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Auto Alex: The Apex Interviews Alex Kersten

Alex Kersten is an automotive YouTuber, Presenter and Podcaster, best known for producing relatable, authentic and passionate car related content. His Mazda MX5, affectionately named 'Phil' has brought in more than 100 million views across his social channels. We had the opportunity to catch up with Alex at his unit for a chat, and we discussed his own personal journey to YouTube fame, his proudest moments, his long term plans for the Auto Alex group, and how his E46 M3 Touring project build is coming along. 

Alex, welcome to the show!

Hello, how are you doing?

Very well thanks Alex, how are you doing?

I'm all good thank you. Yes you smashed that.

Thank you.

That was a good intro that.

It feels weird welcoming you to the podcast when I'm in your unit.

I know yes, quite disgraceful isn't it, but we'll let it slide.

This isn't actually your first time on the podcast.

It's not, we had a super quick one didn't we, after ...

… the world record for the world's quickest podcast.

NEC Restoration Show, right at the end of it or so?


That was quite a hectic weekend and then we ran over to your stand and I think we spent 10 minutes or so while I was gasping, I think I actually brought a beer with me.

You did, yes.

I did bring a beer with me.

Beer in hand.

It was one of those weekends where I was just like, I just need to drink alcohol now.

I've got a few more questions today as well, so hopefully we get through them.

Yes, we've got time, and we also have a lot of beer, and you actually brought some beer as well, so maybe we can get drunk while doing this.

I actually wanted to start by asking you about your Porsche 993, how are you finding Porsche ownership?

Well to be honest, I have not actually done that many miles since the video that we did going to Wales, purely because it's been winter, it's been shit weather, and in all honesty, I haven't had the insurance policy that I wanted to be able to drive around the streets of London, go to Caffeine & Machine and all the rest of it. I was a little bit nervous, until you guys came along and sorted me out. With spring now, spring has sprung as of a few days ago, so I'm really looking forward to taking Nigel, my high mileage 993 out, to car shows and wherever else, it's going to be glorious.

We are very proud to have Alex's Porsche 993 and his iconic, and heavily modified, MX5 now insured with Custodian

I think that's probably a good point to mention that we do now insure Alex's 993 and his MX-5 Phil.

You do, yes.

How are we doing?

You are doing really well, you've obviously got the virtual garage where you can upload the build and modifications of your car, which makes getting insurance easier because you've documented everything you've done. All the insurance companies can see that and then see that you are an enthusiast car owner, and then they are more likely to give you the cover that you think your car is worth.

That was very good, thank you.

 I know, I'm not even reading off the script, but genuinely both of these cars are covered to the value that I am comfortable with, and I know that they are worth.

Any feedback for Lewis, anything he could be doing better?

Where is he, he should be making tea, so Lewis, get your ass over here next time. No, but you guys are genuinely awesome, and you are a young company as well.

Yes, we are still a startup really, very early days, but it's going very well, I'm pleased to report, and to have cars like yours that are insured with us now, is pretty cool.

This isn't just a car insurance podcast, this is just fact and I'm genuinely happy.

I will pass that on to the team, that's good to hear. Obviously I want to talk about some of the other cars in your garage and your content more generally as well. You are affectionately known as the king of the shitbox. When you were creating this relatable content, did that happen by accident, was it just what you enjoy doing, or was it a conscious decision to create this content?

I would say it was a conscious decision. I am one of those people who would never live above my own means. If I've got it, I can afford it. I never finance anything, and I just like to be comfortable with the stuff around me that I can afford to not only repair, but crash and then repair so I am never going to have a Lamborghini or a Ferrari in the garage, unless it's a shit Lamborghini or a shit Ferrari. But for me, there's lots of people doing supercar content, you have got Shmee, and back in the day, it was Shmee, Paul Wallace, Supercars of London, all those people, Seb Delanney, who were out chasing supercars and stuff, and I just wanted us to do different things, us being Car Throttle back then, which led us into buying cheap cars, going on adventures, off-roading, crap cars, and just putting a spotlight on old cars and saying hey, this car might have 450,000 miles, usually it would be in the scrap heap, but here we are, we have done a little bit of work to it, and hey, we have driven it to Germany, we have done a lap of the Nürburgring, and we have reinvigorated that car and given it a completely new lease of life, and I think people have latched onto that and thought actually, this car is old and crap but isn't it charming, and I am going to enjoy it for a bit longer.

