Meet my big red, heavy new love... she’s called Dennis!

John Sutcliffe with grandson Oliver Missen and the 1970's fire engine he restored

John Sutcliffe with grandson Oliver Missen and the 1970's fire engine he restored - Credit: Archant

What started as a “small project” when John Sutcliffe retired from the prison service five years ago has become a “labour of love”.

The engine being transported from Newcastle.

The engine being transported from Newcastle. - Credit: Archant

The 65-year-old, of Longsands Road, St Neots, has almost finished restoring a 1978 Dennis Delta F123TL.

The huge vehicle lay disused and unloved next to the River Tyne, in Newcastle, before he paid £1,100 for it and transported it south for its renovation.

Mr Sutcliffe said he found an online appeal to save the fire engine – one of two built for the Tyne and Wear Fire Service with a lower chassis than standard models to ensure safe passage under the city’s bridges.

“At school, I was in a vintage vehicle club and knew a bloke who had a 1945-7 Dennis Merryweather and thought it was something I’d like to do at one stage.

“It was in a sorry state. The cab has a wooden frame and I’ve had to rebuild the whole of it.

“I got a lot of the parts from eBay as they don’t make them any more. The internet has made projects like this easier as before you’d have to get a magazine, but now I go on forums or email a friend for advice.”

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His wife Linda, who helped him to paint and polish the vehicle, said: “There used to be a nightclub in a ship on the river called the Tuxedo Royale and they bought the fire engine to use its ladder to paint the ship.

“After the nightclub moved, the engine was mostly used by the homeless. I’ve never seen so many beer cans and chips in my life.”

Mr Sutcliffe spent one or two days a week in a garage in Warboys rebuilding the fire engine, which he drove down the A1 on Saturday to a building near the Black Cat roundabout.

He said: “So far it has cost me about £4,000 and it’s about 90 per cent complete. The engine doesn’t carry any water but has a pump which I need to get running. I also have to have a look at the ladder and see if I can get it working.

“I’ve had to move as the garage owner wanted the space.

“I’ve got an HGV licence from when I was in the Territorial Army and the engine is covered with fully comprehensive insurance – at £93 it costs me less to insure than it does my Ford Mondeo.”

Mrs Sutcliffe said: “When John retired I suggested he needed a small project, but it turned out to be rather large. In terms of costs, we could have gone on several holidays to Barbados for the same money. It certainly has been a labour of love.

“We don’t know what we’ll do with it when it’s complete. We could take it to shows, take it to Wood Green or other places and raise money for charity.

“When we collected it, we were sitting in Pizza Express, in Newcastle, when a fire engine pulled up outside and out came a hen party, so he suggested he could do that as well.”