Car SOS team restores famous 6R4 rally car

Car SOS team restores famous 6R4 rally car

7 April 2021

FOR petrol heads everywhere, National Geographic’s Car SOS television show is compelling viewing.

Now in its ninth series, the show saves decaying cars from the scrapheap by revitalising and rebuilding them for their richly deserved, but unsuspecting owners.

The show — which highlights the mercurial talents of master mechanic Fuzz Townsend and the extrovert and persuasive parts-blagging skills of Tim Shaw — is hugely popular.

And while it is a must watch for petrol heads, it also compulsive viewing for those interested in heart-warning stories where families contact Car SOS asking for the car of a loved one who is no longer able to complete the project for a variety of reasons, particularly illness, to be restored.

The show has the ability to provide a detailed insight into the amazing world of car restoration and the tricks of the trade, but it also has an unerring ability to tug at the heart strings and has even  been known to make grown men cry.

The all-important ‘reveal’ at the show’s climax is emotional, not only for the families involved, but viewers, with hardened petrol heads claiming to have something in their eye as they wipe away a tear or two.

One of the most recent episodes featured a famous MG Metro 6R4 rally car saved from the scrapheap by Loughinisland man Brian McKay (68) to restore with the help of his son, Gerard (46).

The iconic 1980s car had been driven by Scottish rally legend David Gillanders on the Group B world rally circuit and won British National Rally Championship in 1987.

However, the Group B competition was short-lived as it was abandoned after a string of high-profile driver and spectator fatalities which consigned the 410 brake horsepower Metro to the history books.

Saved from the scrapyard in South Armagh by rally enthusiasts Brian and Gerard, they put in place a restoration project for the infamous 6R4, but there was no timescale in place for what they knew would be a labour of love.

Spending a few nights each week and some weekends working on the car was the plan, in between saving to buy key parts which were not only expensive, but very difficult to source at times. 

Sadly, Brian suffered a stroke and the arrival of a global pandemic threw another spanner in the restoration works. While it seemed the rebuild of the 6R4 would take significantly longer than the father and son team anticipated, Car SOS changed all that after Brian’s daughter, Libby, contacted the programme makers who were quick to realise the significance and history of the car the McKay family now owned.

Gerard said the road to the Car SOS reveal at the Millbrook Lodge Hotel in Ballynahinch at the end of last summer began in 2007 when a family friend alerted them to the whereabouts of the iconic car — which was lying on its side — in a scrapyard in Crossmaglen.

“We did not know the full history of the car at this stage, but we did know that it was famous across Ireland as it was driven by John Moloney, whom I used to watch driving it at Mondello Park when I was much younger,” he explained.

“John was was very successful and won a number of Irish Rally Championships with the 6R4 which was one of the first of its kind to compete in Ireland.

“When Dad and I bought the car it was a shell. I had always wanted to get my hands on Moloney’s red and white 6R4 and was delighted to discover it was the very one that we now owned. While it needed major surgery, I was nonetheless delighted to have a car with such pedigree. However, we did not know the full history of the 6R4 at that stage.”

Gerard explained that when the car was brought home, neither he nor his father knew about the link with David Gillanders and what 6R4 they really had on their hands.

“A family friend from Leitrim, Eamonn McAleenan, initially told us about the car and when we got it back to Loughinisland he told us it was famous. When we replied, ‘We know, it was John Moloney’s’, Eamonn said, ‘No, I mean it is really famous’ and revealed that it was David Gillanders car. We couldn’t believe it.

“The rally community is very small and everyone knows about cars, where they came from and who owned and drove them. When Moloney raced 

the car it was probably the talk of the country as it was an Austin Rover works car, but when we hauled it out of the scrapyard we had no idea what we had really bought.”

Gerard said his father knew who Eamonn was talking about and recalled seeing images of the car in the Motoring News magazine.

“We did our homework and, sure enough, it was Gillander’s 6R4 and we had this confirmed by someone in 

England who is something of an expert in the MG Metro cars. We knew that we had the real deal,” he continued.

“A mechanical manual came with the car which would help us get it back on the road again. It was pre-Facebook at this stage but when I put a photo of the car on the internet, it literally exploded with messages.

“It is hard to believe that the car was in a scrapyard for 17 years. When we bought it in 2007, the car had been stripped for parts and the shell was getting tired. When we got to the scrapyard it had been sitting on top of some tyres but had fallen over on to its side.”

Gerard said he was “doing handstands” as he had got his hands on Moloney’s car, explaining that being the owner of the vehicle with his father “was the ultimate for him”. He said when he put the car on the internet many people commented that they thought Gillanders car had been lost.

When it came to rebuilding the car, Gerard and his father had the engine, gearbox and two out of the three diffs. They ended up getting a third from a Peugeot 306 they purchased.

With Gerard moving to England for five years, no work was done on the car which was left in a garage with a cover over it, but in 2015 the 6R4 was moved from Loughinisland to his garage in Castlewellan.

“Dad was a mechanic and I am a joiner by trade while another friend of mine, Frank McMullan, helped with the bodywork. We got the shell back into shape and then started getting the panels on but Dad then had a stroke so the work stopped. For me, there were more important things to worry about. That was fine as restoring the 6R4 was always going to be a long-term project anyway. It was labour of love.”

Just weeks before last year’s lockdown, Fuzz and Tim rocked up to take the 6R4 back to England for its makeover after being contacted by Gerard’s sister and with the team one week away from completing the job, work had to stop due to Covid-19.

“Incredibly, the work on the car was completed within about six weeks as a 15-strong team was working on it. They also had a very firm foundation to start with which helped,” Gerard explained.

In the build-up to the big reveal, the McKay family was due to go to England at the end of last March, but this wasn’t possible due to lockdown restrictions, so the unveiling was put on hold until last August.

However, Brian and Gerard had no idea what was happening and arrived at the Millbrook Lodge Hotel for a family meal. And they couldn’t believe their luck when they saw David Gillanders sitting in the reception area.

They told the rally driver that they owned his car and when they all went outside and saw a television crew and Fuzz rocking up in the gleaming 6R4, they thought it was a programme involving the famous Scottish driver.

“I recognised Tim right away as Dad and I watch Car SOS and was not surprised to see him as I thought everything was focused on Gillanders. Then Tim spoke to Dad and I by name which really threw me. Then he said it was our car.

“It was a pretty surreal moment and when we got to take the car for a drive it was incredible. The heat and noise of one of the most powerful rally car engines on the planet sitting over your left shoulder is an amazing feeling. 

“What we now have is a museum quality car which is incredible and it certainly won’t be raced. We will take it to shows and maybe some demonstration runs, but that will be it. Its competition days are over.”

Gerard added: “The reveal of the car was very emotional for Dad who thought all his Christmases had come at once. The 6R4 is everything we expected and more. Dad thought he would never have seen the car finished and is running about as if he is 18 again.

“I always thought that one day I would have been able to get the car back on the road as a petrol head never gives up on his dream. While I am sure I would have achieved my goal, what the Car SOS team has done is miraculous.

“We are just a normal family which is car mad. Fuzz and Tim are gentlemen and a pleasure to work with. They are so down to earth and we can’t thank them or the Car SOS team enough. They were brilliant.”