Meet the Leeds Man Who Restores Classic Cars and Bikes
Matt Earle is a classic car and bike restorer from Leeds who has been honing his craft since he was 13, becoming an expert in paintwork at the age of 26
You could argue that character is increasingly absent from modern vehicles, with efficiency and market trends taking precedent over inspired bodywork and interesting features. Matt Earle, a classic car enthusiast from Leeds, learnt this from an early age – becoming fascinated with American muscle cars in a way which inspired him to become one of Yorkshire’s most in-demand classic vehicle restorers. His designs are wild and his passion is unmatched, bringing a taste of the 60s to the Yorkshire motor scene.
‘I reckon I was born in the wrong era on the wrong continent – I should’ve been born in 1960s America,’ says Matt. ‘It all stems from my family. My grandad was a mechanic who owned loads of American cars; my step-dad used to work an early shift, so we’d get up at 5am and watch The Dukes of Hazzard,’ he continues. ‘We watched it religiously, and for my birthday he bought me every box set. I started painting model kits, then it was on to painting BMXs, and it slowly went from there.’
Matt is an artist with the technical know-how of a 1960s grease monkey. This makes classic cars and bikes the ideal canvasses for beautiful pieces of artwork.
‘Modern cars are just an appliance, it’s like driving a washing machine these days’
‘American cars have such flat surface areas, it makes them perfect to paint the sides and roofs, they’re always a perfectly square panel. It’s like someone giving you a blank canvas, you can go mental without having to worry about painting around any random bumps or lines,’ Matt explains. ‘I completely avoid new cars, it was my day job for 10 years and I just cant stand them. Modern cars are just an appliance, it’s like driving a washing machine these days.’
Now operating out of a workshop in Wakefield, Matt has found himself in the unique situation of starting his own custom design business, Paint By Matt, in a shared space with his old college tutors. Still learning tricks of the trade from them every day, Matt doesn’t take an ounce of their wisdom for granted.
‘Even now there’s certain things that my old tutors teach me, really old-school techniques. Now I’m with them every day I pick it all up, they’re brilliant – you can never learn enough,’ Matt insists. ‘You’ll go through months of routine stuff, then a more specific job will come in and I can ask them for advice and they’ll say, “look just do X, Y and Z”, and I’ll do it and think “bl**dy hell, they’re right!”,’ Mark laughs. ‘The little custom bits, the gloss and special effects, all that is self-taught. Maybe I downplay it, people often tell me that they think I’m quite artistic, but I just think I’m pulling a trigger on a spray gun – I’m having fun and the rest happens naturally.’
Matt’s artistic finishes and patterns on metal work have started to be recognised nationally – not just for vehicle commissions, but for other metalwork too. Work of note includes an emerald green coffee machine and grinder set for Dark Arts Coffee in London; a collaboration between London-based punk jewellers The Great Frog and Playboy on a custom-made Harley; and even a giant metal mannequin for Leeds’ bid for City of Culture.
‘I did a mannequin in Leeds, a massive six-metre display made of metal. It was a flying man that was hung from the roof of Leeds train station as a part of their bid for City of Culture,’ Matt explains. ‘That was really fun, I remember saying when I was asked to paint it, “Yeah of course, bring it down!” and they said, “Well we can’t really – we’d need a wagon. It’s six metres and the arms need sticking on” and I just responded, “…you what?”,’ Matt laughs. Having managed to bring the charm and aesthetic of The Dukes of Hazzard to Yorkshire, Matt is currently working on a fully custom-made 1960s show bike.
‘Recently I’ve been painting this old 1968 Mustang,’ he says. ‘I take it for granted sometimes, if I’d have told myself 12 years ago that my day job would be painting old Mustangs and Harley Davidsons, I’d be buzzing!’ Matt continues. ‘But I’m building my own bike too, it’s going to be a show bike made start to finish, from the frame to the tank. The tank and mudguard is going to be moulded into the frame – which is really impractical, but it’ll look awesome because it’ll all be one seamless piece of metal. It’s going to look really cool.’