Op­er­at­ing from small premises but with a huge passion for MX-5S, there’s only one way that MX5 Works ap­proaches jobs – the proper way. Words and pic­tures: Brett Fraser

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

We get the low­down on this restora­tion, ser­vic­ing and sales op­er­a­tion

Stuck to one of the doors in­side Leighton Buz­zard­based MX5 Works is a pho­to­copy of an old ar­ti­cle on the com­pany by an­other mag­a­zine. As MX5 Works’ owner, Matt Sul­ston, is a wee bit busy right now, I ask if it would be worth read­ing the ar­ti­cle to get some back­ground in­for­ma­tion, thus sav­ing some time when I talk to him later.

Matt rips the pho­to­copy off the door and starts to read. And then laughs. ‘No, this isn’t re­ally that ac­cu­rate. It makes it sound as though I was the first per­son in the world to re­alise the po­ten­tial of the MX-5 as the foun­da­tion for a spe­cial­ist busi­ness. And frankly,’ he chuck­les again, ‘the truth of the mat­ter is that I got into MX-5S more or less by ac­ci­dent.’

Matt’s ear­lier ca­reer saw him in the show­rooms of some main deal­ers sell­ing Fords and Suzukis, after which he and a busi­ness part­ner set up on their own, sell­ing sec­ond­hand cars from premises in Stoke Man­dev­ille. ‘We didn’t get our first MX-5 un­til 2009, so as you can see, I was hardly at the fore­front of the road­ster move­ment! And my busi­ness part­ner and I bought it as a toy for our­selves rather than as some­thing to put on the fore­court and move along quickly for a bit of profit.

‘The car was in a bit of a state when I picked it up – it had been stand­ing around for a while: mice had chewed at the wiring and there were conkers in­side that had got in through a split in the hood. But the mo­bile me­chanic we used for our sales cars helped us get it sorted and soon after­wards some­one wan­dered onto the fore­court des­per­ate to buy it. That was when we re­alised the po­ten­tial of the MX-5 and we be­gan sell­ing enough of them to jus­tify build­ing a shed for our mo­bile me­chanic to work from.

‘When the lease on the Stoke Man­dev­ille site ran out we moved into a small in­dus­trial unit not far from our cur­rent premises. And over the next six or seven years we grad­u­ally mor­phed into an MX-5 spe­cial­ist. Then a com­bi­na­tion of the re­ces­sion, the gov­ern­ment’s scrap­page scheme, and the fact that the likes of Kia and Hyundai could get you into a new car for a few quid a month, meant that sec­ond­hand prices fell through the floor.

‘On top of all that, the lease on the unit ex­pired. We tried to move next door to a big­ger unit, but the High­ways De­part­ment blocked us say­ing that we’d cre­ate too much ex­tra traf­fic for the road out­side to han­dle

– the area has since been turned into a large hous­ing es­tate… My busi­ness part­ner called it a day at this point, but I de­cided to carry on with re­pairs and ser­vic­ing and moved into this lit­tle place, on what was then a busi­ness park, with a rolling con­tract.’

Not that Matt’s woes were over just yet. ‘About three years ago I smashed up my pelvis and had to take two and a half months off work. I was still on crutches when I came back, and had to weld sit­ting on a stool. Things were des­per­ate and I’d priced up ev­ery­thing in the work­shop ready to sell.

‘Then, on the brink of me pack­ing it all in, I got a phone call for a £3500 job.’

The tim­ing of that call couldn’t have been bet­ter. Not only did it mean Matt could peel off all those For Sale stick­ers, but it got him back in the game as prices for MX-5S were be­gin­ning to rise and own­ers started to be­lieve it was fi­nan­cially jus­ti­fi­able to have their cars re­paired and re­stored after all. ‘At one time we were scrap­ping up to a dozen early cars a year for parts,’ com­ments Matt, ‘but now we do barely any be­cause own­ers are will­ing to in­vest more heav­ily in them. That said, it’s not quite so true of the mk2s and 2.5s: we see about a cou­ple a week where the rust is so bad that they’re be­yond eco­nomic re­pair. We do keep a num­ber of sec­ond­hand parts in stock, but these are for the cars we re­pair and re­store, rather than for gen­eral pub­lic con­sump­tion.’

Ac­cord­ing to Matt, dur­ing the past year alone busi­ness has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally for MX5 Works. ‘We’ve had to in­vest in a new ramp so that we can now get three cars into the air at once, and we’re re­vamp­ing the front yard to make it a more at­trac­tive sales space – sales are a rel­a­tively new part of our cur­rent ven­ture, but they’re in­creas­ing and I want the yard to re­flect the same high stan­dards we ap­ply to the rest of our work.

‘We sell only cars that we’ve re­fur­bished or re­stored, and they’re sold with a war­ranty. We aim to make each one a lit­tle spe­cial, unique, for example with a re­trimmed in­te­rior or a re­place­ment hood with

con­trast­ing stitch­ing. We want own­ers to know that they’re not go­ing to see an­other MX-5 ex­actly the same, and for them to be con­fi­dent that their car is in great con­di­tion.’

