protecting a vintage VW camper from your worst nightmare, an engine fire…

Although it’s been a few months on from the devastating fire that destroyed my vintage 1965 VW Canterbury Pitt camper at the beginning of the year, its effects still linger and haunt me now! I guess that is no big surprise. Being forced to stand and watch all your road trip worldly possessions going up in flames, is bound to have a lasting effect on you!

the worst photo I have ever taken
the worst photo I have ever taken

So as a result of this, one of things I was determined to do was get a fire suppression kit fitted in the engine bay. Unfortunately this is not such a straightforward choice as it might seem. There are various systems available for the air cooled VW, but no real direct, side by side comparisons of each.

not much left in the engine bay
not much left in the engine bay

My old engine bay was fairly unrecognisable once the fire had been put out! As for the Canterbury Pitt interior, well that was totally destroyed by he fire, along with everything else inside the camper! Having a proper fire suppression system fitted is a small price to pay for both peace of mind and protecting my new bus!

the burnt out remnants of my Canterbury Pitt interior
the burnt out remnants of my Canterbury Pitt interior

In the end, after a fair amount of research and reading various people’s comments/opinions of the various pros and cons of each system, I decided to opt for the CE approved automated fire suppression system from VW Aircooled Works.

  • System activation is at the European safety standard point of 79ºc (this is air temperature, not metal temperature. A standard engine bay on a hot day reaches somewhere in the region of max 30°c
  • Full 360º gas dispersal in less than 10 secs to totally fill the engine bay. In fact, the cylinder will cover 0.70 cubic metres, and the VW engine bay is 0.32 cubic metres capacity, so nearly twice as much active agent than needed. This then creates a positive pressure so halting any air coming into the engine bay and ensuring that the fire is quenched.
  • The clean gas is rapidly dispersed at 240psi (powder/foam systems generally operate at a slower 100psi) so it creates a high positive pressure, so in effect helping stop air from coming in via the vents etc.
  • The clean gas system leaves no corrosive residue of powder or foam to be cleaned up after activation. This can often lead to damage of components or electrical systems in the area
  • After dispersal and the cause of the fire has been fixed, you can drive away
  • Rapid cooling of the engine bay (the clean gas is released at -19ºc) helps prevent potential re-ignition
  • The system will automatically cut out the fuel pump, preventing you pumping fuel into the engine bay. If you run a mechanical fuel pump then the stalling agent present in the extinguisher cylinder will cut out the fuel pump
  •  A CE approved system designed for use in VW engine bays

This clean gas system uses heptafloropropane as its agent and is a small-scale version of fire suppression systems used within oil rigs, museums, bank vaults, army vehicles, marine craft, server rooms and NASCAR along with many other places where sensitive electrical equipment or products of high value are present. Heptafloropropane is safe to breathe in and is certified to be used in occupied spaces. (It is the propellant often used in inhalers.)

So with the decision made one which system I wanted to go with, I gave Peter a call at VW Aircooled Works to get my bus booked in for fitting. It will give me an opportunity to give the bus a decent run out and my first sleep out in it, albeit only on the floor at this stage until the interior gets sorted.

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