Around 2000 green goddess pumps were ordered by the government in the 1950's as part of a national civil defence force. They were never really meant to be used to fight fires, they were designed to work in relays to pump water from rivers and lakes great distances from the sites of nuclear explosions. Enough has been written about the Auxiliary Fire Service to make it wasteful to devote a lot of time here.
They were built on the 4x4 Bedford RL, earlier ones used the 4x2 S type chassis. These were very advanced for their day and, even today are not that far behind the pack. I can keep up with the trucks on normal roads and I reckon it's only the gearing and brakes that let it down on the M4. The Sigmund pump is rated by many as one of the best fire pumps of all time!
They are powered by a 6 cylinder petrol engine and the mechanics which are fairly bomb proof in normal use.
Years passed, roles changed and by 1998 they were part of a general reserve for civil contingencies.
They were best known for being deployed when fire fighters went on strike. Last being used in 2002.
That wasn't all though, when major flooding threatened Chichester 18 Green Goddesses operating in relay pumped like crazy and saved the town.
When drought affected Yorkshire, causing all sorts of moorland fires, the Green Goddess got to the places other fire engines could not reach.
They were always dry stored and well maintained meaning they should be in remarkable condition for vehicles which are over 50 years old.
I own three and really love them. Just so I am honest - I also own a hell of a lot of the spares the government used to hold for them too and I really have far more than I need so I have been selling it all off slowly.
So if you are looking to buy one what should you look for?
Start on the roof. Whilst these vehicles were in storage they were well maintained, once the decision to cast them was made they were immediately moved from air conditioned warehouses to a former airfield in Lincolnshire. The exposure to the rain and wind did nothing for them and many of the roofs coverings will be in poor order. This is rarely as bad as it looks though and a number of means have been utilized to recover the roof. It is rare to find one that is not structurally sound the wood underneath is usually OK.
Next come round to the front and check the steel parts. Rust here is common but not the end of the world as wings and panels are available from several dealers, usually off the shelves of the same store that held the GG.
Paint work will usually look pretty faded and grim. Do not be put off by this; the fading is normal and easily rectified by resorting to a mild cut and polish. The original paint is basically the same as paint type as Dulux
Exhaust systems should be checked carefully. Silencers are probably still a current part, but the front pipe and tail pipe are almost certainly not. That said they are not very complex and would not cost the earth to have made. It's very important to keep the zorst complete and free from leaks, for some reason they run really badly if they don't have the right back pressure.
Spark plugs should be replaced as a matter of course with NGK B6S since they are almost always original to the vehicle from when it was built. It's not that they fail just that the NGK's are much better.
Not the same for the coil which is bolted to the back of the engine where it gets the "benefit" of lots of heat and vibration. You should move this out of the engine room to the bulkhead above the clutch pedal. There are even holes already there to take the bolts and route the wires!!
Charging systems have also been known to act up. This is an old fashioned dynamo system with a mechanical charge control box which will usually respond to a bath in WD40. An electronic replacement was made and stocks were sold off at disposal. Alternatively fitting a modern altenator off a Land Rover 90 is not that hard.
The clutch is prone to sticking, the driven plate sticks to the flywheel. Parked up for any time it is normal to use a stick to hold the pedal down. If the clutch does stick it takes a whole 20 minutes to remove a plate under the engine and prize the plate off the flywheel. The tools in the "hearth kit" are ideal for this.
Similarly use wheel chocks rather than the hand brake if you mean to park it for any length of time.
Also pump the tyres to 100 psi if it is to be parked up for any time. Keeps them in shape!
The key when buying a GG is equipment. At first sight they all seem to contain a bewildering amount of gear inside outside and on the roof. This is deceptive.
When they were released in 2005 they were moved about quite a bit and sometimes storage was not as secure as it might be.
Consequently things had a habit of "vanishing". A lot of the equipment is original from the 1950's and of a far higher quality than modern tools. The "hearth kit" added in the 1980's, a coverall bag of hammers and saws seems to have been very attractive to the light fingered. An awful lot of the fire gear is aluminium. So it's very common for things to be missing. You will really struggle to re equip one that has been looted.
By the time they were sold there were two basic levels of kit.
1979 spec and 2002 spec. The main difference between the two is the type of hose.
1979 spec is to have 16 lengths of 75 foot canvas hose dating from the 50's.
2004 spec is to have 10 lengths of 70 mm and 4 lengths of 45 mm red duraline hose together with 4 drums of foam compound.
Now here comes the difficulty. The duraline was changing hands for lots of money at one stage so people would remove it, replacing it with canvas hose, usually about 8 lengths of it.Vehicles in 1979 spec are fairly common. The 2004 specification was still being applied when the decision to sell was made in 2005, probably only a few hundred were so converted and many of those will have subsequently lost their hose.
The owners group - a yahoo group called RSOLES, (confession - I own that too) has full kit lists in it's file section so you can check everything is there. Of course the vendor should have this anyway as part of the vehicles records.
You need to check provenance. Many GG come with their original delivery papers from the 50's and records of everything it did and was done to it thereafter. A full service history!! Others, usually ones stored at Branston immediately before 1990 may have very little before that date. Branston GG will have a stock number on the front somewhere.
Northern Ireland types are a sub group all of their own. There were about 30 of these and you can tell them apart easily. They are bright yellow and have grills over the windows!! They are fitted with radial tyres which gives them a slight edge in terms of speed and fuel economy, you can also hear yourself think when driving over 30 MPH. Those old cross plies are like having timber wolves howling in the cab with you!!
