Factory visit: The new Squire

Recipe for success?

When I was young, I was exceedingly fond of my mother’s chocolate cake. She gave the recipe to a friend, by whom I was later invited to tea. I was given cake to this same recipe, and was asked how l liked it. I thought for a moment and then replied, much to the lady’s disappointment: “It’s something like the one mother makes”.

When I drove to Bridgnorth to see the 1987 Squire, I was reminded of this episode, because today’s Squire is intended to provide the fun and appeal of the cars made by Adrian Squire, but to be better-braked and more comfortable, so it is not in exactly the pre-war form. Although the radiator grille is an exact copy of the original, the car is wider and more convenient.

The present-day Squire was designed by Phil Kennedy who formed the Kennedy Squire Company, this was taken under the wing of the Vicarage Classic Car Co Ltd, which took on three spacious units at the Stanmore Industrial Estate (a former RAF base) two-and-a-half years ago. Its main activity is renovating MkII Jaguar saloons— by which I mean rebuilding the mechanical parts and refurbishing body shells to fit them to, properly undersealed, rust-proofed, and fitted if required with extras such as air-conditioning, quality stereo and other options to customers’ requirements.

I was surprised at the number of Jaguars in the big finishing-bay and the number of bodies on the repair jigs, and felt a twinge of envy for their new owners, having always much enjoyed driving the MkII, which dates back to 1959.

The revamped Squire was evolved around three years ago, eight have been sold to date, with enquiries now being received even from as far away as Japan. To keep faith with the twin-cam theme, 2-litre Alfa Romeo engines, refurbished with new parts from the block on, are used, the wet-liner construction lending itself to such reconditioning. I was introduced to Mr Wilson, who looks after this side of the Squire. He drove a blown Ulster Austin Seven at the age of 14 and later road-tested cars for MG (notably the 90 mph Magnettes) before joining Graham Hill and John Surtees in their racing activities, so these Alfa power units are in good hands!

They are installed in the jig-built chassis frame with their five-speed gearboxes. The chassis is low, like that of the original Squire, and X-braced, with boxed-in side-members. It is further stiffened because the ash body-frame, instead of being dropped on and bolted in place, virtually forms a unit with the chassis-frame, dove-tailing into the sides of the welded scuttle frame.

The doors hinge from the font, the windscreen will fold flat, and there are other “improvements” on the 1934 design. The car is wider, for example, and has independent front suspension formed from Ford components, and more recently from Vicarage’s own fabricated parts. The rigid back axle uses a Ford 3.89:1 differential unit, and is suspended on two longitudinal lower arms and four upper arms, coil springs and gas filled dampers forming the springing medium. Centre-lock 15in MG-C wire wheels are fitted, shod with Vredestein radial-ply 185 x 15 tyres, although obviously customer options can be incorporated and the frame I saw on the assembly jig had been altered to enable 18in wheels tube used.

Axle and gearbox give a ratio of 241/2 mph per 1000 rpm, and the standard Alfa engine develops 132 bhp at 5500 rpm, but can be tuned to poke out up to 165 bhp. The body is 18-swg aluminium panelled, and the spare wheel is carried on the boot-lid, or within the boot for £350 extra. A fold-away MG-type hood is fitted.

The ladder chassis-frame is shot-blasted and epoxy coated, the ash-and-plywood body-frame gets two coats of Sikkens wood preservative, zinc-plated wood screws and stainless-steel pins are employed in the body construction, suspension parts are powder-coated for protection, and I was impressed with the paint finish, which involves 24 coats applied in Vicarage’s own paint ovens. Upholstery is in Connolly hide, with bucket seats, and wings of 16-swg aluminium are bolted to the chassis at the front and to the body at the rear.

A remote-control stubby central gear-lever is used, and the hand-brake can be either beside the propshaft tunnel or on top of it. Brakes are servo-assisted Ford disc/drum, the exhaust system is of stainless steel to the Alfa Romeo four-branch manifolding, and the nine-gallon fuel tank is in aluminium. The kerb weight comes out at 850kg; the wheelbase was at first the 8ft 6in of the original short-chassis Squire but has been increased to 8ft 81/2in to improve leg-room; overall length is 12ft 9in; weight is less than 17 cwt; and 0-to-60 mph in nine seconds is claimed. The bonnet is well-louvred, you sit down low, and at the front is a simulated dynamotor cover formed in the dumb-iron apron.

Nick Goldthorpe, who runs the company, told me that some 500 man-hours go into each Squire and 1200 into a MkII Jaguar rebuild, and that he has the capacity to build 30 Squires a year should the demand arise. At present some 18 Jaguars leave Bridgnorth each year.

In pelting rain, Kennedy and I had a short run in one of his Squires, with the hood removed to capture the full atmosphere. Such a car sells for about £12,370 plus VAT and car-tax, and the various options can increase this to rather more than £14,000.

The car I went out in had a dashboard of polished burr walnut veneer with four minor dials in its centre, speedo and tachometer on the right, and switches reminding me of those tiny flick-levers typical of a MkII Jaguar. But a turned-aluminium dash is available for £100 extra, and chromium-plated wheels are priced at £220. WB