SIR Arnold Clark celebrated his knighthood and the 50th anniversary of his motor empire last year with a more-than-doubled salary and a first dividend to the family trust which co-owns the company on behalf of his 10 children as profits surged.

The salary of pounds-927,000, against the more typical pounds-431,000 the previous year, was unlikely to be repeated this year, according to Ken McLean, finance director.

"It is Sir Arnold's personal business what he needed some more money for, but most of that is what we would term a one-off item. In the context of a company making pounds-57m profit, it is still a relatively modest amount."

The group reported in February a 29-per cent rise in pre-tax profit and a 4-per cent growth in car sales against an industry-wide 2-per cent.

The dividend of pounds-335,000 was "a corporate decision", McLean said. "It is the first time the company has paid a dividend. It is something we have never done before but it will become, I think, a regular feature. The directors felt it was time to pay a dividend - it was not a case of family members asking for one."

Sir Arnold, however, had decided not to take a dividend as usual. "He basically believes money earned by the company should be reinvested in the business, " McLean said.

The 77-year-old founder, a Kirk elder who was knighted last year for his business achievements and his charitable contributions, is still working a six-day week in the business. None of his six sons and four daughters are on the board, but several have senior management roles in the group.

The annual report and accounts warn of a "difficult year" in 2005, but McLean said recent trading had been encouraging. "March was a very good month for us, and we are looking forward to what we think should be a good second quarter."

Arnold Clark benefited from a pounds-5.48m VAT rebate last year following a European Court ruling in a case brought by Marks & Spencer.

McLean said there was more money to come, but only after negotiations with Customs & Excise. "There will definitely be more. but it might take until 2006-07, " he said.

The company's 130 dealerships include 10 with MG Rover, mostly in dual franchises. McLean said: "It is news we would rather be without, but in the overall context of the group it will have no major impact."

The group has reassured customers that their Rover warranties will be honoured.