The author has frequently been asked why his nearly-favourite alter-ego, ‘The Thirties Man’ chose the Squire as his favourite mode of transport. This recently discovered tract hopefully offers a reasonable explanation…
In the story The 30’s Man (alias the Duke) or Ruaridh Morrison to give him his correct name, lives and plays golf like he is still living in the 1930s with a vintage bag and clubs, and drives a rakish 1930’s car called a Squire.
Actually such a car does exist or more precisely 6 of only 7 originals built.
Before I was introduced to the game of golf other than a few games of putting at Beveridge Park Kirkcaldy, or with old Uncles Jock and Carl and my father when we played the East Links Putting Green at North Berwick, I had developed a love of cars.
Each year I went for a week’s holiday to Spittal near Berwick-upon-Tweed just over the Scottish Border in Northumberland. My granny, Nellie had a sister Nan who was married to “Doddie” aka George Allan who ran a garage workshop in Spittal. He was a great character. He and Nan were both born in 1900 and when George was 12 he was accidentally run over by a Hansom cab which broke both his legs and rendered him unfit to fight in the First World War. He didn’t grow much after the accident and walked with a distinctive waddle and always wore a hat like Alfred Hitchcock. Although left handed, years of working on cars screwing screws and tightening bolts made him ambidextrous. As young lad he would offer to shake your hand with his right hand which was a bone-crusher. The he offered his left hand to shake as he knew I was a Cub Scout and that was even more excruciating, but he was full of fun and would often throw his voice and bark like a dog and get me to check if there was one outside.
I loved the oily smell of his garage and all the cars in various states of disrepair which he and his men were working on. He had grown up with the development of the automobile and reeled off all the makes of car like the Scottish-built Argyll or his own favourite the Sizaire-Berwick (an Anglo-French luxury brand which made cars in the 1920s).
During the First World War George was sent to Greenock to work in a munitions factory where he developed first class skills on the lathe and winding electric motors, I think for submarine torpedoes. It was the era that when a car part gave trouble you fixed it, took it apart and repaired it and if necessary made new parts to replace bits of the damaged or worn mechanism. He operated Allan’s Garage in Spittal for about 40 years but was bombed out during the Second World War and had to move with his family to Duns. It appeared that a pre-War Baedeker’s Guide of England showed Johnson and Darling’s Manure factory located nearby at Spittal point on the mouth of the River Tweed to be a chemical plant and the village became the subject of several attacks during the summer of 1941 resulting in Doddie’s garage being severely damaged during one overnight raid in August 1941.
Undaunted Doddie returned after the war and re-built his business: In 1953 just a dozen years after the bombing raid he became one of the first Volkswagen dealers in the UK. As an engineer he had been impressed by the simplicity, solidity and reliability of the ”Beetle” but my Dad having fought in the war and with colleagues who had been German and Japanese prisoners of war vowed never to buy a German or Japanese vehicle.
As a small child when we all went for a drive with him in one of his Beetles. Young Frank would be placed in the luggage “trench” behind the rear seats where I promptly fell asleep despite the thrum of the noisy air-cooled VW engine.
His grandsons were a bit younger than I was but Doddie could never resist a good deal and one time he snaffled up a racing-style pedal car for the boys but for two joyous summers before I grew out of it and my cousins were too small I had exclusive use of and Austin Pathfinder pedal race car. It had been painted silver to look like a Mercedes Formula 1 car of the 1930s. I believe they were made around 1949 and looked like a streamlined Austin 7 Special of the type which could do 100 mph around the Brooklands banked racing circuit. It had a low front and rose to having a high tail with a headrest for the driver/peddler.
Cars were distinctive in the mid to late 1950s and soon I knew them all by their shapes, the “Jelly Mould Austin A30, the swooping Jowett Javelin, the squarer Farina cars with fins like the Austin A40 and 60, the big Rover P4 80 “Doctor’s” car and then the Mini which supplanted everything. It even managed to accommodate my 19 stone father and 22 stone grandfather when they rented one for a day out in 1959! We didn’t have a car then but when Dad was able to join us in Spittal when not called away to solve double murders and the like Doddie would lend us a car for a day out and get my father’s advice on the vehicle’s sellability.
Once we went for a day out in and old pre-2nd World War Ford 8 which Mum, Dad, Granny and my big sister Eve and I crammed into. It was a bit ramshackle and we got back – just despite smoke coming from the gearbox. Dad told Doddie in no uncertain terms the car was a dog and he should get rid of it. The next time we were given a huge 1930’s Rolls Royce with tinted windows and a division separating my Dad’s curses at the wheel from our own antics in the back giving regal waves to those pedestrians we passed.I knew the Rolls Royce legend that the engine was so quiet you could hear the clock ticking. Sadly this did not apply to our example of this famous marque.
During the Second World War when cars were in short supply and specialist parts non-existent or too costly when an expensive car broke down badly it was often scrapped. Major engine problems could result in the car being written off but Doddie had kept this particular example on the road by replacing the troublesome over-engineered Rolls Royce engine with the motor from a Bedford Army lorry. As we made majestic progress on a day out to Newcastle we could see people stop in awe as we drew near. We waved but then as we passed we could see the puzzlement on faces as instead of silence and the odd clock tick we roared past accompanied by a cheap rough cacophony.
The trip to Newcastle and back was over 100 miles and while we got back safely Dad had to fill up twice as fuel consumption was below 10 miles to the gallon. Disconcertingly, application of the brakes caused this vast behemoth to slide into the middle of the road. On our return Dad told Doddie to get rid of the Rolls instantly.
My father must have sensed thrill I had with all of this and the time I spent on the floor playing with Dinky and later Corgi model cars. On Christmas I was given a pocket book of vintage cars written by William Boddy- i.e. those made up to 1931 and shortly afterwards. I obtained the sister volume on sports cars by the same author which covered the 1908 Italia Grand Prix car which had a 12 litre engine, delicate Bugatti’s from the 30’s and post war cars such as Ferrari, Aston Martin and Jaguar.
The car which impressed me the most however was the 1935 Squire with its flowing lines and angled V-shaped radiator; it simply transcended anything created by Morgan or indeed any of that era of sports car with flowing wings, a louvered bonnet and a fold flat windscreen. Most of the few Squires that remain are kept in museums in the USA. See this for more information. One sold recently for around half million pounds – that car was first owned by Val Zethrin. A few replicas have been made but the idea of me driving one is about as remote and me having a hole in one.
The designer and originator of the vehicle – Adrian Squire, was born in 1910, and at the age of sixteen he produced a six page catalogue of the ‘all British’ 1½ litre Squire. After seven of the cars had been produced, the company went into voluntary liquidation, and production stopped in 1937. Adrian Squire sadly died in a daylight air raid on Bristol in 1940 while working at the Bristol Aeroplane Co.
When I devised the 30’s man character I knew he must drive the archetypal 1930’s sports car. It was easy to fashion this wonderful looking car into the story and almost make it the main character. It would be worth living 1930’s style, without a TV, playing with ancient clubs and clothes just to be able to drive that car: I can see how Jock became seduced by that lifestyle!
Edinburgh 13 January 2019