Panel & Paint
A chance visit to a classic car show in Paeroa, in Waikato, resulted in meeting a fantastic old racing car that started its life as a fire engine, and has, according to the painter who helped with the restoration “the worst paint job I’ve ever done”.
Well, that’s what owner Craig Marshall told those gathered around the massive beast as it rumbled to a halt after starring in the town’s old cars parade.
The painter, of course, was being a bit tongue in cheek. His brief was to paint the car so it looked as old as it was whe Craig found it, using a section of bodywork inside the engine compartment. He might think it’s shitty (his word), but it’s a brilliant rendition that faithfully reproduces rust spots, flaking and faded paint, and also at the same time pays homage to the vehicle’s history, with the letters “CSFD” adorning the bonnet, a reference to the vehicle’s origins with Colorado Springs Fire Department.
So how did a fire engine turn into a racing car? “Back in the day” just after the turn of the 20th Century there was a company in America called American LaFrance, and it made fire engines, powerful beasts with a 14.5-litre six-cylinder engine (with three spark plugs per cylinder) capable of rushing men and equipment to fires as quickly as possible.
Eventually technology overtook these big and powerful (for their day) trucks, and the originals were retired. But then came along another phenomenon, motor racing, stimulated by the ParisPeking races from 1907 to 1912, but there was a shortage of race cars, so someone hit on the idea of converting the fire wagons.
They were ideal. Tough, powerful and generally low mileage, and many were quickly converted into copies of the Simplex racers of the period. In fact so popular were they that American LaFrance made a few of their own!
And that’s where Craig’s car comes in. It had been converted from fire engine to a 1915 American LaFrance Speedster, and it entered Craig’s life when he fell in love with the cars and eventually tracked one down in New Zealand. It had been found in a state of disrepair in a field in Missouri, and shipped to Paihia, where the hapless owner had been overwhelmed by the task in hand.
Not so Craig, and the car was lovingly restored. Even the wooden wheels had to be specially made, and now the car is back to how it was in its heyday. Except perhaps for the paint job!
Cars like Craig’s are constantly being offered in auctions around the world, and particularly in England, where they are fetching upwards of 50,000 pounds. Or less for one which needs work. Fancy having a go?