SPECIALISTS Mazda Hood Shop
British maker of more than 4000 MX-5 hoods a year
This family-owned business hand-makes its high quality hoods in Britain and sells them around the world
There are lots of consumables that your car will require over the course of its life, and if you own an MX-5 of any vintage, at some stage you’ll be faced with replacing one very big item – the hood.
Vinyl and fabric and plastic, they all eventually succumb to the ravages of time and weather and countless ups and downs. Not to mention vandalism and mechanical failure. Conscious of that inevitability and aware that the MX-5 is the world’s best-selling roadster, Brian
Wilks – who was already in the car hoods and trimming business – decided to set up the Mazda Hood Shop. Initially it was an online-only enterprise, selling through ebay (which it still does), but it has since developed into a global business supplying both private individuals and specialist car parts companies.
‘These days, when you type “Mazda hoods” into a search engine we’re always at the top of the page,’ explains Brian. ‘We shift roughly 5000 MX-5 hoods a year – we stock 18 different types of MX-5 hoods in 14 different colours, so I’d say we have all angles covered.
‘Right now we’re exceptionally busy and we can’t seem to keep stock on the shelves. We’re just about to ship 70 hoods to Holland and this week alone we’ve got orders for another 145 or so.
‘At present we make hoods for the mk1, 2 and 3, and a hood for the mk4 is on the way. I actually bought a mk4 two days after it was launched in the UK. I managed to prise a Soul Red example out of the dealer for immediate delivery – he got into trouble from Mazda head office because dealers were supposed to keep the Soul Red cars until after the launch period was done. I also own an MX-5 mk2.’
Having been in the game a long while now, Brian knows that the market for MX-5 hoods splits into several sections. ‘At the lower end there are customers who’ve just bought a cheap sports car and want something that will stop the rain getting in and costs next to nothing: our budget PVC hood for a mk1 costs £147.96 including the VAT but minus the shipping and fitting. Then there are the enthusiast owners who want exactly the same spec as their car originally had, but then
there’s another breed of enthusiast wanting the convenience of a glass rear screen. Then there are those who want to upgrade to the luxury of a fully lined mohair hood, perhaps in a different colour to standard – the latter group are happy to spend £540 with the VAT and again with shipping and fitting extra.’
On the subject of fitting, the Mazda Hood Shop employs a team of fitters who travel the length and breadth of Britain: on occasions, Brian is one of them. ‘I really enjoy my job and often work Saturdays and Sundays, and as long as there’s a batch of hoods to be done in the same area – say three or four to make a long trip worthwhile – I’ll spend the weekend putting hoods on cars. Earlier this year I flew out to South Korea to take the hood off a classic Rolls-royce Corniche, bring it back to the UK so that we could make an exact replacement, then returned to South Korea to fit it. Each day brings something a little different around here.’
“Around here” is a reasonably large industrial unit on the Brentwood Road in Romford, Essex. When we first show up there’s nowhere left to park, despite the space out the front of the unit being good for about 20 cars: the yard’s occupied by an intriguing assortment of machinery awaiting new hoods, including several Mercedes, a Bentley, a Porsche, a Rollsroyce, a TVR, and many others. The Mazda Hood Shop is a subsidiary of the parent All Hoods, a company that also includes the Car Trimming Company, hence the diversity of metal on the forecourt, and the reason why some of the cars are in for trimming work, ranging from seat side bolster repairs to full interior refurbishments.
Just leaving as we arrive is the sole MX-5 of the day, a red mk1 whose owner chanced upon this near rot-free example for just £800 – having paid so little for the car, he’s gone for the full mohair hood, and is very pleased with the result. He’s just a little frustrated that he will have to leave the hood up for a few days to allow the fabric time to stretch into shape.
We’re hoping that Brian won’t mind – and we suspect he might even find the observation slightly amusing – if we say that as you peer in through the workshop’s door, the scene confronting you seems a little chaotic. There are cars crammed in tightly everywhere, in varying states of completion. It’s clearly a system that works for the guys there, though, as the inventory includes another
Rolls-royce Corniche having a new hood, a Ferrari 550 Aperta in need of seat repairs, classic VW Beetle Cabriolets for which hoods are being fabricated from scratch, a 1950s Bedford truck in for a bespoke headlining, and a Jaguar E-type being treated to a fresh mohair hood and a full interior restoration. Plus many others. The workshop may not be the first word in neat order, but the quality of work performed within is outstanding.
