Panel & Paint

Motor Equipment News - - CONTENT - By John Ox­ley

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?

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