SPE­CIAL­ISTS Mazda Hood Shop

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS - Mazda Hood Shop 01708 733695 maz­da­hood­shop.co.uk

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.’

BROAD COV­ER­AGE

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.’

FIT­TING SER­VICE

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.

HEAVY WORK­LOAD

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.

COM­PUTER AIDED

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.’

EX­PE­RI­ENCE COUNTS

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

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