Breandán Ó hÉamhaigh collects and restores cars, which is not a particularly unusual hobby.
But what is extraordinary is his collection of ordinary cars. No performance cars, no priceless classics (at least not in the conventional sense)…a garage full of retro Renaults.
Together with his friend Ailbe Kinane, the pair had fifteen Renaults between them on the last count.
The guys share a garage and on Breandán’s side there is a 1986 Renault 11 Broadway 1.4-litre (also known as ‘Elfy’), a 1996 Renault Clio 1.2-litre 8V, a 1999 Renault Twingo Metropolis 1.2-litre 8V, a 2000 Renault Twingo Metropolis 1.2-litre 8V (also known as ‘Mitzy’), a 2000 Renault Megane Cabriolet 1.6-litre 16V (also known as ‘Priscilla’) and a 2002 Renault Megane Dynamique 1.4-litre hatchback (also known as ‘Bernice’).
Ailbe’s side of the garage houses a 1968 Renault 10 1108cc, a 1981 Renault 5 GTL 1284cc, a 1981 Renault 4 L 845cc, a 1983 Renault 9 TL 1397cc, a 1985 Renault 11 1.6-litre diesel van, a 1986 Renault 11 TC 1108cc, a 1996 Renault 19 1.4-litre, a 2005 Renault Scenic 1.5dCi and a 2008 Renault Espace 2.0dCi.
That’s quite an eclectic collection of Renaults. Of course there’s a story behind each car: Breandán’s Renault 11 that came from a local scrapyard in Ennis, a Dutch import with just 80km on the clock; the Clio that started life in France and was sold to Breandán by a French colleague in Ireland who had owned the car since new; Ailbe’s Renault 10 that was an original family car from his childhood; and the Renault 11 van that had been parked up for over ten years before Ailbe rescued it from a farmer clearing out his yard.
And then there is dear Twingo, always more of a European favourite than an Irish one. Breandán’s first generation Twingos were never officially sold in Ireland because the cars were left hand drive only so how did he get his hands on these quirky classics?
“I saw a Twingo in Ennis as a teenager and fell in love and every time I visited the continent I kept wanting to take one home. One day this popped up for sale in Cork so I went down and barely haggled for it,” says Breandán. His car is a limited edition German market only Metropolis model. More recently Breandán found an identical Twingo for sale in Wicklow and bought it as a parts car to keep the good one going.
The motivation to collect such cars is of course very personal to Breandán and Ailbe, and their relationship with Renault cars goes back a long way.
“I came home from the hospital in the back of a Renault 4, the first car I ever steered was a Renault 4, I properly learned to drive in a field in a Renault 11…I grew up with Renaults and I have fond memories of them,” says Breandán.
“Each car I have is there for a reason: the Twingo was a car I always wanted from first sight; the Cabrio too; the 11 is special to me for sentimental reasons and for the fact that it was an 11 I was first let drive solo at the tender age of 9; the Clio was a car I loved from the time it was released and who can forget Nicole?”
For Ailbe, his passion for Renaults is closely linked to the cars he grew up with. “We had a Renault 10, 16 and a 4 in the family when I was a child growing up and that’s when I first started tinkering with cars and learning all about them. When I grew up I was then in a position to get the cars I dreamed of having so I suppose you could say it’s a childhood dream,” he says.
When Breandán is asked which car he could not part with, it’s the non-Renault he owns that would most easily get the boot! “The only car I could part with is the 1989 Daihatsu Charade that’s down the back of my garage,” says Breandán. For Ailbe, it’s the Renault 10 he could not let go because it was the first Renault his family had when he was a child and forms a big part of his childhood memories.
The cars are regularly out and about at shows or as daily runners. Breandán brought the Cabrio and the Twingo to the Limerick show this year. They got a mixed reaction with some of the more traditionalists not seeing why either were classed as classics or collectable cars. “But most people appreciate them and the Twingo gets a great reaction, even just going to the shop in it!” says Breandán.
The guys face a lot of challenges trying to restore these cars and keep them roadworthy, and for Breandán, the biggest challenge is trying to get parts for them. “The Twingo is a car that you always have to plan jobs on, the 11’s parts are almost obsolete and it’s not always a simple case of going in and finding an exhaust or a brake cylinder. I often find myself sending to Germany for parts and praying they’re right.”
“The Cabrio, because there weren’t many of them here, are painful to get some parts for, but luckily from the A-pillar forward they are standard Megane and the rear lights are the same as the Coupé. But the rest is a pain.” Breandán has even driven to Germany to collect parts!
For Ailbe the biggest challenge to being a collector of old Renaults is finding old cars that are good enough to restore and haven’t rusted into the ground.
But of course they are many rewards to the time, money and effort that goes into restoring such ordinary classics. For Ailbe it’s the satisfaction of finishing a project and the car passing the NCT. And for Breandán?
“The biggest reward is sitting in and driving them, seeing the glint of the paint on a rare sunny day, hearing the engines revving through the range on a country road, spending all the time fixing them with my dad, and the friends I’ve made through the various groups and clubs.”
To complete his garage, Breandán would love to buy back his old Renault 9 Broadway that he lovingly restored before the recession hit and it had to be sold to pay off some debts. “I’d also love to add in a Renault 4 and, surprisingly, a Volkswagen Beetle.”
For Ailbe it would be a Renault 16, 6, 18 and “maybe a 5 Gordini turbo”.