Deeper into the workshop, beyond the cars, is the manufacturing facility. Other than the budget version, the Mazda Hood Shop makes all its own hoods on-site, and just by chance the day of our visit coincides with mk1 MX-5 hood production day. We arrive at 10.00am and already there’s a sizeable pile of finished vinyl hoods ready for despatch. Brian’s obviously proud of the speed with which his team works, but he places far greater emphasis on the quality he insists they achieve.
The whole process – including the quest for quality – starts with a computer-controlled marking out and cutting machine bed that cost the company £50,000. ‘It’s an impressive bit of kit,’ remarks Brian, ‘but it’s nothing without our CAD program and, more importantly, all the data we’ve inputted into it. We’ve deconstructed hundreds and hundreds of hoods from cars of all eras, then meticulously measured each individual component, charted its precise position, and uploaded all that information into the program. It represents a colossal effort and I don’t suppose any other company has quite such a comprehensive databank of hood patterns as we do.
‘But it’s not merely about having the right sizes and dimensions,’ continues Brian enthusiastically. ‘It’s also about having the knowledge and experience to lay out all those individual components onto a sheet of fabric in such a way as to minimise wastage. And with fabric hoods, a key part of the skill is to be able to picture how the different pieces fit together, so that the nap of the fabric is all in the same direction when they’re joined – if the nap sits in two different directions, it can make the hood look like two different colours.
‘Sometimes this means creating more wastage and the job taking more time, but I’d rather we do the job properly. Mini and BMW, in particular, are very poor for taking the nap into consideration and it’s to the detriment of the looks of their hoods.’
Watching the cutting/marking head woosh and whirr across the fabric that’s laid out on the bed is mesmerising. The chalk marks it leaves are light and you can barely see the cut lines until Brian lifts the individual pieces up off the bed to reveal their outlines in the remaining fabric. He’s at pains to point out the minute notches cut into the various components of the hood, which when matched to their adjoining pieces ensures a precise fit. Brian first started working with hoods when he was a lad of 12, helping out his father who ran a similar business, and his eyes shine brightly as he describes the importance of the minutiae of the job.
With the individual pieces of the hoods now cut, it’s time to move on to a production line of other processes that involve stitching, gluing, stapling, and heat treating. ‘Mazda’s hoods are some of the most complex available,’ explains Brian, ‘and they comprise so many different pieces: the hood on an MGF is a doddle by comparison. Fortunately my team has so much experience in making MX-5 hoods that they’re undaunted by the amount of work involved.’
As well as making your MX-5 a new hood, the Mazda Hood Shop offers a re-trimming service, too, either as per your car’s original spec or something
more bespoke; on the mezzanine floor above the workshop there are leather hides of many colours for you to choose from, or you can ask Brian to source you something very specific. Alternatively you might just want a worn out bolster replaced or a burn hole in the seat cushion repaired: you just have to ask.
If there’s a danger in turning up in person to the Mazda Hood Shop rather than simply ordering online, it’s that you’ll spot something going on inside the workshop that you think would look good on your own car. Then again, with the values of MX-5 mk1s in particular on the rise, you might be able to justify any extra work as a worthwhile investment in an appreciating classic…
Brand new mohair hood for a mk1 – the company makes hoods for the mk2 and mk3 as well, in a range of materials and colours
Does what it says on the tin…
Mazda Hood Shop boss, Brian Wilks
Hand assembly of hood parts calls for skill and experience
Stitching calls for a steady hand and a sharp set of eyes
Computer-controlled head marks out and cuts the hood material
MX-5 mk1 hood pieces piled high and ready for assembly
MX-5 hoods comprise many parts and are complex to put together
Replacing plastic windows with glass alternatives is a popular request
Tools of the hood fitting trade, including the all-important mug of tea…
Although there are travelling fitters, you can also have your new hood fitted at the Romford factory