Phil Mcgovern Caffeine & Machine founder

From tuning Beetles to creating a must-visit automotive destinatio­n, Phil Mcgovern talks about where his love of cars has taken him


SITTING IN THE MIDDLE OF ENGLAND’S automotive heartland you’ll find Caffeine & Machine. But we probably don’t need to tell you that; chances are you’re already fully aware of this distinctiv­e café just outside Stratfordu­pon-avon, which has become as much a part of the automotive landscape as Goodwood, Bicester Heritage or Silverston­e. And Goodwood, Bicester and Silverston­e don’t have something on almost every day of the week.

It’s a busy schedule, but for Phil Mcgovern, the man behind Caffeine & Machine, it’s one he’s worked hard to grow into the varied, inclusive, friendly environmen­t it is today. From an idea that started simply as a way to connect with like-minded petrolhead­s while working out in the Middle East, Mcgovern has turned his themed car meets into one of the UK’S most recognisab­le automotive venues.

We talk in a rare break between another couple of busy days; he’s just spent an afternoon hosting Matt Farah and Zack Klapman from the popular Smoking Tire show and podcast in the US, and in a few hours’ time he’ll be getting ready to put on the latest ‘I Love You, Man’ night, a relaxed sit-down and a chat with a well-known automotive figure to discuss mental health.

Mcgovern’s interest in cars came from familiar beginnings, albeit not perhaps in surroundin­gs familiar to most of us. ‘I had the posters hanging on my wall, I had the Matchbox cars, but I was raised in Saudi Arabia, and each time I’d fly back to the UK I’d stay with my granddad, who was the real petrolhead in the room. As a “hey, welcome home” he’d get me Bburago models, Matchbox cars… and it just kind of stuck.’

This progressed through the usual boyhood interests: aircraft, sharks, space. ‘I remember seeing the space shuttle at Cape Canaveral when I was about seven, and the idea that people went to space absolutely blew my mind. But then cars became a major focus again when I had the realisatio­n that I needed glasses and was never going to become a pilot…’

Hopping behind the wheel of his dad’s GMC Jimmy and Volvo 240 out in Saudi Arabia meant Mcgovern was already familiar with driving before he got his first car in the UK, a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle – a choice inspired by the burgundy Porsche 930 on colour-coded wheels owned by an aunt’s boyfriend. ‘It was just rude,’ says Mcgovern, ‘and I think it was the curves that got me and tweaked my inspiratio­n to get a Beetle. From that moment my entire world revolved around Beetles and making them go as fast as I possibly could.’

Mcgovern admits that despite trying to be hands-on ‘I never had the raw talent to do it myself. So I’d work and save up for it – I was that guy that people now call the chequebook kid.’ But love for making Beetles go fast saw him fully immersed into the air-cooled world for a while, building dragracers, trading the ’72 for a 1956 oval-window Bug, with a 1961 split-screen van also in the mix, capable of 15-second quarter-miles. This, finally, was replaced by a Mk2 Golf GTI.

Progressio­n through the ranks of Volkswagen’s finest ran alongside a burgeoning career in the motor industry itself, again from a young age. ‘I was very lucky that I was brought up in Kenilworth and living on the same street was a guy called David Schupak, who was an ex-ilmor, ex-indycar guy turned Jaguar S-type project manager – as well as being one of the 12 members of the “Saturday Club” that delivered the XJ220. And then a few

doors up was [Volvo design director] Peter Horbury and another street over was [Range Rover engineer and Land Rover demonstrat­ion team leader] Roger Crathorne. I found myself, as one of the younger kids on the estate, being babysat by their kids, and got to know these guys.’

In an industry where making connection­s is everything, getting to know some instrument­al figures in the British car industry soon led the young Mcgovern on to jobs at the nearby Jaguar and Land Rover – albeit at a time when each entity was still separate. ‘As a teenager I started working over summer, Easter, Christmas, unpaid, just asking how I could get a lift to the factory and do something. I worked a bit at Browns Lane, then I did a four-year sandwich course at university and my third year was a placement at Jaguar, and I went straight back there after finishing my degree.

‘But at some point I started to ask myself why nobody knew how to sell cars – we can engineer them and build them and market them, but not sell them. So I politely left my very interestin­g career there and went to work at a dealer in Hockley Heath, which was selling Jaguars back then but is now a Mclaren dealer.’

Still in his Mk2 GTI at the time, Mcgovern quickly found the commute was getting a bit expensive, leading to one of the more unusual diversions in his car history. ‘Two or three guys at the dealership were bombing around in Smarts, all doing 50mpg, which was quite appealing, so I got one too! But at the same time I got the Smart, I also bought a 1968 short-wheelbase 912.’

If you follow Mcgovern on Instagram, or have been to Caffeine & Machine where it’s frequently on display either outside or in, you’ll have seen the 912. Carrot-hued, it sits low over a set of Fuchs wheels and has been built with a nod to the ‘outlaw’ style carried out by the likes of Rod Emory. It’s a thing of beauty. ‘I’ve taken most of the exterior trim off it, changed the seats, just simplified it as much as I can. It gets driven as often as I possibly can.’

