Second life for French Estafette

Posted by Chris Graham on 20th October 2020

Russ Harvey enjoys a trip to Bristol to see a rare, French survivor from the 1960s that’s now working hard as a barista van.

Second life for French Estafette

The Pompiers fire truck in an all-original condition, with Daniel the firefighter from Lille.

The Renault Estafette that you see here is a 1968 R2137 version, equipped with the larger, 1,289cc engine and a cavernous, 1,000kg load space thanks to its high roofline. But the van also hides a secret underneath all that red paint. When it was new, it was supplied and painted in the easily recognised livery of the French Post Office, La Poste; all-over yellow with blue signage. In fact, if you look closely at the red paint where it’s been chipped, or where the tow bar has been removed, the yellow paint is clearly visible. But it’s not known how long the van was in service with the post office.

An Estafette in ‘La Poste’ livery. Adam’s fire truck started life at La Poste, in France. (Pic: Antoine Caupert)

Fire-fighting history
The owner that Adam White purchased the van from was able to confirm with the local fire chief of the Leuglay barracks, that the Estafette was purchased from the French post office by the ‘Amicale des Sapeurs Pompiers de Leuglay’, which translates as Friends of the Leuglay Fire Brigade. Leuglay is situated in the Cote d’Or department and Burgundy region (now part of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté region), in the eastern-centre of France.

An early Renault Estafette press photo (1962), note the early grille and opening vents above the window and the sliding door on driver’s side. (Pic: Author’s collection)

The vehicle was repainted by the firefighters on a voluntarily basis during their own time and, once modified, it was used to transport equipment. The modifications made since post office use include the installation of the flashing blue light on the cab roof plus a siren – the compressor is visible in the cab. A rear inspection lamp was also added.

Second life for French Estafette

The rear lamp was added by the fire-fighters.

The vehicle is registered under the French registration system CN 763 PV; clearly not the original number it carried with the Post office as it comes under the latest numbering system introduced in 2009. Under the French rules, when a vehicle moves area, it needs to be registered. It would appear that this was the registration when it was leaving France when purchased by Adam.

Signage applied to vehicle.

It has carried number 503 DDF 59, which confirms its location before it was purchased and exported to the UK. The ‘59’ confirms it as coming from the department of Nord, in Northern France, where it was registered in Lille by whoever purchased it from the fire department.

Second life for French Estafette

Renault Estafette’s basic cab layout.

A new friend
It was back in November 2019 that Adam saw and purchased this Estafette vintage fire truck, that came with a new friend, Daniel; a fire-fighter that was with the truck when acquired by the previous keeper. He made the trip to Lille, complete with trailer, to collect his prize. It has under 4,500km on the clock and Adam says it was just too good not to bring home.

Simple speedo confirming ultra-low kilometres covered.

I met up with Adam White, the proprietor of Tincan Coffee ( in Bristol, to snap a new edition to his fleet of coffee trucks – a striking, blue Estafette, plus this superb pompiers Estafette truck. But Adam isn’t new to pompiers trucks; he also has a splendid Peugeot J7, ex-fire truck that he uses for his business.

Large cargo area with extra headroom.

I think you’ll agree that the truck is in superb condition, however, the sharp-eyed among you will have noted the telephone symbol on the side, with the number ‘18’. There are important numbers for the emergency services in France. You can call these numbers free of charge from a home or public payphone, Medical (Samu) 15, Police (Gendarmes) 17 and Fire Brigade/Accident (Pompier) 18, so it’s obvious why the ’18 and phone symbol’ are displayed!

As well as the Tincan Coffee Co, Adam runs Tincan Events, which is a vintage catering company that was established in 2011. It offers numerous catering services from a lovingly-restored fleet of French, classic commercials. Specialities include the company’s own, locally-roasted, seasonal espresso blend, alongside award-winning cakes, cold-pressed juices and sourdough toasties.

Second life for French Estafette

The Estafette secured on its trailer, in Lille. (Pic: Adam White)

High street presence
The Tincan shops are easily spotted on the high street as the external cladding resembles the corrugated side of a Citroën HY van! They also have superb designs inside, which include bench seats that resemble French vehicles. Oh, I nearly forgot to mention the napkins, which depict both the Citroën H and the Peugeot J7 vans.

Tincan has a fleet of vintage coffee trucks which are all French vehicles that date from the 1960s and ‘70s, and have been lovingly-restored and adapted to serve customers with refreshing and much-needed coffee almost anywhere, anytime!

Second life for French Estafette

Original Estafette viewed from the rear.

I wish to offer my sincere thanks to Adam for his assistance, and for allowing me access to this unusual vehicle, that’s now well into its second working life, this time as a barista van! And if you want a decent cup of coffee in Bristol, you know where go!

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