Throwback Thursday: Hot rods, breakdowns and other escapades

Pushing to start, hot-rodding, or taking a running leap into a forest! What stories you have to share of cars in times past, reveals JO KERRIGAN
Throwback Thursday: Hot rods, breakdowns and other escapades

EVERYBODY PUSH! The first car owned by Jo Kerrigan’s family, a Singer, being pushed out of a ditch by Jo (third left) and her siblings

IT seems none of you ever forget certain cars, to judge from my mailbox.

Whether it was the family vehicle or your own first love, a polished picture or a heap of scrap, it has stayed in your memory forever.

Tom remembers his beloved Fiat 600, which was painted a lurid shade of pink.

“I loved it and drove it two or three times around the mileometer clock at least. Fixed it myself when anything went wrong. It was easy back then to sort cars out.

“I took it all over Ireland and England, even down to the south of France with a couple of pals. It was so hot down there, we took the doors off and fastened them on the roof. We drove it on to the beach and camped next to it. I remember we would dive for empty wine bottles which had been tossed off the yachts. If you took them back to the supermarkets, you got a few centimes for them, and that all helped to buy the baguettes!

“I always said I would never part with that car, that I would drive it over a cliff or bury it somewhere nobody else would ever handle it. I loved it that much.”

Gilbert remembered having a tough little Volkswagen in which he went hot-rodding in the late 1960s, down at Ballinhassig.

It isn’t generally known that Cork was where this sport was first seen in Ireland, and it was here that the Muskerry Hot Rod Racing Club was formed back in 1968. It involves cars of roughly the same engine power racing around a track for a certain number of laps.

Despite what you may have seen on prime-time TV though, it’s actually a non-contact sport, with the expertise coming in avoiding the other lads, not crashing into them. So forget the dodgems, it’s all about driving skill.

Even TV personality Mike Murphy tried his hand at it in Ballinhassig back in 1977, for his popular TV show, The Likes Of Mike.

Leo O’Sullivan, we seem to recall that you were in on the formation of Ireland’s first ever hotrodding club, so if you’re reading this, Leo, get in touch!

This writer’s abiding memories of family cars are of straining every muscle to push them. Mostly to get them started, since they were never keen to do this under their own steam, so to speak, but often to get them out of ditches or muddy fields too.

New cars and indeed regular servicing, were foreign concepts in our household. When one family saloon gave up the ghost at last, unable to keep up with the demands made on it, my father would pick up another bargain from various acquaintances all over Cork city.

A favourite place was the City Car Park on the Grand Parade, another was a car repair centre down in Blackpool.

There were certain criteria. It had to be big enough to fit our parents, five of us kids, and at least one dog, as well as a canoe or motorbike or something else to do with my father’s latest hobby on the roof, numerous pairs of wellies, picnic baskets, raincoats, and all the other paraphernalia.

TV personality Mike Murphy trying hot rodding in the Seventies
TV personality Mike Murphy trying hot rodding in the Seventies

One car, I recall, had very elegant netting containers built into above the back doors for some purpose, and those suited a small dog very well, rather than having to survive under so many feet.

My brother reminds me that the first family car was a Singer, license number TI 2617. He remembers that it went backwards into a ditch somewhere on the way to Rocky Bay when my father was trying to do a three-point turn. We all had to get out and push. From the surviving photograph of the event on the facing page, it looks as though I, as the youngest at that time, didn’t take much hand in the proceedings, but there was plenty of practice in the years ahead.

Another of our vehicles was the Willys Jeep, ZK120. That was the one which took the motorbike to Carrantuohill back in the Fifties, when my dad felt he should prove you could drive up the darn mountain on a bike.

And there were dozens of others over the years. The Volkswagen minibus with no handbrake. The Talbot Darraq with a similar problem that ran down Summerhill and crashed into a lamp post. The Vauxhall that drove up hillsides to grasstrack races. The Rover that took us all down to Barley Cove and back in the good old days when it hadn’t been discovered by the masses. They all required pushing at one time or another.

But the biggest and heaviest (my stomach muscles still remember straining to get it moving) was definitely the Studebaker, ZF3257. A vivid memory is of pushing that darned car along Anglesea Street in full evening gown and high heels, after a fashionable night at the ballet in the City Hall.

