By on January 6, 2011

When the 24 Hours of LeMons HQ crew left the season-ending Miami race on New Year’s Day, we didn’t go back home. No, we got right on a plane to northern Jamaica for our corporate retreat!

Of course, a LeMons corporate retreat means that we spend most of our time washing down curry goat, mannish water, and festivals with 120-proof “Jancro Batty” (warning: don’t use that term around polite Jamaicans, because it also means something intolerably obscene) which moonshine rum, which involves a lot of driving on some of the wildest not-quite-two-lane, not-quite-blacktop “highways” imaginable. More on that, and what we’ve discovered is the Greatest Vehicle You Can’t Buy In The U.S.A., later.

Driving from Montego Airport to our villa in the hills above Ocho Rios, Chief Perp Lamm ran his rented Yaris (a car not well-suited to the rigors of Jamaican roads, as it turns out) over a huge rock in the pothole-a-second Fern Gully— while dodging a stray dog— and punctured the sidewall. Fortunately, the car came with a full-sized spare.

In the Walkerswood area of St. Ann’s Parish, everyone knows that Ratty’s will take care of your vehicular maladies— whatever they may be. You roll up, chat with the guys hanging around the tubing bender, and let Ratty know what you need.

Ratty specializes in exhaust-system work, but he’s part of a huge network of savvy wrenches who can get you anything from a rebuilt engine for your Toyota Noah to tinted windows for your Suzuki Alto (99% of the vehicles in Jamaica appear to be late-model Japanese products).

Our sidewall puncture was sent out to a Ratty-affiliated tire man’s shop and taken care of, no problem. 300 Jamaican dollars, or about $3.50.

Sure, you’re not supposed to do this, but we need an emergencies-only spare for the rent-a-Yaris and we aren’t driving back to the rental agency in Montego Bay to get one.

Our Jamaican host had a burned-out taillight in his Isuzu diesel pickup, so one of Ratty’s comrades swapped the bulb for him. The price? “Just buy me one drink, mon.”

The shop is just a couple of little buildings to keep the rain off the tools and a few welded-rebar ramps for getting under cars, because that’s all you really need in a mild climate like Jamaica’s; a quick phone call from Ratty to one of his many mechanic buddies is all that’s needed to fetch the necessary parts and/or skills.

Let’s take a moment to admire the bare-bones simplicity of Ratty’s welder.

Here’s an ’81 Isuzu pickup with a replacement bed Ratty built from scratch.

Here’s an innovation that we’d like to see spread to the United States: this automotive repair shop has its own bar! Ratty’s Bar wasn’t open when we dropped by, but we hear the place really jumps when it’s in action. You see, Ratty’s isn’t just a shop– it’s a major local gathering place and socializing destination.

It goes without saying that Ratty’s Bar has become an important watering hole for the 24 Hours of LeMons HQ staff while in Jamaica.

I’ll try to get some more cars-in-Jamaica posts done while I’m here, if this brief window to the internet persists in staying open; otherwise, I’ll be back in full effect on Sunday. For now, it’s time to head back to Ratty’s for a few rum-&-Tings!

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15 Comments on “Ratty’s Jamaican Muffler Shop and Bar: Fix It Up, Forget It!...”

  • avatar

    ting, the greatest drink since tang!

  • avatar

    My father used to go to a shop something like this in a slummy neighborhood in Mount Vernon, NY back in the 70s.  Whether you got your car fixed depended on how early Jimmy got into the drink.  If he could get to 2:00 or so, he could fix anything for almost no money.
    Had an illegal nip joint with whiskey from milk jugs in the house next door, used parts from god only knows where, an Irish setter covered in grease dodging the chained junkyard shepherds all day, and an old black body guy with a fair chunk of his ear rotted away from jailhouse piercings.
    Made an impression on a couple of teenagers.

  • avatar

    This reminds me of a garage I dealt with on Long Island, The Bahamas, while I was visiting friends there in 2005.
    Their PA-exported truck was overheating, but the first order of business for an imported vehicle is to remove the thermostat – everyone knows that.  Removing the thermostat required some tools my friend didn’t have, and I needed gasket material and sealant for reassembly.  No problem – Fox Auto had everything (including some tools to borrow), but acquiring the stuff was not a business transaction – it was a social one, and a lot nicer than visiting my local auto parts store.
    If I ever return to the Caribbean, I now think I’d like to visit Ratty’s.  Thanks for bringing back a warm memory on a cold evening.

  • avatar

    Can Ratty’s weld up a Lemons legal cage?  :)

  • avatar
    John R

    99% of the vehicles in Jamaica appear to be late-model Japanese products
    I think you can probably widen that to include the rest of the Caribbean as well. On a recent cruise through there the ladyfriend’s parents shot tons of video and the variety of Japanese metal was astounding; there were whips in it that I only recognized because I play Gran Turismo.

  • avatar

    Dibs on the first Ratty’s Muffler Shop and Ice House franchise…

  • avatar

    I was on Grand Bahama a few years ago and asked the cab driver about preference for cars and he said that most of the locals liked U.S. models (he was driving a early to mid ’90’s Buick LeSabre). He said the parts were easier to come by as they got them from Ft. Lauderdale which is only 70 miles away as the crow flys.

    I noticed a lot of U.S. models on the island but they were cars with different names like a Jeep Liberty that was called a “Cherokee” (common in Europe) and a Chevy Cobalt that was called something that I don’t remember but it wasn’t a Cobalt.

    Agreed however, on most other Caribbean Islands the cars seem to be mostly Japanese.

    Great article by the way, I always like hearing about local entrepreneurs that aren’t out of some lousy corporate, franchise system.

  • avatar

    I lived in Kingston for two years and can tell you that the average Jamaican is incredibly resourceful.  There are thousands upon thousands of cottage industries like this all over the island. 

    As for the average Jamaican’s car of choice, the one I remember seeing the most (circa 2002-2003) was the Toyota Corolla station wagon.

  • avatar

    God, now I desperately need a patty and a Red Stripe (as I look out my window at the snow covered Midwest).

  • avatar

    Having been born and raised in Mobay (sorry, Montego Bay) I can say my love of cars grew there. Believe me, Jamaicans are incredibly resourceful whenever it comes to auto repairs and can bring stuff to life that the would baffle mechanics in the US.
    My dad owns a car here and he often compares the cost of repairs between the two countries and feel he gets ripped off more often in the States.
    Anyway, great article! Hope you guys had a blast and I’ll be sure to give Ratty a hail when I see him!

  • avatar

    I wonder if much of the Japanese-brand vehicles on Jamaica are used Japanese domestic market (JDM) cars that were exported?  It would make sense given that Jamaica traffic keeps to the left and the cars are RHD. 

  • avatar

    The vast majority of cars in jamaica are Japanese. Most are used from Japan, and are just as good as a brand new car in most cases (which included a 2003 Honda Stream purchased by my family a few years ago) and the remainder of cars would include brand new cars imported by the various new car dealers for all the different brands. And a fair mix of brand new and used European and american imports. I my self own a 1998 Mitsubishi Lancer glxi. I am the second owner and the car was brought in brand new by the Mitsubishi dealer of that time.

  • avatar

    Income and life satisfaction, by country, are roughly correlated. However, there are outliers on either side. Jamaica is one such, a nation that is way too happy for its income level. This should come as no surprise to anybody who’s been there. A truly enchanting culture.

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