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Fetch the Engine…

08/11/2016 | General

Pirtek’s ability to respond quickly to a customer call has earned the company the nickname of the fourth emergency service.   So it is perhaps fitting that the company should be the hose supplier of choice for a customer restoring a stunning relic of one of the original three emergency services.

An innocuous gravel path – barely wide enough to accommodate a large car – off an equally innocuous Swindon country lane leads to a ramshackle yard and an equally ramshackle if large shed set amidst a largely untended field.   But while the shed itself is by no means state-of-the-art, the imposing doors have a functional and familiar look to them even if they do like utterly out of place in this rural context.  

Those doors, salvaged from a nearby fire station, hint at the contents of the shed itself.   But nothing can prepare you for the glistening beauty of what lies behind them.

This is the home-away-from-home of Chris Wannell, a former fire officer whose love of all things fire engine-related has spawned a restoration project that has breathed new life into a 1937 Leyland cab major pump fire appliance so gorgeous that it stops pedestrians in their tracks as it roars by.

Wannell acquired the engine – which he calls Belinda -in 1980 as “a wreck; a rolling chassis and some boxes of bits” as he describes it.   The unit sat at the back of his shed largely untouched for years.   “We bought this three acre paddock to house the engine but that used up all our money so it just sat there for years,” he recalls.  “We did get a £500 grant from the Transport Trust which we used to replace the electrics.   But shortly after, we were broken into and the vandals ripped out the newly-replaced wiring loom.”

But in 2012, the restoration of Belinda was kick-started by Wannell’s daughter, and her impending nuptials.   “In February 2012, she reminded me that I had promised to take her to church in the Leyland.   That gave us just eight months to complete the restoration, to restore Belinda to her former glory, and to make her ready for my daughter’s big day,” Wannell recalls.   “That rather concentrated the mind.   Together with my wife, my son and some friends, we seemed to spend almost every waking hour at the paddock, fixing the appliance, replacing parts and bringing her back to life.”

Despite this monumental effort, the restoration went down to the wire.   “We finally had her ready at 11 am on the morning of the wedding,” Wannell says.   “But she looked beautiful on the day and my daughter made it to the church on time.”

A key element of that restoration project was the replacement of the brake hoses, a task that fell to the team at Pirtek Swindon.  “The brake hoses are inspected regularly and if I see even the slightest crack, they are replaced immediately,” Wannell asserts.   “We once tried another supplier for our brake hoses.   It proved to be a huge mistake as they didn’t fit.   We have worked with Pirtek Swindon ever since and they have been wonderful.”

Like all good private restoration projects, Belinda remains a work in progress and Chris Wannell continues to tinker with her, adding new parts and polishing the gleaming brass and scarlet paintwork.   But that doesn’t stop Belinda earning her keep.   She is a regular at vintage vehicle fairs where her appearance is used to raise funds for fire service charities.   Chris Wannell is also eyeing the possibility of tackling the London to Brighton Vintage Car Rally at the wheel of his Leyland-built pride and joy.   Based upon all he has achieved with Belinda to date, that ambition is very much within his grasp.   And if and when Belinda crosses the finishing line in Brighton, it will be Pirtek brake hoses that bring her to a safe and well-deserved rest.

To see an exclusive Pirtek video of Belinda in all her glory, please visit:   https://youtu.be/mx1YPzHShWk

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Pirtek Racing bows out as runner-up after dramatic season finale

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