Al­though MX5 Works doesn’t do track­ing or in­stall tur­bocharg­ers or superchargers, it does do pretty much ev­ery­thing else in-house, in­clud­ing reg­u­lar ser­vic­ing, di­ag­nos­tics, electrics, tyre fit­ting, body and me­chan­i­cal re­pairs, and gen­eral re­fur­bish­ment and restora­tion. Which means, of course, that the guys deal with a lot of rust. ‘Sill and chas­sis rail re­pairs rep­re­sent a large chunk of our busi­ness,’ re­veals Matt. ‘And we only ever do that job prop­erly, chas­ing it all the way back to solid metal. Some cus­tomers ask if we could just do a cheapie fix, the an­swer to which is that they’d be bet­ter off try­ing a dif­fer­ent garage.

‘The sills, in­ner arches and chas­sis rails I make up my­self rather than buy­ing in the parts – my old mo­bile me­chanic, Brian, taught me the in­tri­ca­cies of shap­ing metal and you won’t see the join where I do it. It seems that I’m al­ways weld­ing

these days – I’ll have welded three cars by the end of to­day. All this prac­tice means that on com­mon­place jobs like the sills, I’ve re­ally re­fined the process. Front wings, though, we do buy in, and very oc­ca­sion­ally com­plete rear pan­els if the arches have com­pletely rot­ted out along with the sills.

‘We fit hoods here, too. In a pre­vi­ous life I worked for a car­a­van dealer for ten years, and if you can fit the awning on a trailer tent then an MX-5 roof is a dod­dle! And in an­other pre­vi­ous life I was a fruit ma­chine en­gi­neer, which is where I picked up and honed my elec­tri­cal skills.’

Matt doesn’t re­veal if he ever worked for a sofa maker, but he is very fond of re­trim­ming MX-5 in­te­ri­ors, some­times us­ing leather and some­times a water­proof faux leather ma­te­rial called Tekko, which is tough and rel­a­tively easy to stamp pat­terns into. He takes pride in re­pair­ing seats, too. ‘Say you’ve worn through the bol­ster,’ he ex­plains, ‘I’ll take off the up­hol­stery, patch the hole from be­hind, smooth things out with leather filler, and then spray the re­pair.’

Hav­ing such a wide range of skills un­der one roof – me­chanic Joe has an in-depth un­der­stand­ing of all the MX-5’S oily bits – means that MX5 Works of­ten gets calls for big projects and those where clients want per­sonal touches. ‘One cus­tomer of ours in­her­ited some money and de­cided to fully re­store his MX-5,’ re­veals Matt. ‘He ended up spend­ing £13,500 and was over­joyed with the re­sults.

‘We’re al­ways pleased and proud when we see glow­ing re­views from cus­tomers on so­cial me­dia, but a cou­ple of re­cent com­ments meant a lot – one men­tioned the passion of the staff here, while an­other pointed out that we clearly love MX-5S and know them in­side and out. It’s how we like to think that we’re run­ning the busi­ness, so it’s grat­i­fy­ing when cus­tomers ap­pre­ci­ate and recog­nise our ef­forts.’

By the time you read this story the ex­te­rior of MX5

Works may not look quite the same as it does in our pic­tures: change is com­ing. ‘As well as tidy­ing up and re­ar­rang­ing the front yard for our sales cars, we’re im­prov­ing the vis­i­bil­ity of our sig­nage from the road. Part of that process in­volves new cor­po­rate colours – or­ange graph­ics over a sil­very grey back­ground, just as on our new teeshirts – which will give the place a more co­he­sive and more pro­fes­sional look,’ en­thuses Matt.

Mean­while, though, there are MX-5S to be at­tended to, and the MX5 Works lads need to crack on. But be­fore I leave I ask Matt if there’s any­thing else I should know. ‘Well, I think we’ve cov­ered most things,’ he con­firms, ‘but there are some points I’d like to re­it­er­ate.

Firstly, there’s only one way we do things around here – the proper way. We ab­so­lutely won’t cut cor­ners.

‘Se­condly, the cars we re­store for our cus­tomers or re­fur­bish for our fore­court are rust-free and bet­ter than any other model of the same age and mileage. Put sim­ply, what we re­ally en­joy do­ing here at MX5 Works is tak­ing a tired old car and turn­ing it into a bril­liant gleam­ing one.’

Ser­vic­ing and restora­tion make up the ma­jor­ity of MX5 Works’ op­er­a­tions, but sales are now be­com­ing an im­por­tant part of the busi­ness, too

MX5 Works’ owner, Matt Sul­ston

No great sur­prise that MX5 Works does lots of sill re­pairs on mk1s and mk2s: owner Matt is pic­tured here check­ing how bad things are…

MX5 Works al­ways cuts away un­til there’s clean, sound metal – some­times it’s not a job for the squea­mish

Above: Re­cently in­stalled sin­gle-post ramp (on the right) means MX5 Works can now get three cars at once into the air. Right: spares for resto projects

Hunt­ing a pos­si­ble oil leak: un­der­tray will have to come off to see bet­ter

Cam cover com­ing off to in­ves­ti­gate the cause of poor run­ning

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