ELMRA Articles - Hidden Locations

Most of us have at one time or another, driven past a military establishment and wondered just what was behind the wire fence. Especially as it might be LAND ROVERS! Us civvies however can’t just turn up at the main gate and expect a warm welcome, oh no! But as a member of the London Fire Brigade, one of my "perks" is that I sometimes get access to places where the general public can’t go. One such place is RAF Northolt, home of No. 32 (The Royal) Squadron, where VIPs and VVIPs (such as Her Majesty Queen Liz) take off on their holiday flights. Other things go on at Northolt, but if I told you what, I’d have to kill you after! You can tell it’s a special place— the Spitfire gate guardian is 100 yards INSIDE the camp.

I was there to hand over a rare wartime hydrant marker post to Steve Shirley, who is the founder of the Manston Fire Museum, located at the Ministry Of Defence Fire Services Central training Establishment, Manston, Kent. Steve is a sergeant in the RAF Fire fighting and Rescue Service on the base. He also happens to be the owner of the very first TACR-1 (Tactical Airfield Crash Rescue) to have been built, and although we had spoken at military vehicle shows, we didn’t know we were both “on the job”. Once the formalities were over, we got down to the serious business of chatting about Land Rovers, and he was happy to tell me the history of his TACR-1.

It started life in 1970, and whenever you see factory photos of TACR-1s, it’s of this one. After serving at Manston, Newton, and Swinderby in Lincolnshire, it was sold off and used by Lydden Race Circuit near Dover as their crash tender until it gave up and expired one day. The owners decided it had had it, and left it to rot. A duty medic at RAF Manston who did rally rescue at Lydden, mentioned this old Land Rover to Steve, who made enquiries and was told that it was up for sale for £6,000. The vehicle was by now derelict, so Steve politely refused and left his phone number. Several months later, the phone rang, and £200 changed hands. The vehicle was towed back to Manston and the strip down started. The chassis was badly rusted, so Steve phoned up Land Rover to enquire about a replacement, and when he gave the chassis number ending in 01 over the phone, the man from Land Rover explained somewhat excitedly that he had the first TACR-1 ever built, and it might be a good idea to repair the original chassis.

The original: Steve Shirley's immaculate TACR1 TACR Attack

The restoration became a group effort; assistance coming from many quarters, including civilian helpers, members of the RAF and ABRO, based at Ashford in Kent. One such example of co-operation came in the form of one of the main foam branch pipes fitted to the vehicle. Steve found it in Sardinia whilst detached there on duty. He passed it on to a Dutch collector for his collection as Steve did not have room for it in his! Only after Steve acquired the TACR minus a branch pipe did he remember his Dutch colleague, and once again it changed hands!

Although originally red, approximately eight layers of paint were removed during the restoration, highlighting its many service repaints! It was finally resprayed in gloss bronze green, and now looks fantastic. While I was at Northolt I spied a couple of TACR-2s, so I grabbed a few photos of those too.

Article and photos by Rob Short