Another complication is fuel. There was no such thing as unleaded when the GG was built, modern fuel also runs at a far higher temperature. This is bad news for the engine which has iron valves and soft seats which do not cope at all well with the heat. Some protection can be given by the addition of an additive; Castrol Valavemaster was the only one approved by the Home Office. Some other products may offer no protection at all. Including a device you pop into the tank that is supposed to release Zinc or some other metal into the fuel.
For some reason the EFS set them to run really retarded and rich to the point where they can frequently gas themselves when they are hot. To set the mixture, there is a control screw on the side of the carb; screw this right in then back it off two whole turns. That should be close to right, then tweak it in and out a little till you get the smoothest tickover.
For the timing. ignore the timing marks, they are for running on really poor quality 50's fuel. The simplest thing to do is to find somewhere quiet, drive it round with the engine covers off and the distributor lock nut loose. Then and assistant can turn the distributor till you get the best running and most power - you will be amazed how much advance you will give it to get the best power.
This all gives you more power and economy. Economy is not a word that springs off your tongue, if you get 10 mpg you are doing very well!!
Many were converted to run on unleaded, but it's not as simple as that either. Conversions may well still have soft iron valves which do not like the higher combustion temperatures of modern fuel and have been known to fail with catastrophic consequences. Steel exhaust valves are available (from me) or can be made for about 30 pounds each.
You can tell an unleaded head by stripes of green and yellow paint on the back of it. But it is still worth checking the valves - far better spend hours checking than days rebuilding an engine!! It's not a "big" job, the bits are all available and access to the engine, like pretty much anything on the GG is really easy.
In fact working on one is quite a delight to someone who has worked on modern cars, they are really simple and straightforward. It's rare to find one with more than 6000 miles on the clock and I have seen one that said it had done 250 - not too sure about that though.
They were all originally on Avon tyres, over the years many migrated to Goodyear. My personal preference is for the Avon, I think it's a nicer tyre. A very small number were on radial tyres. To the best of my knowledge only the NI vehicles were so fitted.
You have to reconfigure your style for driving one. Modern "use the brakes for all slowing down" will not cut it with these. Use the brakes when you have to and try and let it slow down naturally or use the gear at other times. Otherwise you will forever be adjusting the brakes and have regular changes of shoes - suits me I have loads of brake shoes!
Plan your driving, chose your line, double de clutch, enjoy driving that way, I love it
They are not at all hard to drive, my son reckoned they were easier than his land rover, he was 12 at the time, he still says he is a better GG driver than me. My daughters learnt to drive in one.
Oh, the speedo lies like a cheap watch
"It said I was doing 30 officer" Is not generally recognized as a defence in law.
Also get yourself a grease gun and when you intend to take it out, especially if it has been stood a while give the drag link and track rods a little squirt of grease. This really is strong arm steering when you are maneuvering.
In summer open the windscreen (but not too much) for winter, open a little hatch in the floor and let the air from the exhaust manifold pour in for as long as your passenger can take the heat. Don't forget the coiled wire "windscreen heater" which will smoke as it burns off any dust accrued over the summer!
Really, they are as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. Wherever they go they don't just stop the show they cancel all shows!! People to stop whatever they are doing to come and have a look. I have given up on seeing other vehicles at shows, I just know I will spend all my time explaining what everything is and how it works to lots of people. And of course you will start out not intending to know; but as soon as you buy one you will lock yourself in your bedroom so you can avidly read all the drill books and manuals. You will be googling and researching, trust me, it's quite normal....
They are also the most incredible tool box, there is rarely a problem I cannot find something on the back of the truck to solve. The kit list is very comprehensive. The pump is an enormously powerful tool for moving water, one of our guys in Scotland pumped out a small ship that had sunk. Re floating was a matter of a few hours.
If you want a flavour go and look at you tube. There are videos of GG driving up the road, flattening bumper deep snow drifts and pumping ridiculous amounts of water. There is even a video of fire fighting during the last strike.
In 2002 there were about 1000 left. Including the 30 yellow ones which have seemed less popular with buyers too. About 300 were gifted to foreign governments and others sold for export. One guy had one shiped out to east coast of the USA then drove it home right across the states. Another drove one from Melton Mowbray to South Germany!
Ghengis the goddess completed the London Mongolia rally last year and is currently at Ulan Battor international airport doing fire cover. .
It's hard to work out how many are now in the UK, left in the open a lot of them got in very poor condition and ended up being cut up. No one seems to know the final tally, but I would estimate many hundreds ended up weighed in as scrap with their registration numbers retained for future sale.
To the best of my knowledge there are none left in Government hands they have all been sold. Well OK except four that were sold to Wiltshire because they are still better than anything else for pumping floods.
In terms of what they are worth, the answer has to be: what you are prepared to pay!!
Broadly though in the current market, the body sides are aluminium lots of the kit is aluminium, there is lots of brass too, the pumps are worth about 1000 pounds as scrap on their own. So if you sell or buy one for under 2000 pounds you are paying less than scrap value.
The current market is still in a state of over supply. But how long that will last is anyone's guess. Between rising scrap prices and future rarity they are a bit of a bargain at the moment!!
If this inspires you to make a few bids, bring one home, the wife leaves you (not that you will notice you will be too busy playing with your GG) and spend the rest of your life finding things to do with one.
Please don't phone me to complain, I will be busy.......
Bedford RLHZ green goddess
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12 June 2011
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