I think there's a level of authenticity to your content, you can tell that it is the kind of stuff you enjoy making, but obviously your channel has 600,000 subscribers on your main channel, 150k closing in on Alex V2, number one automotive podcast in the UK, when you get to that level, to what degree does the content become influenced by numbers and analytics or do you try and not let that interfere with it too much?

So to begin with I was like oh yes, this hasn't done as many views as I expected it to do, but now I genuinely don't care. If a video does below 300,000 views, I'll be like okay, we messed up, but generally if it's above 300K, 400K, then I'll be like okay, we are on a good trajectory here. I am not chasing numbers any more, I just want to have fun with my friends, buy cars, go on adventures and just live a life that I am comfortable and happy with showing and putting a spotlight on, and exciting the audience to go and do the same sort of thing. So numbers for me isn't the be all and end all. It's really easy to get caught up and watch the likes of Mat Armstrong who has bought Marcus Rashford's Rolls Royce, and think oh my God, his video has done 2 million views in a day, I need to get to that level, but ultimately I don't really want that, because when you are at that level, you can never get off the treadmill. If I walk around at a car show, it gets quite a lot, because lots of people want to speak to you. But if you are like the Mat Armstrongs of this world, then daily life is probably quite difficult. Going to the shop is probably unimaginably difficult. At one point it would be nice to have a few more numbers and just keep on climbing that ladder, but on the other side, I quite like privacy and my personal life, and I think at the moment we are at a good level where I can walk around, have a chat to a few people I have never met before, but I am not getting inundated. I am just enjoying myself.

Do you think then about the longer term vision for Autoalex, have you thought about the next four to five years, what does that look like?

No, there is no plan, it's literally just, we will think of an idea or something, I will watch something and I'll be like hey, that's cool, or I'll be trying to get to sleep and I'll be like oh, why don't I buy a really high mileage Tesla and see how that works out? It's just random stuff like that, but nothing is really ever planned, it just happens as it happens, and the audience are along for the ride.

You see the way that YouTube pans out for some big channels, so Linus Tech Tips, I don't know if you are familiar with him?

Yes, of course.

So massive channel and then he's got all these subsidiary channels, and I think he has a fairly similar path to you in the sense that he was at a company that he didn't have a fantastic experience with, he has branched out on his own, and now he has built this media group, is that something that has crossed your mind a bit in terms of I could do something similar in the car space?

If you had have asked me two years ago or coming up to two years when I started Autoalex, absolutely not, I just wanted to have a YouTube channel and do my own thing, but now it has turned into a bit of a small scale media empire. We have obviously got Autoalex main channel, we have got the V2 channel which is doing all right. We have got Top Dead Center now as well which we started with Will and Edwin, and that's done 150k subs and the views are really strong, so that's all under the Autoalex umbrella. Then we will be launching one more channel very soon, which won't be so car-focused, but it will have a couple of very familiar faces. When is this podcast going out?

Not any time, a couple of weeks.

A couple of weeks?

I can push it back.

Okay, well, Ethan and Jack.

That was going to be my question, is it Ethan and Jack?

Ethan and Jack are going to be joining us. It's quite bizarre because we are going to have one, two, three separate channels, but the whole former Car Throttle team are together again, so it's like our version of the Sidemen. So we have got big plans with that. Ethan and Jack are actually going to be starting filming in the next couple of weeks. We are currently end of March, we are in the contract stages at the moment, so just have to get the contracts over to them, they are going to sign and then away they go.

That's big.

Yes, so that's cool. It's really nice that I have been able to start this channel with Rory. Obviously Rory is integral to everything, and now I am able to employ friends from Car Throttle. I employ my wife three days a week as well to look after the books. It's really cool, and one of my best friends, Chris Hill, with whom I do the Autoalex merch as well, so we are 50/50 with the merchandise. He has quit his very well-paid job to do this full time. It's just cool, it's a little bit scary when you think about the amount of people that are now under the Autoalex umbrella, but it's going well and I'm surrounded by really good people.

I think that's it, it sounds like you just built this group of your friends, really, and the family and loved ones, what a better situation than that.

