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Tony and James Thorpe and Suzy Mitchell  (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Published on 1st March 2024

Station Garage was established in 1973 by husband-and-wife Tony and Rosemary Thorpe. As the business celebrates its 50th anniversary, AAH met founder Tony, as well as son James and daughter Suzy as they lead the company in a new era of motoring…  


Tony Thorpe’s love of cars and motorsport defines his life story. Even before he opened his garage, he had been a keen competitor on the club racing scene. He bought his first racing Mini from none other than James Hunt, who would become an F1 World Champion. Tony would enter different classes of Mini racing, enjoying the thrills and spills of tracks such as Brands Hatch and Oulton Park, and even tried his hand in the single-seater Formula Ford championship. It was this passion that inspired him to open a garage. 

‘A friend of mine who also raced Minis had a contact at Esso, so we discussed the idea of running a garage together,’ recalls Tony. ‘Our plan was that the garage would help support our racing, as we could repair and modify the race cars in the workshop and head off to the track at weekends. Like all amateur drivers, I didn’t have much sponsorship, so I would cobble together money any way I could to fund my next race in the hope I’d come home with a tiny trophy!’

‘We looked at several garages but eventually my friend decided to buy a showroom of his own in Brighton, while Esso offered me the chance to take on a garage in Rudgwick. Having lived in Sutton for most of my life, Rosemary and I had never heard of it! But it meant a fresh start, so we picked up the keys on 5 November 1973. I soon learned that running a business doesn’t actually give you any free time, so I sold the racing cars.’

Tony Thorpe with a classic Skoda Octavia at Station Garage, Broadbridge Heath (©AAH/Alan Wright)


It was called Station Garage, as it had once been located near the village railway station. At the time, it had only been seven years since the Steyning line had closed, a victim of the infamous Beeching axe, although the Downs Link remains popular with walkers, horse riders and cyclists. As well as serving petrol, the garage had a workshop for servicing and MOTs, and it wasn’t unusual for mechanics to repair lawnmowers and other equipment too. 

In what was to prove a brief alliance, Station Garage partnered with British Leyland (BLMC), which then included former BMC marques such as Austin, Morris and MG as well as other British marques including Rover and Jaguar. However, management issues at the merged company led to production delays and without cars on the forecourt, customers went elsewhere. Having ended the association, Station Garage focused on fuel sales, but also offered a small selection of used cars. Then in the early 80s, the garage became a dealership for Romanian manufacturer Dacia, which had started importing to the UK. When the brand failed to gain traction in a highly competitive market, Tony was once again left considering his options.  

He said: ‘A colleague of mine owned a garage in Walton with a Skoda dealership, and asked if I would be interested in having one too. My initial thought was that I had just ended an association with one eastern European manufacturer, so why would I want another? ‘But I decided to visit Prague in 1987, two years before the fall of the Iron Curtain, and fell in love with the place. It was like a step back in time and the people were kind and generous. I took on the Skoda dealership but never envisaged it would still be going strong all these years later.’ 


There have been testing times along the way, though. There was a time when Skoda was the butt of jokes, a reputation Tony pins on one comedian.

‘Jasper Carrot!’ he laughs. ‘Most of the jokes stemmed from him and the brand carried a stigma for a long time. It was an undeserved reputation. There were marques from eastern Europe that did produce poor quality cars, but Skoda wasn’t one of them. They were an engineering company with 100 years of automobile history. As well as cars, Skoda had remarkable engineers who built locomotives, motorcycles, planes, military vehicles and a vast range of electronic components. At the same time people were making jokes, Skoda took 17 consecutive class wins at the RAC Rally as they built strong, reliable cars. Yet even now, you occasionally come across someone who says they’ll never own a Skoda. They usually change their mind once they’ve actually sat in one!’

The current showroom in BBH (©AAH/Alan Wright)


Despite the mocking, Skoda proved popular in the rural surroundings of Rudgwick. By offering a two-year unlimited mileage warranty, Station Garage attracted buyers and many have remained loyal customers, trading in their car for a new one every two or three years. 

After the fall of communism, Skoda was taken over by Volkswagen, which had fought off stiff competition from Renault. With new investment, Skoda gradually increased its sales thanks firstly to small hatchbacks such as the Felicia, then later family cars including the Octavia. Finally, it reached a point where Station Garage had outgrown its Rudgwick site and moved to a new location in Ewhurst.  

After ten years there, the garage was on the move again, moving to its current site in Broadbridge Heath in 2013. While he remains a regular visitor to the showroom, Tony has stepped back from the day-to-day running of the business. Instead, it is his son James (Dealer Principal) and daughter Suzy Mitchell (Head of Marketing) taking the lead as they embark on an exciting new era.  

Tony said: ‘I was one of four founding directors, along with my wife Rosemary, who we lost four years ago, and both my parents. All of the decision-making is now in the hands of my children, but it gives me great pride that they have been able to grow the business with the same passion we had in the early days. I have enjoyed my career immensely, but I’m of a different generation and struggle with some aspects of modern technology. It’s good to know it’s in safe hands, as ever since VW stepped in, Skoda cars have just got better and better.’  

‘It has been great to be part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, as not many businesses remain family-run for that length of time. We have several members of staff who have been with us for more than 25 years too, so it has always been a nice place to work. It has been great hearing stories from people who worked on our pumps as teenagers, or bought their first car from us years ago. Some have become long-serving customers and in some cases friends too.’ 


In recent years, Skoda has continued to grow, perhaps most notably in the SUV market, a trend that began with the Yeti and continues with models including the Kodiaq, Karoq and Kamiq. After the challenges of the pandemic, production levels have recovered and this year will bring some exciting developments for Station Garage.

James said: ‘The motoring industry has endured more than its share of ups and downs in recent years, but now we have a very good range with several launches and replacement models in the pipeline. In 2024, new Kodiaq and Superb models will be launched, while the Octávia and Kamiq models will be given a facelift. There will also be electric and hybrids introduced to the range over the next few years. We already offer the Enyaq – an electric SUV – with Skoda committed to expanding its electric fleet in future.’  

‘As part of the VW group, the marque benefits from development across the whole company, which includes not just Volkswagen but Seat, Audi, Porsche, Bentley and several others. That gives us a great deal of confidence in terms of new cars coming on to the market. Naturally, we have conversations about other dealerships, but they would have to complement our Skoda range and offer something new. As it is, our showroom is busy and the workshop is buzzing, so we have our hands full anyway!’

‘As for Station Garage, it remains the family-run business it always has been. We still have photos in the office from dad’s racing days, as well as old advertising posters of classic Skoda models. We even have a beautiful Octavia that is even older than the business, taking pride of place on the showroom floor. It’s a nod to our history and a reminder of the journey we’ve been on.’ 

Further information:

Station Garage, 78 Billingshurst Rd, Broadbridge Heath, RH12 3LP