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Just Watch Me Tie St. Patrick's Day To Old Volkswagens

Illustration for article titled Just Watch Me Tie St. Patricks Day To Old Volkswagens

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Normally, I like to write about interesting Irish cars on this day, but this time I’m going to give in to my basest of urges and write, yet again, about old Volkswagens. But it’s got to relate to Ireland somehow, right? Of course it does. Luckily, there’s a really strong link between Ireland and old Beetles.


Just enjoy that suspense, everyone. Let the glorious tension of the anticipation of obsolete air-cooled knowledge saturate your being. Drink it in. Are you ready? Here we go:

The very first Volkswagen Beetle to be built outside of Germany was built in Ireland.


Yep, that’s right. In 1949, the same year a mere two VW Beetles were exported to the United States, a company called Motor Distributors Limited (MDL), which did not make distributors for motors, was founded by Stephen O’Flaherty. The company secured from Volkswagen the rights to the region, and started assembling Beetles in 1950. By 1952, sales had grown from 46 to 2155 cars.

Illustration for article titled Just Watch Me Tie St. Patricks Day To Old Volkswagens

Now, any chump-ass country can import Beetles from Germany, but MDL actually assembled Beetles, from completely-knocked-down (CKD) kits from the factory in Wolfsburg.

Volkswagen of Ireland’s timeline says this first happened in 1954, while other sources say that MDL started assembling Beetles from CKD kits right from the start, in 1950. I’m inclined to think the earlier date is more accurate, since Mexico started building CKD Beetles in 1952, and Volkswagen’s own museum clearly pegs the first non-German Beetle at 1950.

Illustration for article titled Just Watch Me Tie St. Patricks Day To Old Volkswagens

Also, newspapers like the Irish Independent from 1950 report on the parts coming to Ireland, and other stories about O’Flaherty’s venture from that year.


I have no idea why VW Group Ireland’s website timeline seems to tell a different story. I’ll look into it.

Eventually, the Beetle was built, in CKD kits and full factories, all over the world. Beetles were built in Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines, Australia, Belgium, Indonesia, Yugoslavia, Venezuela, Finland, Malaysia, and it all started in Ireland. Well, after Germany, of course.


Later, O’Flaherty assembled another iconic people’s car, the Renault 4, which might make the Irish MDL factory the only place in the world to build both Beetles and R4s simultaneously.

There you go. I managed to turn an Irish holiday into an opportunity to talk about a German car. Happy St. Patrick’s day!

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!:

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Declan Hackett

Actually, it’s even better than that. When he got the Irish distribution rights for VW, O’Flaherty bought the (just decommissioned) tram sheds in Ballsbridge, and converted them into a factory to construct the cars from kits. Once he realised how quickly and easily they could turn the cars around, he bought the original rights for the UK as well, selling them on in 1957 for a fairly hefty profit!

But even at 2,000 units a year, there was still space available in the factory. So in 1954, he acquired the rights for Mercedes-Benz as well. Bizarrely, the factory building for these two iconic German brands was located right next door to…

No, seriously! The laundry had been there since 1912. In fact, when the laundry was demolished for flats in the ‘90s, the old chimney for the boilers was retained and there was a notable court case - all the way to the Supreme Court - to try and stop the developers from sand-blasting away the last traces of the sign!