were sold here

• In 1936, Ford's near-total dominance was reflected in 5,196 sales out of 8,111 in total. Only three Renaults were sold, 113 Chryslers, 299 Hillmans and four Rovers.

Here is an edited extract on German maker Adler, which is illustrative of the sort of expert treatment Bob gives every marque and personality attached to them.

"Charlie Manders was a colourful character who had established a reputation as a successful motor cycle racer when, along with Robert Briscoe he founded Irish Exporters & Importers Limited in 1933 with the intention of assembling German-made Adler cars at 15-16 Mayor Street, Dublin.

"Two models were assembled - the 14hp Adler Trumpf and the 10hp Adler Trumpf Jnr, priced at £350 and £275 respectively. It's not surprising that Manders used participation in Irish motor racing to promote the Adler product.

"In 1937, no doubt alarmed by the rise of anti-Semitism, Manders' Jewish partner, Robert Briscoe TD, decided to reduce his involvement and a new company was formed, CH Manders Ltd.

"Mr Briscoe remained a director of the new company along with C Crowley (the Cork agent for Adler). There was also now a showroom at Lincoln Place, and American Nash cars joined the assembly operation alongside Adler during 1937.

"The following year, Manders announced a new factory for the assembly of Adler and Nash cars, along with his newly acquired agency for Chevrolet, would be built in Co Tipperary. Although some Chevrolet were assembled at the existing factory at Mayor Street in Dublin, this plan, which envisaged 70 being employed, appears never to have come to fruition. Indeed, with no CKD (Completely Knocked Down) cars available for assembly over the war years, Manders' business did not survive 'The Emergency'.

"After the Second World War, the Irish Revenue Service advertised the sale of a number of pre-war Adler cars in CKD form they had in storage. How these cars came to be in the possession of the Revenue is not clear, and there are several stories, none of which can be substantiated, concerning how they got there.

"The CKD kits were bought by Stephen O'Flaherty, and were assembled at his premises at Townsend Street, Dublin. There is some confusion over how many Adler CKD kits were acquired by Stephen O'Flaherty, who would later become the first to assemble the VW Beetle outside Germany in 1950.

"Gerry Swan, a superb upholster who worked at Townsend Street, maintained there were 36 Adler's assembled there. I'm inclined to accept that figure."

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