This month’s ‘Featured Garage’ is Paul Matty Sports Cars; a Lotus specialist who deals with sales, repairs and restoration. Paul Matty Sports Cars has previously won Club Lotus Dealer of the Year, while also becoming the leading UK Lotus specialist.
We visited Paul Matty, of Paul Matty Sports Cars, to ask him a few questions regarding his business and the motor trade industry in general.
o Tell us about your business.
I established the business in 1976 with my wife June. The business has steadily grown over the years, with the emphasis on quality and reliability, to become the leading UK Lotus specialists covering all aspects of Lotus cars.
We have a close working relationship with Lotus, being winners of Club Lotus dealer of the year and we have a dedicated team of 15 people working for us, with 95% of them having been with us for more than 25 years.
We have 3 main parts to our business, servicing & restoration, sales and parts and are the largest UK Lotus parts supplier, supplying parts all over the world.
o Tell us about your background, how did you get into the motor trade industry?
I was bought up living in a council house with my mom, as my dad passed away when I was 13. He wanted me to be a draughtsman so I trained to do this but I had always had a love of cars and went to my mom and told her this. She said you are a long time working so you’d better pick something you like.
My brother in law was a mechanic and he got me an apprenticeship with Winchurch Garage; after 8 months I wore out the guy who was training me as I was very enthusiastic and was like a sponge with my thirst for knowledge of cars. He left and I ended up taking over the bay myself.
I was 16 and not old enough to drive a car but here I was working on them. I then left for a short period of time and became self employed which didn’t pan out. I soon realised I had made a big mistake. I had always wanted to work at Ashmore Brothers, who had a Lotus franchise, so I wrote to them for a job. They weren’t interested but I didn’t give up - I wrote around 10 letters to them, I would call them up, I would knock on the door and wait outside for them, until eventually they agreed to give me a job.
I loved working there and would work until 10pm even though I wasn’t being paid and I then became the garage manager at 19. I would still be their today if it hadn’t closed.
o Can you give us some history about how the business came about and how it has evolved?
When Ashmore closed, I went into partnership and had a garage in Halesowen. I got married and split from the partnership and have been working for myself for the past 38 years.
I just wanted to do servicing and restoration and found premises on a new industrial estate, which grew to the point where I also sub-let 2 other units. I had signed a further 3 year lease at the unit but the business had reached a point where we needed to find bigger premises.
I found a dis-used Ford garage nearby in Old Hill which I used as the workshop and lock up garage part. It had a showroom attached which I had my arm twisted into taking on. It took me several years to be able to afford to stock the showroom fully but I had the best piece of advice I have ever had from another motor trader. Alan Reed told me ‘even if it takes you 10 years don’t borrow any money to stock the garage’ which I followed and we own everything ourselves to this day.
I still had a bit of an issue as I had the other units on a lease on the industrial estate which I was paying for. I was helping Chris Smith as the time who went on to create Westfield. He was building these vehicles from home having just started and I agreed to leave him my ramp which sealed the deal for him to take over these units.
I soon outgrew the Old Hill site and moved to where I am today.
o What is the most usual or interesting vehicle you have worked on?
One of the cars we have in at the moment is pretty special, it’s a Lotus 19, there were only 12 made, and its taken 4 and a half years to restore. It was driven by Jim Clark and Sterling Moss; I have a bit of a collection of historic racing cars.
o What was your first car?
It was an Austin A35
o What do you most enjoy about the motor trade business?
I am lucky enough that it allows me to indulge in my hobby which is motorsport. I am a huge supporter and we sponsor the Lotus Hill Climb Championship, which is the biggest single marque championship. We all take part, my wife, service manager, sales manager, part manager, it becomes a bit of an inter business competition.
o How would you say the motor trade industry has changed over the years?
Computerisation - cars are so reliant on electrics nowadays you can spend hours diagnosing a fault which can cost a £1000 to find and cost £5 to repair. If the technology you use breaks down that can cause real delays.
Also a lot of businesses don’t want to work on the cars now. At some point there will be a severe skills gap, as the traditional skills needed to repair the classic cars are being lost.
o Where do you see your business in 10 years?
There has been a drop out of Lotus dealers which has only strengthened our position in the market. We believe in providing good quality service which customers recognise. We have a strong relationship with Lotus but have the benefit of continuing to remain independent. I like our showroom to be an extension of our enthusiasm and passion and hope that people who visit our showroom feel that it is more of an experience.
Our workshop is split into 3 parts; restoration, day to day servicing and the motor sport side.
We do all aspects here, paint, trim, engine rebuilds, and accident repairs. The MOT side and paint spraying we send out to Mike Holley Autos and then the cars are then returned to us to complete.
o What would you say are the challenges for your business in the future?
Health and Safety regulations are a challenge; they seem to be getting much more onerous. Just keeping yourself legal takes up a lot of my time.
o Has the current economic times impacted on your business?
It’s been great for us; people are investing in classic cars and modern cars which are classics of the future. What’s better than buying something that you can use, get enjoyment out off which also has investment potential, holds its value and is a tangible asset?
Sales also seem to shift with the economic shifts; we have sold quite a lot to Japan in the past, but with the Euro crash we are now selling much more to Europe.
People want to participate in events such as Goodwood etc so cars such as Ferrari, Aston, Jaguar and Lotus which have always attracted affluent people have remained strong and are doing well.
o What vehicle would you most like to own?
A Lotus 49 - there was 8 made and I know where all 8 are. They are probably around £1,000,000 to buy.
Visit Paul Matty Sports Cars website.