• Museum of Fire Heritage Team

The Leyland FT3 "Lioness" Pumper

The 1938 Leyland FT3 “Lioness” pumper is one of the rarer motor appliances in the Museum’s vehicle collection. Although Leyland Motors Ltd was a major builder of fire engines in the UK and actively competed with Dennis Bros and Merryweather & Sons for local and export markets, they did not have a large presence in Australia. Between 1910 and 1945, Leyland Motors Ltd. sold only seven pumpers. Just three were purchased by the NSW Fire Brigades (now Fire and Rescue NSW), including models FK1, FK8 and FT3.

Leyland FT3 #128 ME, Drill at Botany Area
Leyland FT3 #128 ME, Drill at Botany Area

Leyland Motors Ltd and the FT Series

Until 1930, Leyland Motors produced a larger proportion of buses, lorries and other vehicles compared to their specialist fire appliances. Notably, at the start of 1929 Leyland management were unsure whether to even continue manufacturing fire engines as their FE range was rapidly becoming outdated. However, a final decision was made within the year to continue production, electing to redesign the range using the new “T” type units.

The LBT1 “Lioness 6” was the first of Leyland’s redeveloped chassis, and was followed by the successful FT, FK and TLM ranges. Steele (2003, p. 16) notes the uncertainty of the FT series name, stating that:

“FT suggests that “F” is for Fire and “T” type units in its manufacture, although it has been thought by some that “FT” stood for “Fire Tigress” which is also logical, as Leyland called their bonneted Tiger passenger chassis Tigress and the FT does look like a Tigress”.

Leyland developed a zoo of sorts, naming their models after animals such as the “Lioness”, “Tiger”, “Beaver” and “Cub” to reflect their size or capabilities. These models saw Leyland Motors Ltd prosper for years to come.

During the 1930s, the larger pumper available in the Leyland range was the FT model, which was based on their “Lioness” coach chassis. It boasted clean lines and a prominent direct drive between the drive shaft and pump. Improvements were made throughout the FT series models and by the FT3A and FT4A models, they now had an E99 type engine with improved gear box and newly fitted brake systems.

Model of a FT3 Pumper
Model of a FT3 Pumper

The 1938 Leyland FT3 "Lioness" Pumper

The Board of Fire Commissioners NSW placed an order with Leyland Motors in August 1938 for supply of one model FT3A chassis with rear mounted pump at a “special price” of £2060 (approximately $183,949 today). It arrived in Sydney in January 1939 and was fitted with a standard “Braidwood” body in the Brigade workshops. The pump (with four deliveries) was enclosed in the bodywork, with a hatch to facilitate removal.

NSWFB drawing of the bodywork for the FT3 pumper
NSWFB drawing of the bodywork for the FT3 pumper

It was powered by a 6 cylinder “camshaft in head” overhead valve petrol engine of 8.8 litre capacity developing 115 HP. Fitted with a Gwynne centrifugal pump which was driven by the engine, it could deliver in excess of 700 gallons (3100 litres) per minute.

The FT3 pumper was allocated fleet number 128 ME and assigned to the No 4 Darlinghurst Brigade in May 1939, where it served until 1967. During this time, it would have attended many major and minor fires in the inner eastern suburbs. It then became a spare vehicle for the Sydney Fire District, being temporarily assigned to other brigades as required.

It was retired in 1971 and purchased by a local enthusiast who looked to ensure its preservation into the future. Since being withdrawn from service, it has continued to run with minimal work required and is an important example of an original working appliance used by the NSWFB. It joined the Museum’s collection in 1981 and now forms part of our parade fleet.