It's just accidentally happened. We have got a guy called Josh as well who is a mechanic, he has been on camera a few times and he is going to potentially be leaving his job to join us full time as well.

You are taking over.

Yes, so all in all it will be about 10 of us, I think.

Goodness me, so obviously the Top Dead Center channel is already going, have you been imparting wisdom to Will and Edwin on that front?

They are already very skilled at what they do and they have got their own ideas and when we started talking about the channel, we talked through ideas and they said hey, there's this Porsche 996 that we would really like to buy and do a restoration on and it's fire damaged, so that was the first project car that Autoalex paid for, and then hopefully the channel will start paying for itself. I think within 2,5 months the channel will be washing its own face, which is fantastic, and then hopefully the sky is the limit for the guys.

Obviously to go from Car Throttle and all these guys, and then years later you bring them back together, perhaps as it should have been originally.

I understand budgets and how much people need and deserve to run a good YouTube channel. The thing is, over the past three, four years, Car Throttle has been strangled, because companies haven't understood how much money it actually takes to make money on YouTube. You have to spend a lot of money, you have to throw loads of money at it to make money, and that's what I understand, and I know the perks that I would want if I was in Edwin, Will, Ethan or Jack's position, so I'm like hey just have it, just run with it, and if they are happy they are going to do good things and it benefits everyone. We will see but Top Dead Center so far going really well.

I am very pleased to hear that, that's a bit of a bombshell that you have just dropped, that's cool. I want to talk a little bit about your own journey as well to this point. Obviously you have spoken about the level of support that you have had from friends in your journey, people like Mike Brewer offering to financially support you in the early days when you launched Autoalex, what was it like to suddenly be in the driving seat of your own channel, was that a very liberating moment?

It started off quite liberating, and then the first video dropped and it just went mental. I think after two weeks there was a quarter million subscribers and I was like shit, there's a lot of people now who “depend on me for entertainment and stuff” and then I just felt the weight of the responsibility on me. It sounds like I am blowing it out of proportion, but when you are in that bubble by yourself, it is a lot. I just remember speaking to my now wife Rhian, and saying do you know what, if I could click my fingers and just go back to normal life, which was just working at Car Throttle, I would probably do it because I have the security blanket of having a salary and having a boss that tells me if I am doing a good job, and now it's up to me to do that good job and to make sure that videos go out week on week. I don't think we have ever actually missed a video in 107 videos on the channel. It was a lot and then I just managed to drag myself through the other side. Like I said, Rory has been integral to building the business really, and coming up with ideas and all the rest of it, so it's gone from strength to strength. We obviously met up with Taylor and he's great on camera and he comes up with weird and wonderful ideas. When we go on road trips and stuff there's never a dull moment. So I think the audience have latched onto that and the channel has evolved because of it.

Source: AutoTrader

From my point of view there's a tendency to chase the subscribers and the views and whatnot, but actually sometimes I wonder if you are actually having fun doing what you are doing, you are enjoying it and that person is more successful than the one who might have more subscribers, I feel like that's something that resonates a little bit.

It is easy to look at other YouTubers and think oh, the grass is greener, but ultimately are they having as much fun as me? I doubt it because I don't put too much pressure on myself. I don't chase numbers, the channel is comfortable, it can pay for anything it needs to continue growing. If I've got an idea or if Rory's got an idea or whoever it might be, chances are we can fund it and then just see if it works out. The whole chasing numbers thing, maybe 10 years ago when I was in my late 20s that might have been important, but now I am older and wiser and I just like having my freedom and personal space a bit more. I am like do you know what, just take the pressure off, it genuinely doesn't matter. The feedback we get in videos is always really good. People just enjoy losing themselves and laughing. If it's me slapping Taylor's ass or so, people always just enjoy that kind of stuff. It's just silliness with cars.

I suppose when you do have a channel of that size, with that freedom comes a level of responsibility, and like you said, people underestimate the time that it takes to make content, what do your days actually look like at the moment, do you have meetings and stuff or are you pretty flat out?

I have got meetings with channel sponsors and all the rest of it, and meetings with companies with whom we do videos with. I have a meeting at 10:45 with a crash test company which will be quite cool, so hopefully start crashing some cars with them.

Hopefully not the ones we insure.

