To Ireland’s Kilgarvan Motor Museum
Small but characterful, this family-run museum is quintessentially Irish
MUSEUMS DON’T HAVE to be big or fancy to hold your attention, and the family-run Kilgarvan Motor Museum, tucked away down a country road in Kerry, Ireland, is neither. Like the Irish people itself, however, it’s a warm and convivial place where there are no ropes or barriers between you and the exhibits, and it features some marques that you wouldn’t expect to discover in this rural backwater.
Did you know, for example, that Adler, Auto Union, Borgward and Isetta cars and microcars were assembled from kits in Ireland, to avoid paying punitive import duties? One of Kilgarvan’s exhibits is a DKW two-stroke saloon that was rallied extensively in Ireland during the 1950s and ’60s; like most of the cars on display, it has been restored by museum founder John Mitchell and his son Trevor. They run the place with John’s wife Joan as a family hobby-cum-business – John and Trevor work on customers’ cars as well as their own.
What the Mitchells have achieved with limited budget and resources is little short of miraculous. An early-70s Rolls-Royce Corniche that had rotted in a field for a couple of decades has been brought back to pastel- yellow glory; it might not win an RREC concours but the work involved is staggering. Ireland has traditionally been hard on its cars – partly due to being blessed with plenty of rainfall and partly, it has to be said, because owners were not inclined to over-service them – so Kilgarvan’s classics were often in a pretty bad state when they were acquired.
Popular family classics are well represented here: Morris Eight, Ford Y-type and many more, plus a few comparative rarities such as a 1946 Armstrong-Siddeley Lancaster, the car that started the collection in the 1970s. There are even a few American interlopers from ‘across the pond’, including a barnfind 1955 Buick Special Coupe that sits outside next to an equally derelict right-hand-drive Citroën Traction Avant, presenting a tantalising tableau to visitors as they approach the museum buildings. The Mitchells have just finished the two-year restoration of a 1926 Ford Model T, which had been off the road for nearly 60 years.
Besides the cars, there’s lots of automobilia decorating the whitewashed museum buildings, most of it with an Irish connection. During the 1920s, petrol giant BP used giant Union Flag backgrounds for its home-market enamel advertising signs – but, realising this might not play so well in Ireland, it changed the design here, uniquely, to a two-tone starburst graphic. A couple of these rarities are in the Kilgarvan collection, along with radiator grilles, hubcaps, road signs and all manner of other fascinating clutter. The museum includes a café and shop selling automobilia and magazines.
Nearly all the vehicles in the museum are in running condition and frequently exercised on rallies and club events; Octane was treated to a blast in the DKW rally car along the nearby Wild Atlantic Way coastal road – for our money, it’s a much better drive than California’s Highway 1. Though without quite so much sunshine, admittedly.