Introducing our lockdown project: Champagne fire truck
When it comes to 'lockdown projects' it's safe to say, The Champagne Fire Truck is definitely unique! While the events industry, like the rest of the world, ground to a halt due to COVID-19, we ploughed ahead with our 'little' project - restoring and converting a vintage 1972 British Leyland AEC fire engine into a stunning Champagne bar.
The idea came about after Richard purchased a 1964 Dennis fire engine, complete with Merryweather ladder with big red wheels, which had long seen better days. To enable a person to stand on the chassis bed, the roof height on the body would need to be raised considerably. It sat uncomfortably with Richard to change the traditional shape of this vintage fire engine and just what to serve from the Dennis was certainly a head scratcher.
Fast-forward 18 months and while away with work, he had that light bulb moment - Champagne!! The fire engine creating the backdrop to a bar at the side of it, conserving and celebrating it’s traditional appearance.
The following month Richard received a call from the previous owners of the Dennis, offering him a running 1972 British Leyland AEC Fire Engine, which was too big a restoration task to undertake themselves. Plans were put in place and one Sunday early in August 2019, the AEC was heading down the M1 – even getting a flash of approval from a vintage Rover SD1 police car as it passed!
First stop for the fire engine was to have a thorough service. Thankfully with a change of fluids to the power steering and clutch, neither needed the major work that the garage originally thought, but an unexpected surprise was two new tyres at £420 each – eek! By early December the fire engine was back and plans were taking shape for the restoration and conversion.
Richard had sourced genuine French Oak riddling racks for the bar front, from a saw mill in the heart of Champagne, however speaking to the saw mill around the summer holidays proved challenging. After a lengthy 8 months, the riddling racks finally arrived in January 2020. From December to February, Marketplace was combed for ladders for the bar and awning construction, while towards the end of February, lights and sirens blazing, the AEC headed off to begin it’s transformation. COVID slowed the delivery of materials and the completion timeline drifted on. Four months in, Richard's contract as a freelance development chef, came to an end, meaning he was able to get hands-on with the work. This was perfect timing as it coincided with a stage in the conversion that required more input. A further three months have rolled on and the bar and awning areas have been constructed, event electrics installed and lockers are dressed.
The Fire Truck itself forms the eye-catching backdrop to the serving bar, which is framed by a gazebo formed out of ladders and sheltered by a stunning red canopy. Authentic French Oak riddling racks create the intriguing bar front, while the top of the water tank is one of many repurposed elements of the original fire engine - becoming the top of the bar.
The original water pump valves now serve as iPad holders for the till points. Vintage breathing apparatus and yellow ex fire brigade helmets adorn the bar, with festoon lights providing a warm, ambient glow. In the Fire Truck's side lockers - once home to hose reels and kit, redundant fire extinguishers with a bottle-shaped aperture, display our finest vintages, while fridges keep the Champagne at the perfect serving temperature.
The controls for the blue lights, sirens and bell have been moved from the cab, into a locker, so that they can be operated from behind the bar and create those spontaneous moments of joviality. The bell has also been moved - from the roof of the Fire Truck to the smaller, middle locker and the pump throttle lever has been repurposed to activate it - 'ring for Champagne' has taken on a whole new meaning!
The Champagne Fire Truck is both authentic and totally unique, providing guests with plenty of fun and stylish Instagramable opportunities - catching the attention of passers-by wherever it goes.