No, although I would get a bloody good payout. But no, a day looks like, on a weekend I will chat to Rory and say okay, this is what we need to do this week, or he will tell me what we need to do. We will get to the unit at about 10 and then we will start filming at 11. If we need to buy a car, like yesterday for example, we did a K-car challenge, and we sat down on the sofa, opened up Facebook Marketplace and searched for a K-car for £2,000. We found one, we bought it, we look around it, we go for a little drive, then it is four days in the edit and then it gets released that week. So chances are if we filmed it on a Monday, it will be coming out on a Thursday.

That is a lot.

Yes, we are always chasing our tails, unless we go on the road trips, like the Nürburgring road trips where we can get three episodes filmed in four days, then we have a buffer of two weeks. But then inevitably we are always chasing our tails three or four weeks later. Not that we take our foot off the gas, but stuff happens in life that means you can't film.

With all this going on, I feel like I already know the answer to this, but how do you make sure that what you are doing is still something you enjoy?

Because if I am ever bored, I just won't get any enjoyment from it. I don't think that will resonate very well with the audience on camera, and if they see that I am just not enthused by something, then chances are I am bored and I am not going to do it. For me it's important to come up with an idea and then execute it quite quickly, otherwise that idea can become quite stale, or chances are you have got an idea and then another YouTube channel does it, and you are like bloody hell, that was such a good idea, I should have done it at the time. Strike while the iron is hot, and chances are if you do have an idea that you think is cool, it probably is cool, so just crack on with it.

What are some of the plans you have for the rest of the year, obviously Shedfest is in May?

Shedfest is the second Autoalex car show, which is a celebration of shitboxes, high mileage heroes, project builds, all the rest of it. It will be one of the UK's largest gatherings of shit cars. So I am super excited, that is on 4 May.

Are there tickets for that still available?

There are still tickets, but all the show car tickets have sold out, and spectator tickets I think we are halfway through, but we are looking at 15,000 people, and the show has really cool sponsors, headline sponsor, main sponsor and all that. We have a big stage area, we have Tavarish coming over, Mike Brewer is going to be there. I have invited Mighty Car Mods as well. It is going to be hectic. If last year was anything to go by, we sold out 5,000 tickets very quickly and it was brutal. We had our marquee there selling merchandise, and from 8am to 4pm there was a queue of probably 600 hundred people wanting to buy stuff or chat to us or get stuff signed. It is going to be a tough day but it's going to be loads of fun. We are going to have podcasts and invite guests and the TDC guys will be there and Ethan and Jack will be there, and Mike Brewer, Tavarish, we will get everyone up on stage. We are also going to do a car giveaway which will be fun, so yes, there will be a lot going on.

I am actually fixing up an old Defender with a buddy of mine and it's a complete piece of shit, the only problem is it won't get there.

Well bring a trailer.

I was going to say I will have to bring it on the trailer, but that sounds good. I actually wanted to round off with some quick fire questions.

Why have you got a smirk on your face?

If all car manufacturers were going extinct and you could save one, which one would you save?


You like your BMWs, don't you?

BMWs are one-size-fits-all. If you want a sports car you have Z3, Z4, if you want a daily driver, I think my F11 530D Touring is the best daily driver money can buy. I can do 45 MPG, it's quick, it can tow, it's comfortable, it looks good, it's a good size, literally they have something for everyone, and the classic BMWs as well are just fantastic. It would be that, and I would obviously keep all of my old stock. I would keep Phil, I would keep Nigel, but yes, BMW would be that one, but only if they went back to their roots a little bit and dialled it back.

Older BMWs.

Yes, it's got to be older BMWs with the straight sixes.

You are building an M3 Touring aren't you?

Yes, E46 M3 Touring which will be revealed at Shedfest, and that has turned into a nut and bolt restoration. You should see the underneath of that, it is brand new. There is not a spot of rust on it. It has been fully redone, and you could literally eat your dinner off the bottom of it now. There is so much work left to do, but the guys at Redish Motorsport are cracking on and I am trying to find wheels, got suspension from BC and Scorpion are sorting out the exhaust and then engine is being built and, and, and, but that is going to be one of the best E46 M3 Tourings in the world, genuinely, I am going to say it.

That sounds pretty cool. Favourite moment you have ever had in a car?

