An American viewpoint of Irish 4x4 Madness!!!!!!

Report by Robin "Flammable" Stover.

Most people associate Ireland with leprechauns, green fields, and small pubs overflowing with the bitter odour of fresh Guinness. I admit it, I too believed these myths of a lush green fairy land full of drunk midgets guarding their lucky pots of gold at the rainbows end. That is, until I was given the opportunity to go to Ireland.

I work for a environmental company who does quite a bit of work for Intel in the silicon valley. When I heard we had a six week long job at the Intel plant in Ireland, I quickly volunteered to assist in the project. Unfortunately I accepted the offer without consulting my day timer first. Later that night I realized my mistake, I was going to miss two friend’s weddings, a fourth of July on the Rubicon, and worst of all, Fourwheeler magazine’s Top Truck Challenge 99. Last year I quit my job to watch the competition in person. I was unhappy that I would have to settle for live web coverage. I couldn’t quit my new job, it was supporting my expensive jeep addiction. So that was it, my jeep forced me to go.

I checked out the Irish 4x4 scene via the internet. , I simply requested info on 4x4 clubs near Dublin. I was shocked when I received an e-mail from a club organizer containing a personal invitation to help out and ride along in some of the vehicles during County Killdare Motor Club’s (C.K.M.C.) marquee off road event; The Irish 4x4 Championship. I confirmed plans over the phone. I was amazed by how friendly the Irish people were. Club organizer Shane McMeel picked me up at 7:30am on a Saturday morning. It was 11:30 pm California time. Needless to say I was tired. We drove out into the green country side stopping occasionally to put up signs pointing out the way to the competition area.

Off road driving in Ireland is rare. The Irish government doesn’t provide recreational parks like our state governments do. The only way to go four wheeling there, is to know someone who owns land and doesn’t mind if you use it . The C.K.M.C. know many willing land owners. This particular site was once a rock quarry. Now surrounded on all sides by grazing pastures, all that remains are grass covered mounds of dirt, steep loose banks and the occasional pond. The pungent smell of fresh cow dung filled the air. None the less, a great setting for the average (yea right) fourwheeler to test new vehicle modifications. Shane , his nephew, and I unloaded the support quad, (the first four wheel drive I’d seen yet) and stacked marking stakes on its racks. we were about to set up the course. I thought I would make a few course suggestions based on my 3 years of rock crawling experience, It became obvious in the first 20 feet that I was completely out of my element. The trail Shane made seemed quite extreme. The first hill climb was a steep off camber section of weeds and grass, breaking sharp right over a steep ridge at the top. I thought to myself, My cj7 would surely high center here, then he broke left down an even more sheer loose cliff. I couldn’t see any vehicle short of a Hummer handling the angles Shane was choosing.

When the courses were complete, I asked Shane if any one would make it with out rolling. His reply, "Rolling is the best part!!". I knew then this event was going to be quite different from California rock crawling.

The first competitors began to pull up. All of the competitors vehicles were towed in by other daily drivers, most of them turbodiesel sport utilities. I never knew Full size trucks were non existent outside the United States. The Irish people solved this lack of towing power problem in a creative way. A huge semi tractor trailer loaded with seven competitors vehicles pulled up. I though I’d seen it all!

One thing the Irish wheelers have all figured out, is Roll protection . Almost all the vehicles competing had exterior mounted cages. I happen to be a huge fan of the few exoskeleton caged rock crawlers you see in the magazines in the states. For me this was a mecca of useful hints and ideas. No doubt about how I’ll build the roll cage on my girlfriends cherokee. Back home this style of wheeling would not last. We Americans tend to over-do things. We would break our rigs in the first 5 minutes in this type of competition. The typical building formula is big tyres+big power, then add a heavy American foot, and lack of true engineering you end up with breakage. Its so common in US built fourwheel drives. I have never been to a organized trail run where at least one rig didn’t break something. The typical Irish rig is largely stock. The breakage was limited one broken u-joint. Repairs were done on site and help was always on hand. The majority of the contestants run stock engines, axles, transmissions, and transfer cases. This is no hindrance to the Irish enthusiasts ability to go hard core. I saw so many Suzuki samurais with all their wheels off the ground it felt like I was at a California sand dune jamboree. Out of thirty vehicles, only three ran V-8’s.

Their was however, one vehicle that caught my attention exclusively. They called it the "Beast" or the Pratt mobile depending on your view!. It was the only hybrid in the trials. I would call it the Irish equivalent to the tube framed rock buggies you see in all the magazines. The owner’s basically took the body off of a Land Rover (ouch!) and shortened it by almost 3 feet.(ouch, ouch!) Built a cage, and kept it simple, with no overhanging bumpers or suspension parts the approach and departure angles are not an issue healthy (yet small by our standards) V-8 backed by a series 2 tranny and stock transfer case, turning beefed up drive shafts that put the power through lower geared, stock open differentials.
I found those locker-less pumpkins to be the only limiting factor in this well thought out rig. Plans were in the works to swap in a Detroit out back(locker you Irish thicko`s). I had the opportunity to ride in this unique buildup. Trust me driving it is a point and shoot affair. I would buy one for more than the said £2000 pound cost to build it. However, the Pratt team have better things in mind, and obviously in the works, perhaps they are the Shannon Campbell of Ireland. To say the least I was impressed.
The event took two days, was packed with several rollovers, and best of all a Jeep CJ-5 took top honours.

Ahhhh, good old American steel!!!!.

I want to personally thank Shane for responding to my e-mail and who made this all happen.

An image BACK