As Managing Director of Auto Torque, Chris Marshall has overall responsibility for making sure the business thrives, making it stable and profitable. As someone who has presided over more than 15 years of growth in a business with a strong reputation across the UK, it’s worth pausing for a moment to understand the man behind the brand.
Sitting in his office above Auto Torque’s workshop in Westcott, just outside Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, Chris is relaxed and as ever, smiling, and friendly. I ask him about his motivations. “Customers make my business – I love to receive feedback from them, to see where I’m hopefully standing out from the competitors. I’ve never been motivated by financial gain, more by making my customers happy – that’s always been my sole purpose. That and my passion: watching and working on sports cars – hopefully making them faster or handle better”.
I ask Chris about his own professional journey. After leaving school he went to Oxford Brookes to study Motorsport Engineering and then on to Brooklands College in Surrey. In 2003 he started working for Steve Hill Motorsport in Buckinghamshire, who specialised in Mitsubishi Evos whilst Steve himself was a privateer in British Rallying. Chris really enjoyed building the cars, preparing them for the rallies, and supporting Steve at the events. His passion for the work and the cars grew to such a high level it was inevitable he would decide to set up on his own. He therefore started his business 15 years ago from a garage in his parents’ house in Oving in Buckinghamshire, and of course he was responsible for everything; servicing and repairing customers’ vehicles during the day and completing all the paperwork in the evening. He managed to slowly grow the business and in 2007 he launched Auto Torque. He moved to the modern facilities in Westcott in 2012, and with three adjacent Units the business now has a 5-vehicle bay capacity and offers a wide range of specialised services. He also has a stake in AT Performance Cars – buying and selling sports cars – and Lava Studios, which offers secure storage and detailing services. He is particularly happy with this strategy as he can sell, service, upgrade, store, and detail a customer’s car, from a single location.
Chris is married to Nadine who manages Auto Torque’s Administration and HR. They have two young children. And Ross – Chris’s Dad – takes great care in managing all Auto Torque’s customer vehicle collections and deliveries. Away from the business Chris has always been into Mountain Biking and enjoys the gym and swimming.
I asked Chris to describe his typical working week. “Im the person trying to be amongst everything; car sales, customer emails and quotes, sitting in on the morning meetings and overviewing what the plans are for each day. I always check in with the team during the day, as I don’t want to be too removed from our core business. I also get involved in the planning of bigger projects, including restorations. I’m also increasingly busy with social media – particularly YouTube – and we try to film and publish a new video each week”. Despite being a successful business owner, he chooses not to spend his time attending lots of business events, preferring instead to read and learn from interesting business books, and he clearly likes to prioritise his time working in, and on, the business itself. Paul Mabley, Auto Torque’s Service Manager agrees: “Chris is a good leader, approachable and always keen to be involved, imparting his knowledge and experience for the benefit of me and the team, and our customers. Managing the workshop is made easy for me through Chris’s positive attitude to investing in the business and the employees. As a result, we produce a very high standard of work within a very enjoyable working environment.”
So, with monumental changes ongoing in the industry, I asked Chris how he thinks the sports car world might look in 10 years’ time. “Day-to-day cars will be electric and eco-friendly, but I hope that there will always be a market for sports cars with internal combustion engines. I believe the tuning market will remain buoyant, however I’m sure the government will make it increasingly difficult for Petrolheads, raising fuel duty and road tax. So for our business to thrive we need to continue chasing the current ICE marketplace for as long as one exists. Having said all that I am hopeful that – until we are able to participate in the tuning of hybrid and full electric drivetrains – the next generation of performance cars will present a market for us in suspension, aerodynamics, and software tuning”.