I have had loads of really cool moments. I have interviewed loads of cool people, like Ken Block for example, that was amazing, I interviewed him a few years ago at Car Throttle. I would say my favourite moment was when I drove a young lad called Matt Pollard, who has terminal 4 brain cancer into his own car show. I spoke to Goodwood and I said this is a story. Matt would like his car to be tarted up so he can go to car shows with his dad. I said look, I would like to set up his own car show so he can take his fully restored MX-5 that we will sort out to Goodwood. They were like yes, you can have a day. I spoke to loads of different sponsors and we turned it into a really cool car show and surprised Matt. His family knew all about it, and Matt and his family turned up at the gates of Goodwood, then I drove to the gate and I brought him and his family in Rory's E61 535D. So I was driving, Matt was next to me. We entered the paddock of Goodwood and there were probably 2,000 people there, and they all spread completely, so like the parting of the seas, the car drove through and everyone was clapping for him and saying go Matt, we love you Matt, and that kind of stuff. We drove to the stage, he got out, all of his best friends were there, and everyone cried and everyone hugged, and for me that's the best moment, it's the best thing I've ever done, genuinely, and I don't think that will ever be topped, but just seeing everyone parting and showing so much support for Matt, is the best moment I think I have ever had in a car.

That must have been an incredibly humbling experience for you to be able to have that impact on someone else that you don't really know.

It was truly amazing, and the support from the car community, everyone banded together and we all fixed up that MX-5 for him and his dad. There was probably £15,000 worth of stuff that went in there. It had carbon fibre bucket seats for Christ's sake. Then for Goodwood to give the day, we had a stage and we had everything. Had I paid for that all, that's probably £100,000 worth of car show in a day. To hire Goodwood is tens of thousands, and just to have the support of everyone, and we raised £50,000 and we gave it all to Matt, and said do with it what you want. If you want to take a private jet to the Bahamas, you can do that now. Just the car community banding together and achieving that is just the best thing ever.

What would you say is in your dream three car garage?

That's easy. E46 M3 Touring, which is being built. Nigel my 993, because I absolutely adore 993s, my favourite generation of Porsche 911, and Phil, my V6 MX-5. You have something for everything. You have your GT Cruiser, your track car and your car that you can drive to the Nürburgring and do a lap and then drive back, at 160 mph, that being the E46 M3 Touring. We have a red car, purply red car, and then a techno violet BMW.

That is pretty impressive, isn't it?

For me that's just the best.

It's funny, I've asked that question to quite a few people and everyone was like oh no, I don't, but that was so quick.

I have two of them right here. My E46 M3 Touring I am actually going to be trying to get insured with you soon. It has to be built first and finished so you can see it actually exists, but I will be knocking down your door.

We can insure it as a lump of metal at the moment or something. Final question, if you could build a shitbox version of any car that existed, what would it be?

A shitbox version of any car?

So any rundown, crappy version, high mileage, whatever, you could get your hands on?

Are you saying what is a cool project car for me?

Essentially, yes.

I have always really fancied, sorry, a BMW E31, the 840 or 850 CI. That for me is a poster car and I am quietly looking, and I know there are a couple in the UK that are going for about £5,000, so if I could get my hands on one of those, then that would be scratching a very big itch, because I have always fancied one of those. Because if it wasn't for Nigel my 993, I probably would have ended up with an E31. It's something that's definitely on the list, I just love the look of them and they are just so cool. So yes, get me one of those.

I know you are very busy, so we will wrap things up, thank you so much for your time.

You are welcome.

Thank you very much for listening, for watching. Just as a quick reminder, you can join a community of over 40,000 enthusiasts already on Custodian, You can find us on the App Store. The Android app is coming soon. By building a digital garage on Custodian, basically means we can produce a more holistic presentation of your car ownership than traditional brokers, which basically means we can get you more bespoke cover. Go and check that out and there are plenty more podcasts available as well on all the major streaming platforms. Thank you very much for listening and I will see you in the next episode.

Get Custodian cover, it's good.

Cheers Alex, thank you.

No worries, see you soon.

The Apex Team

The Apex Team

The Apex Editorial Team @Custodian: Archie Hill - Interviewer & Editor, Archie Hill Jeremy Hindle Charles Clegg - Editors, Archie Hill - Production, David Marcus - Transcription.