Executive Travel: The Director's Car

From time to time, Transport Museum personnel have to deal with vandalised vehicles which arrive in Howth. Among these a very lucky survivor – if a hideously damaged vehicle can be so described – was one that finally made it to the Museum in August 1988. this is the Directors' Car of the former Dublin United Tramways Company (1896) Ltd.

By the end of 1901, the DUTC had around 280 electric cars running over more than fifty route miles. The company was a very successful and wealthy undertaking, and regularly acted as host to delegations from other cities around the world considering electrification.

In keeping with their position as a world leader among urban transport operators, William Martin Murphy and his fellow directors in the DUTC wished to have a special tram at their disposal for tours of inspection.

Initially they were satisfied with using the Spa Road-built No. 191 which was the first in Dublin to have vestibules (windscreens). But something more spectacular was needed.

The purpose-built Directors' Car emerged from Spa Road in June 1901 and, nearly a century later, is still one of the most famous trams ever built. The only three-window vehicle in the Dublin fleet, its fittings and finish were the best that money could buy or craftsmen could fashion. All internal pillars were carved as classical columns, all panels bore elaborate Celtic carvings, There were elegant lamp clusters, curtains, carpets, armchairs and a wine cabinet.

Each of the twelve ventilator windows had a coloured etching of a Dublin scene. The upper deck was surrounded by a fine wrought iron railings with brass medallions and the destination boxes permanently showed "Special", etched in their glass fronts.

This tram had no fleet number, being distinguished by the letters DC (for Director's Car) in a company monogram on each dash. Dublin's City Arms – the Three Castles – appeared on the sides instead of the company crest. The total cost of the car less truck and equipment was £547; the body cost £160 to build and Clery's account for furnishings was £387. The original truck was a Peckham but this was exchanged for a DUTC one in 1909 at a cost of £36.18. The electrical equipment included two GE 27hp motors. In July 1909 a general overhaul of the body, touching up and varnishing cost over £8. The car was then valued at £900 including truck and equipment. In its early career, the Director's Car toured the entire tramway system regularly, but was used only occasionally after 1913. The only illuminated car ever to run in Dublin, it travelled the entire system in 1937 to advertise the Whitehall Carnival each evening after dark.

When tramway closures began, the Director's Car was moved to Shelbourne Road. There it was jealously guarded by the late Charles Ross, works foreman, and later a founder member of the Transport Museum Society. Around 1949 it was moved to Dalkey Depot and the following year it was sold to a Dalkey resident who placed it in his Barnhill Road garden. It suffered serious fire damage in 1984 and, following protracted negotiations by photographer Sean Kennedy and Dun Laoghaire Corporation officials, was made available to the Museum in 1988: it was moved to Howth on 20th August.

The Directors' tram is currently tucked away at the back of Stage Two of the Museum on one of the three lines of track recovered from O'Connell Street in 1989. It has been thoroughly inspected by engineers and craftsmen who have planned its reconstruction. Teachers from the National College of Art and Design have also examined it and are willing to assist in recreating its interior.

When the time comes, the restoration of this supremely important tram – to transport what the Custom House is to architecture – will be greatly facilitated by the existence of a comprehensive set of reference photographs.

Apart from rebuilding the body structure, which will also require two new staircases, a formidable mechanical specification will call for dismantling the truck and making new elliptical springs. The wheel sets appear to be in good condition, and all bearings, which are still well greased, are said to have been attended to by a fitter before the tram was moved to Barnhill Road. The motors will have to be tested and possibly rewound, and replacement controllers will have to be obtained. The trolley standard and pole, which survived intact, are stored in Howth.

There are three known instances of trams built exclusively for the use of company directors. Only one – the vehicle now in Howth and easily the most exotic of the three – now survives. In transport and heritage terms, this tram is of world importance and the Transport Museum regularly receives overseas visitors who, when they see it, are disturbed by what has happened to it – and ask why nothing has been done about restoring it.

© Dublin City Public Libraries

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