John Anderson

Specialist restorer of vintage Bentleys and manufacturer of the million-selling Sugar Mouse
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The Independent Online

John Austin Anderson, engineer, confectioner, restaurateur and car constructor: born Crieff, Perthshire 12 August 1930; married 1954 Pamela Cousins (three sons, one daughter); died Perth 28 October 2004.

John Austin Anderson, engineer, confectioner, restaurateur and car constructor: born Crieff, Perthshire 12 August 1930; married 1954 Pamela Cousins (three sons, one daughter); died Perth 28 October 2004.

John Anderson had a career running a catering and confectionery business in Perthshire specialising in Scottish sweets - notably the Sugar Mouse - but is better known as one of the pioneer builders of Bentley "specials" in Britain.

The world of vintage motoring holds a particular fascination for those many individuals who enjoy the performance of vehicles from a previous generation. And the most prestigious make of any vintage car is the Bentley, which has attracted a substantial following from its earliest days.

Not all Bentley enthusiasts could afford a vintage model, of course, opening up a market to those who saw the potential in some pre- and post-Second World War cars which had fallen into a state of disrepair. Thus grew up a movement in the revival of old cars which otherwise would have been consigned to a lesser fate. Anderson became an expert in this new activity.

He was born and grew up in the Perthshire market town of Crieff, where he was to spend almost all his life. After attending Morrison's Academy, where his academic record was enhanced by sporting prowess (he was a member of the rugby first XV) and service in the Officers' Training Corps as bass drum in the school pipe band, he moved south in 1949 to take a degree in production and mechanical engineering at the Technical School of the De Havilland Aircraft Company in Hatfield.

His intention was to join the RAF and he had already been awarded his pilot's licence when, in 1953, fate stepped in to change his path: it was discovered during the RAF medical examination that he had become diabetic.

Diabetes is hereditary, but it can lie dormant until triggered by shock. Anderson attributed the onset of his condition to an encounter with a cat. The Lagonda he was then rebuilding was roadworthy but didn't yet have any windows and so, one summer evening, the cat in question climbed in and fell asleep on the driver's seat. When Anderson, returning, sat on the animal, it shot out from beneath him, flew yowling around the car and hurtled out past his face. For a few brief seconds, he confessed, he was terrified - and it was soon afterwards that his diabetes was diagnosed.

A career as a pilot was now out of the question and in 1954 Anderson, newly married, returned to Crieff to take over the catering business Gordon & Durward, founded in 1925 and taken over by his father, George (known as "Coffee Joe"), in 1947.

John Anderson developed it in particular as a manufacturing confectioner, whose markets ranged from exclusive outlets in big cities to the legion of small businesses servicing the Scottish tourist industry. One traditional line, the Sugar Mouse, blossomed in particular: in one year in the early 1970s the production total topped a million.

But though catering and confectionery took virtually all Anderson's time - his Coffee Shop Restaurant was open six and a half days a week for over three decades (he sold the business in 1989) - it was not where his heart lay: the ambition to be involved with things mechanical was unfulfilled.

In 1970 he began a small private collection of motorcycles, the oldest being a 1926 Sunbeam and the most recent a 1953 Norton International, all of which were repaired and restored to his exacting standards. When in 1974 he turned his attention to Bentley motor cars, it was the beginning of an all-consuming interest.

Anderson's approach was predicated on the unusual history of the company. Bentleys were built in Derby until the outbreak of the Second World War, when the production lines were given over to Merlin for Spitfire, Hurricane, Mosquito, Lancaster and other aero-engines. After the war, Bentley production was transferred to a Rolls-Royce satellite factory at Crewe and the pre-war practice of sending out the chassis for coachwork designed by selected specialists was abandoned in favour of a reduced number of body-builders. Because post-war steel was often of poor quality, the bodies tended to rot, although the chassis generally remained strong.

This was where Anderson stepped in, applying the aeronautical engineering skills he had learned at De Havilland's. He would strip a car down to its chassis, clean it up, shorten the wheelbase and reinforce it with a cruciform, moving the engine back to improve the weight-distribution and thus the handling of the car. He replaced the Bentley rear axle with a Jaguar one, the better to absorb the torque and power. He generally rejected the easy option of fibreglass coachwork in favour of the traditional ash frame clad in aluminium. His cars looked good, and they performed beautifully.

In this way, Anderson and his small team of helpers built no fewer than 12 Mark VI Bentleys (the standard post-war model, nicknamed "the Big Bore" because of its power) and a Derby - each car taking some two years of work before it emerged as a "sports special". Every one was different - he learnt as he worked - as I discovered from first-hand experience. Since I had been involved in competitive motor-sport, both as driver and owner, Anderson would bring the cars to me on completion and I would take him out for what he called a "white-knuckle ride" in his new creations. One of them has been successfully raced in North America and another in the Monte Carlo Retrospective; all are comfortable touring vehicles.

All Anderson's cars were sold on completion so that he could finance the next project - to even higher standards. His scrupulous honesty ruled out any short cuts - and, for all that he was a man of deep personal modesty, his rigorous approach set standards that are still observed by amateur builders well beyond Bentley circles.

Anderson was also a lifetime golfer, playing off a single-figure handicap for many years, achieving two holes in one at Gleneagles, where he was a member. A passing interest while progressing from motorcycles to Bentleys was model racing cars: always a man with hands-on enthusiasms, he erected in his loft one of the largest circuits in Scotland; it later found a home in the officers' mess at RAF Cranwell.

Six weeks before his death, Anderson and his wife Pamela - a staunch support in his final illness - had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary.

Bob Duncan

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