The Studebaker became affectionately known as the Kerrigan Bus down in Inchigeelagh that summer of 1959, when Johnny Creedon was determined to make the place the new holiday centre of the south.

Tim Cramer, then an energetic young reporter with the Examiner and Echo, along with pal Bill O’Herlihy, also on the staff of De Paper, but later to go on to sports reporting fame at RTÉ, has written lovingly of that great summer and its founding father, Johnny Creedon, in his book, The Life Of Other Days.

“At Johnny’s suggestion, we travelled to Gougane to climb Cam Rua, journeying in Joey (Kerrigan)’s old Studebaker, filling the boot as well as the interior, and drawing a long, wondering look from the solitary garda in Ballingeary as he saw legs protruding from the back of the venerable wagon. Presumably he knew either the car or its owner, because the decent man took no further notice.”

Who out there can remember that summer of 1959, when a spirited group helped Creedon to build a swimming pool in the lake, organise platform dances, and set the whole place up as the holiday centre of the future?

Surely some of those who cheerfully sat in the huge boot of the Studebaker as it splashed across streams and up bumpy tracks, danced in the village hall, and sang at concerts on Cool Mountain, have happy memories to share?

To conclude this week, we have a wonderful tale from Bob Evans about a Fiat 850 that somehow saved his life, despite his best endeavours. And it was another of those push-or-we-don’t-go-anywhere models.

“Old BZU498 was a two-year-old Fiat 850, when my mother, God rest her soul, was persuaded to buy it around 1970. Ever temperamental, much of our time was spent push-starting her around the hills & valleys of West Cork (the car I mean!)

Hot rodding in Ballincollig in the late 1960s, with Gilbert’s car no 29, second from left.
Hot rodding in Ballincollig in the late 1960s, with Gilbert’s car no 29, second from left.

“This story has more to do with my first pair of climbing boots than the car itself, as the incident occurred on my way to a climbing weekend in Kerry, which is why I am heading up the hill at Ardnagashel outside Ballylickey, at 6 o’clock of a summer’s morning in the mid 1970s. “Stupidity, or maybe just one of life’s little quirks, caused me to adjust my mirror to dmire my new boots, resplendent in shining dubbin, on the rear seat. Any other day I mightn’t notice the left boot horizontal to its vertical brother, and mightn’t turn around to straighten it up with my left hand, all the while retaining a grip on the wheel with my right… Not a good idea.

“With a swish, a rustle, and a feeling of being airborne, BZU took a 10-15 foot swan dive off the road, landing on all fours in the middle of a copse of ash saplings.

“After the initial shock, I realised I was stuck in a wood with no discernible exit but at least with no obvious bones broken. Vivid visions of fire brigades and recovery cranes, not to mention squad cars, rushed through my brain as I scrambled up the steep ditch to where a local man was waiting by his car. Being in West Cork, you see, such events are not regarded as extraordinary.

“After the usual preliminary polite conversation, he advised me to stick around for an hour or two as ‘Jimmy Blacky Jack’ would be passing in his trailer and might sort me out.

“Well, I hung around all right, pacing up and down the road, eating my packed lunch and surveying the poor Fiat in its woodland prison, until, around 9, the rattle and roar of a tractor and trailer announced Jimmy Blacky Jack’s arrival up the hill. With a quick look at the situation (and a strange look at me), he reversed through a gate into a field and drove up to the trees.

“‘Not a bother, boy, we’ll have it out in a minit.’ Dismissing my scepticism about the dense copse, he produced a chainsaw and cut a 20’ by 6’ foot swathe through the forest and hauled poor little BXU out on to the field.

“For once, would you believe it, old BZU started first time, and apart from a dented chrome fender and a broken headlight, put- putted out the gate and onwards to Glencar. Needless to say, there’s a few more scéal eile’s in that car, and even more in them boots!!”

What a great story, and even more, what a great example of West Cork helpfulness. Would they still do it today? We’d like to believe they would.

Not sure what the Save The Trees Society would say though…

What stories do you have to share? Tell us! Email jokerrigan1@gmail.com.

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