Chris has enjoyed being the custodian of many interesting cars which have often been used for the development and showcasing of Auto Torque’s capabilities. His passion for Evos from his early days with Steve Hill has made him a loyal Mitsubishi owner. He has an Evo VI TME, a car he imported from Ireland but never actually driven in the UK. You can watch a video on the start of the restoration of this iconic car on Auto Torque’s YouTube channel here. But his all-time favourite is an Evo IX 360 HKS, the same model that we featured in a previous Behind the Wheel blog. The ultimate Evo Chris believes, “…. because it has the MIVEC engine, with a perfect extra hit of torque at the top end, and an excellent power to weight ratio. The Evo chassis doesn’t cope particularly well with massive power, but the 360 HKS is just right in my opinion”.
The second car Chris recalls is the Audi R8. “It was phenomenal, and it really did feel like a supercar: like a race car in fact. Before we turbocharged it – doubling the horsepower – I was a little worried that we might make it undriveable. But with the carbon ceramic brakes and the 4-wheel drive it coped very well indeed. Hearing that V10 engine overlaid with those twin turbos behind me at 212 mph, was something I will never forget……” You can read all about the building of the R8 and that top speed attempt here.
In between the Evo and the R8, Chris says his R35 GT-R was fantastic: “A logical next step from the Evos for me; they also helped shape the direction of the business. I have had every model of GT-R. If I had to choose one vehicle to do everything – including taking the family out – it would be the GT-R”.
So, with a few desirable cars, where does he enjoy driving them? Chris’s favourite roads are in Wales, and the NC500 in Scotland. His favourite UK track is Oulton Park: “Undulations, all types of corners, varying surfaces with damp patches under the trees. It keeps you on your toes for sure. My favourite car round there was the Supra A90 – that was a fantastic experience. I also love Spa; I have driven that in my Evo V, but I had to replace the brakes as I had warped them at the Nürburgring just a few days before and they weren’t performing properly. I’d love to drive Spa again in a something like a Porsche GT3”.
He has competed in a couple of race series – he was a member of the Mitsubishi Lancer Club and competed in the Mitsubishi Sprint Series for 3 years. “It was really competitive”, Chris says, “I love track days and I try to make sure I receive tuition at each one”.
His top mechanical tip for owners and drivers is all about preparation. He’s adamant that it’s essential to get a car prepared for the job at hand; from daily checks of fluids and pressures, regular servicing, having geometry checked before a track day, or catching corrosion early.
His favourite motorsport is obviously Rallying. The sweet spot for him was the early 2000s with Mitsubishi and Subaru battling in the hands of Tomi Makinen, Richard Burns and Colin McRae. It’s no surprise to learn that Burns and McRae are his all-time favourite drivers.
One of his favourite road cars is the Porsche 911 GT3. “We sold one back in 2015 and up until that point I hadn’t appreciated how good they were. But after driving it home once I realised that it was worth every penny! Until you drive one you just won’t believe how good they are”. So it follows that one of his favourite naturally aspirated engines is the Porsche Flat 6. The McLaren 600LT is another dream car of his, having been a passenger in one around Silverstone and being so impressed by the car’s capabilities.
Looking ahead, Chris’s goal is to propel Auto Torque further into the Supercar league, whilst never forgetting the roots of the business. Chris shows me around some of the amazing vehicles on the ramps and those waiting patiently for their fettling in the car park, and concludes “I’m completely invested in Auto Torque, trying to help it remain safe and successful, for the benefit of my team and my customers past, present and future”.
Toni Gladding – a long term customer – says of Chris when her R34 GT-R clutch ‘fried’ and failed at the Silverstone Classic: “I phoned Chris in a panic as the car wasn’t going anywhere with a broken clutch. I fully expected to have to organise recovery to Auto Torque myself, but Chris arranged for his dad Ross to turn up with a trailer to recover the car. But not only that, they took my GR Yaris out of their storage facility and put it on the trailer, so that I had a car to drive home in. Simply brilliant!”.
Toni Gladding and Paul Mabley sum up Chris Marshall very well; someone who continues to strive to be the man behind the highly respected Auto Torque brand.