But back when he bought the 912, it was only part of an even bigger plan. ‘I had a list of things I wanted to do before I was 25. One of them was to buy a Porsche and another was to move to the Middle East…’

At 26, he moved out to the United Arab Emirates, selling the Golf and Smart but keeping the 912 safely tucked away back home. Living on the Persian Gulf coast brought new automotive opportunit­ies, including a Mercedes-benz 500E and a Ford Flex – ‘the bastard love child of a Range Rover and a Mini Cooper; it was slammed and it looked amazing’ – plus, working for Jaguar Land Rover, a run of company Land Rover Discovery 3s and 4s. ‘I then had one of the first Toyota GT86S in the UAE, but I sold that for a replica 356A coupe that a friend in America had built, with a 2.3-litre engine.’ Then there were the 964 RS, 993 RS, XJ220… ‘This is going to sound awful, so please don’t judge me… I quite liked the concept of seeing what cars were moving in the right direction, and wanted to add a little value to my father’s pension. The 964 was the perfect example of how it worked, really – when we first got our hands on one, that was a mid-20s car.’

Mcgovern found the car culture in the UAE fascinatin­g and played his own part in trying to develop it into something everyone could enjoy. ‘There were a lot of people putting in a lot of effort to stimulate it,’ he says. ‘I think I was one of the guys on the ground at the time, giving it a nudge. As with any country where there’s so much variety and so many different cultures, it’s quite fragmented, but it’s definitely there – and if you scratch the surface of the Arabic side of things then things get really rad, with the sand-dune hill climbing, off-road buggies… it’s a kind of “live off the land” car culture. Sometimes you’ll go out and think, “Why is nobody here?” and then remember it’s because it’s hot and they all turn up at 9pm instead…’

Mcgovern also has a connection to the very magazine you’re reading now, having run evo’s Middle East edition for several years. ‘Our patch in the Jaguar office I was working for at the time covered Algeria, Pakistan, Sub-saharan Africa and places like that,’ he explains. ‘I was floating around between these interestin­g countries and seeing interestin­g things. So I created a little website called crankandpi­ston.com, covering car culture out there, which got me into a position where I was offered a door away from Jaguar, or told to shut the website. I made the decision to say thank you to JLR and attempt to turn the website into something bigger.’

That decision coincided with meeting with the publisher of evo Middle East, who offered Mcgovern the opportunit­y to turn the magazine into a 50:50 localised product – a mix of content from the UK edition and content relevant to the Middle Eastern market; think features shot on the roads of Dubai, dune bashing, and a few more Land Cruisers and Patrols than you’d expect to see from the magazine produced in Bedfordshi­re. Under the crankandpi­ston banner Mcgovern ran the website, produced the magazine, and ran social media and content for automotive brands too. ‘It was kind of like a very early creative agency publishing model, something that’s popular now, but I was doing it back then. It opened up some really interestin­g doors.’

It was here too the seed was planted for what would become the Caffeine & Machine we’re familiar with today. With friends and colleagues returning to the UK on a kind of rotating cycle every few years, Mcgovern had the idea of starting car meets in response to the loneliness of staying in the UAE while everyone else eventually headed home.

‘I did a 1980s meet first. And then an air-cooled gathering. I called them Caffeine & Machine and I just kinda kept doing these meets. I thought it’d be great if I could stand out front and go, “Hey, welcome to Caffeine & Machine. Park up, grab a coffee.” And even if only one person showed up, then that’s a winner. It was a way to get to know people. That’s where it all began really.’

You can hold a meet anywhere, of course, but today’s Caffeine & Machine demonstrat­es the value of having a permanent fixture where people can return time and time again. The inspiratio­n for a fixed abode came from visits to popular ‘cars and coffee’ meets on trips to the United States, which attract incredible cars and passionate people, but can be let down by the ‘venue’ itself.

‘I’m going to these Malibu supercar meets thinking, this is great, but I’m hungry. Or this is great, but I’m thirsty. Or it’s really f*cking hot! And I’m looking around and it’s just a car park, no different to when we’d all go to Asda when I was 18. So I thought, how could I build something around this community? I couldn’t find it anywhere else – not in America, in Australia, in Asia – so that was enough impetus to do it myself.’

Mcgovern moved his life back to the UK in 2017, brought the 912 out of hibernatio­n and set up shop in the building that would become today’s Caffeine & Machine, within a stone’s throw of some of the biggest names in the automotive sector. ‘It absolutely had to be here,’ he says. ‘You’ve got Jaguar Land Rover, Silverston­e, Donington, Brackley, Enstone, Prodrive, Norton, Coventry… it absolutely had to be here.’

You get the impression, talking to Mcgovern, that it absolutely had to happen, too. It’s a place that petrolhead­s from across the spectrum now consider a second home, while events like the ‘I Love You, Man’ nights highlight the inclusivit­y that the venue, and indeed Mcgovern himself, has aimed to achieve.

‘The most important thing about this venture is realising I’m not alone,’ he says. ‘There are some incredible people and an appreciati­on of inclusion. A fat wallet does not make you special; I got to a point in the Middle East when I decided not to wear a watch, not to wear any brands, and I could see them trying to figure me out. Caffeine & Machine has always been inclusive, everyone is welcome. And the fact I’ve met a load of likeminded people, speak to friends who met each other in the yard, couples who’ve got married after meeting in the yard… that kind of stuff is really wholesome for me, it feels really special.’


 ?? ??
 ?? ??
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom