Matthew Smith

Das Auto, the People’s Car: DIY heritage car restoration and wellbeing


  • Dr Kostas Arvanitis
  • Dr Emma Martin
  • Dr Jenna Ashton

Overview of PhD

The PhD questions the link between communities of interest within heritage car restoration and positive mental health. Current investigations question the notion of the object and the impact this has on ownership, discussing the significance of the object as both a restoration project and the attached or projected emotional attachment of the enthusiast.

Men have cherished, tinkered and restored vehicles such as motorbikes, cars, truck and agricultural machines since the invention of the combustion engine in the late 1800s. This research situates itself in the twenty-first century UK with an increasing demasculinised workforce where the sign of success is no longer a trade or craft but is instead replaced by the pursuit of money and power.

The focus for this PhD is on communities of interest, where predominantly men who work in different professions and have no formal training in mechanics, engineering or car restoration work together to rebuild, recommission and restore old cars. It is this point of collaboration and community that the research questions if positive mental health impacts the cognitive processes undertaken within the male workspace within a supportive environment. This research does not dismiss monetary value of the object, but instead gives currency in relation to the value of the restoration of the object and the supporting community.

Throughout the research, Matt is attempting to make partnerships with stakeholders within the classic car community, notably Air-cooled Volkswagens; alongside museums as a way of sharing best practice in relation to building communities of likeminded individuals and the objects they collectively produce


Matt enrolled onto the PhD in Art History and Visual Studies at Manchester in October 2020. He has an MRes in Contemporary Fine Art Practice from Leeds Beckett University and an undergraduate degree in Photography. Since graduating with a PGCE in 2004 Matt has taught art and primarily photography working at various FE Colleges in the Yorkshire region. He is currently the Programme Manager and lectures on the Foundation Degree and BA Photography Course at the University Centre Leeds (Luminate Education Group).

His research interests lie within the human condition; his MA researched the intersection of memory and the family album, questioning the place of a family album in the twenty-first century; how we interact and use these objects. The research was based on forty photographs that exist of him as a child, investigating if photographs are an aid or beguile memory. The project culminated in testing infantile amnesia by undertaking a road trip across northern France to find a geographic location based purely on a thirty-year-old memory, this was in fact Matt’s first interaction with a Volkswagen Camper which was brand new at the time.

The current research that led to the PhD observes and questions people and their interaction within pastimes and the communities of interest this creates. Initially based on the idea of ‘Men in Sheds’ the research focused on people who build things within these environments. The current work brings together this notion of communities of interest with his love of old Volkswagens and their restoration, questioning the impact this has on positive mental health.

Matt’s work has been exhibited in individual and groups shows throughout the north of England.



Personal Website: