By the 1930s the automobile market witnessed a shift with ‘small’ trucks being desired and possessing more power. Dennis, a prominent vehicle manufacturer ran the risk of falling behinds its opposition until it developed a revolutionary chassis that was 2 tonne capacity and offered unusual features for the time such as a setback front axle and hydraulic brakes. Reports of the time touted this as a “funny looking truck” and as a “courageous disregard of recognised practices” but the benefits of this revolutionary design could not be ignored for it had a tremendously large turning circle, which in combination with its size, meant it was an ideal chassis to drive around narrow streets with tight corners. This chassis would be known as the Ace and utilised by the New South Wales Fire Brigade (NSWFB; now Fire and Rescue NSW, FRNSW) during the 1930s as the ideal ‘small fire engine’ chassis.
During WWII Dennis would redevelop the Light 4 range, a different series of chassis based off of the design of the Ace. This new version of the Light 4 would be known as the 400/500 model for fire engines until 1947 when it was renamed once again to be known as the F1 model. The F1 offered a variety of improvements such as 70 BHP (brake horsepower) and a new 4-speed gearbox but the No. 2 Tamini pump found on earlier Dennis vehicles continued to be used.
In 1947 the order was made for five Dennis F1 chassis with the vehicles entering service progressively from 1949 to 1952. Its experimental body construction shifted away from the standard ‘Braidwood’ style (open external facing seating) which had been in use since the time of horse drawn carriages to an internal facing seating arrangement. This change reflected the technological improvements of motorised vehicles of the time as safer seating layouts were preferred since the speed vehicles were capable of achieving were increasing.
The first two chassis from this order were unique featuring a different body compared to the remaining three chassis from the order. Known as the ‘Scout Car’ design, it incorporated many traditional elements, such as the open body, but also novel features, as it received two seating rows enclosed by doors. The Dennis Bros Light 4 chassis was chosen as the base ‘model’ and the bodywork completed at the NSWFB Workshops (as was usual practice). These two would be the only example of this kind, with these units allocated Motor Engine (ME) Numbers 10 (1949) and 5 (1950). Due to their open, transverse seating arrangement, ME 10 and ME 5 were often referred to as ‘Staff Cars’ as they were similar in design to German, WWII Staff Cars. This name was later replaced with ‘Scout Car’, although the origin of that label is not known.
Following the construction of these two units, NSWFB Workshops produced several appliances with ‘New World’ bodies, the name given to the new internal facing open seating arrangement, which would go on to become the new standard up until the 1960s when fully enclosed cabins with transverse seating were introduced.
Of particular interest to the Museum of Fire is ME 10 which forms a part of our heritage fleet collection. Due to its new design, ME 10 was initially commissioned into service at No. 021 Kogarah Fire Station on 18 October 1949 on a temporary basis. Chief Officer Griffiths instructed that a report must be submitted every fortnight for appraisal purposes. The design was noted to be an improvement on previous ‘Braidwood’ models, but there were also problems identified, such as limited storage. The following month it was transferred to No. 050 Hornsby, and subsequently saw service at No. 040 Willoughby, No. 381 Moree, and No. 262 Coolamon stations before it was withdrawn in 1974 and transferred to the Museum in 1981. It is tremendous to have such a unique vehicle as a part of the Museum of Fire's collection, representing a time of experimentation and technological evolution which shaped the way fire engines function today.
-Story by the Museum of Fire Heritage Team