Face to face with the ‘old timer’ who was key to a boyhood memory!

Warren's restored Dennis fire engine

WARREN BROWN, as well as being Australia’s top cartoonist and a celebrated TV presenter, is also a petrolhead who presented Top Gear Australia. Imagine, therefore , his joy at this recent encounter. . .


IT WAS ONE of those bizarre moments I still have trouble believing.  I was stalking the Brooklands Museum stand at the recent Silverstone Classic – the world’s largest historic motor racing event – when I spied this old chap standing alongside a flash French veteran car fitted with an extraordinary engine. 

I asked the old-timer about the car and he explained it was a 1907 Berlet fitted with a WWI Curtis aero engine. He fired it up and it sure was an ear-splitter!

I told him about the 1907 Itala I once owned which, I explained proudly, I once drove from Peking to Paris. In full, boastful flow, I  then told him that back home in Australia I owned a 1925 Bean roadster.

Warren with John Dennis

“Too modern for me” the old man laughed. “They have four wheel brakes.”

“I know what you mean ” I replied ” I have a Dennis fire engine from the Twenties with brakes on the rear wheels only. . .”

His face dropped. “Did you say ‘a Dennis fire engine’?”

“Yes,” I replied. His face lit up.

“My name’s John Dennis – I’m the grandson of the founder of Dennis motor vehicles!”

He handed me his card: he was, indeed, John Dennis OBE. And a nicer chap you couldn’t meet! 

I couldn’t believe it, I told him. My earliest memory is of standing on the running board of a rusty old Dennis on the New South Wales Central Coast as a three-year-old. 

Memories:Warren and his brother with the Dennis back in NSW,1968

I scrabbled in my shoulder-bag for my iPad. “Here’s the photo of my brother and me from 1968!” I shouted, pointing at the cherished family memory which sits in pride of place on the internet. 

“And here’s my Dennis nowadays,” I said, pulling up a more recent shot. 

And an honest-to-goodness member of the Dennis family had the good grace toadmire it and be impressed at the vehicle his granddad has created.

How about that?


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