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Irish Wheels of Misfortune Provide a Lift for Restorer


Onlookers were green with envy as the Shamrock traveled down Emerald Street.

"What is that? I'd love to drive it!" exclaimed Hazel Brenner as the car called the "Irish T-Bird" passed by.

The Shamrock was built in Ireland between 1959 and 1962. But Irish eyes didn't smile on it: Only one is apparently still on the road in the United States.

Harbor City resident Dick Midkiff plans to change that.

Midkiff, 58, has been driving his Shamrock since 1969, when he bought it for $100 and restored it to mint-green condition. Earlier this year, he found the remains of a second Shamrock partly buried in sand near the desert town of Landers. He purchased it for $200 and plans to rebuild it too.

"I guess I just like the idea of having a car that no one else has," said Midkiff, a mortuary company dispatcher. "In 33 years, I've never seen another one of these coming down the road at me."

That's because only about 50 of the four-seat, fiberglass convertibles were ever built in Tralee, County Kerry. And only four of them were shipped to the United States, Midkiff said.

One car was wrecked in a crash in New York. Another ended up for a time at the National Automobile Museum (the Harrah Collection) in Reno before it was acquired by an unidentified private collector. "And I have the other two," Midkiff said.

Shamrock Motors Ltd. was run by William K. Curtis, a Los Angeles businessman who had made his fortune manufacturing coffee-making equipment. He planned a 40,000-square-foot factory whose 2,400 workers would produce 10,000 autos a year.

Curtis envisioned shipping 3,000 annually to the United States, with "the bulk of them going to Southern California," reported a 1959 edition of Motor Trend magazine that showcased the $2,495 Shamrock. The article compared it to the Ford Thunderbird.

The Shamrock's designers borrowed heavily from other companies in the British Isles, Midkiff discovered when he set out to rebuild his 1959 model.

It featured a molded, single-piece body provided by a boat-building company. Its engine was a four-cylinder, 53-horsepower Austin A-55, which gave it remarkable fuel economy of more than 40 miles per gallon. Brakes in the rear came from the Triumph sports car; those in the front were from the MG. Its windshield was from the Vauxhall. It had a heater but no radio.

From the side, the car resembled an elongated Thunderbird. But from the rear, its bulky, boat-builder heritage was evident. Because of its looks--and its then-hefty sticker price--the Shamrock never took off. Production sputtered to an end in 1962 after three years.

Midkiff bought his Shamrock on a whim.

"I'd been driving past the driveway where it was parked every day on my way to work, and I thought it was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen. I finally stopped and asked the guy what it was. It had 13,000 miles on it, and running gear-wise it was OK. But the interior was rotted and the chrome was all bad."

Like all the original Shamrocks, the car was white. But Midkiff's wife, Sonnie, insisted he repaint it candy-flaked green. "I'm Irish. I have relatives in County Cork," she explained.

Once the restoration was complete, she encouraged her husband to show off his Shamrock at St. Patrick's Day parades and other events with Irish themes.

On Saturday, the pair will drive the Shamrock in a procession marking the 27th Los Angeles Irish Fair and Music Festival, a two-day event at Woodley Park in Encino.

"Once at a parade in Hermosa Beach, the fuel pump died and the car quit. Two big Irish guys came out of the crowd to help us. We thought they'd just push us out of the way, over to the side of the street. But they insisted on pushing us all the way to the end of the parade," Sonnie Midkiff said.

Motorists routinely slow down to get a good look at the car Dick Midkiff calls the "Green Latrine" and "The Irish Edsel" when he drives around in it.

"People have driven over curbs staring at us. One woman ran into the back of the car in front of her and totaled her car while watching us. She wasn't hurt, but she was embarrassed," said Midkiff, who delights in telling the car's colorful history.

So there were plenty of curious glances as the pair maneuvered it down busy Emerald Street in Torrance this week. "What's a Shamrock?" shouted a school boy from the sidewalk.

Lucky you should ask.

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