SPECIALISTS MX5 Works
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
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