Workshop Profile

The Family Business- Jay Underwood

A family business where a good work-life balance makes all the difference.

Jay Underwood seems to have it all worked out. He runs his own mechanic’s business, owns the building it’s housed in, indulges his passion for building and racing cars and insists on giving the personal touch usually so difficult at busy workshops.

“I don’t want to chase massive volume,” he says at his sizeable Jay Automotive Noosa garage. “It’s a family business with just three of us: me, my wife Debbie and son Kayn. I know most of our customers’ names, know their kids’ names and watch them grow. I often end up finding these kids’ first cars.”

Located in this Queensland tourist town where local reputation is key, Jay says he wants a good relationship with customers that will last a lifetime. Key is not overstretching himself. “We don’t need to push a massive volume of work,” he says. “We own the shed so the massive overheads aren’t there for me. We don’t need to be working flat out every day, so I’d rather take a bit more time and make sure it’s all right.”

The British native’s ideal was to own his own workshop and build a business in Australia, as he’d done in the UK as a Volkswagen specialist. “We moved to Australia in 2007, I had brief employment at a Holden dealership, but I didn’t like working for someone else after being my own boss,” he says. “I was strong on cars sold on the UK market, but I’d never seen a Holden before. It was interesting seeing a new product, but when I started up as a general service centre I was called on more for European cars as I was familiar with them. German and French cars make up about 50 per cent of our work now.”

The Australian life hasn’t disappointed Jay. His workshop was in Cheshire in the north of England and conditions were often tough. “The workshop was Victorian built and couldn’t hold heat at all. When it was cold it was really cold, and I had problems with my joints. I don’t get that anywhere near as badly in Australia.”

What about the differences in cars and work between the UK and Australia? Jay says cars in the UK are generally newer as Aussies hold on to theirs longer, and we drive a lot more SUVs and 4x4s. “I wouldn’t do any 4×4 work in the UK, but here they’re everywhere,” he says. “They’re so big, I pull a gearbox out and it weighs as much as the moon. It’s been interesting to learn new things though, and I’ve just upgraded my equipment to deal with it.”

The workshop is a large and spacious place with four hoists and two additional bays, plus six parking spots outside. The building is 300m², with some 220m² being workshop and the rest a giant waiting area a world away from the typically cramped rooms endured in bigger cities. Jay says he gets through about eight cars per day – roadworthies, general servicing, repairs, modifications – or up to 20 if he gets a bulk order from local dealers to prepare recently arrived cars.

“We rented a workshop in Noosa for nine years, but bought this place even though it was $50,000 over budget and a bit too big, but we couldn’t believe what a good price it was,” Jay says. “It’s in very good condition, right next door to another workshop, and there’s so much space it means I don’t need to take anything home.”

It’s the more interesting cars that see Jay’s eyes light up. On the morning of my visit a classic Austin Healey has just been through, while a local’s Lotus Esprit used as a daily driver has recently – and very necessarily – had its cooling system custom modified by Jay. “It’s like having bread and water all day and suddenly someone brings you a steak and kidney pie,” he says of these more exotic cars.

“We build engines here, and that’s a dark art these days,” he says. “There’s nothing better than putting a set of pistons and bearings in and just turning it over. It feels lovely and slick, and it’s a feel-good thing when it starts up and runs like a watch. But you don’t want to do too many of them because you don’t make any money doing it!”

“The British Native’s Ideal Was To Own His Own Workshop And Build A Business In Australia, As He’d Done In The Uk As A Volkswagen Specialist.”

Jay builds engines for his race cars – a core passion of his and son Kayn. He currently campaigns a beautiful 1979 Ford Escort Mk2, is planning a 350hp 1976 Ford Escort with Nissan driveline and Skyline rear end grafted on, while close to completion is a Nissan 180SX ready for a 550hp turbocharged Ford six-cylinder Barra motor and Nissan GT-R rear end. “That should be unbreakable,” he says with a smile.

Jay’s focus is on maintaining his business, concentrating on getting it right every time for his loyal customers and ensuring he passes knowledge and experience on to his son. “A lot of youngsters don’t get the chance to work on older cars and their mechanicals because they haven’t been taught it,” he says. “Its good Kayn sees that side of it, and he’s got a more rounded knowledge, helping a lot with the race car preparation.”

A relaxed environment, customers you know by name and time to enjoy race cars. It’s a work-life balance that looks very good indeed.

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