“Mike Key will be remembered by many as a prolific British hot rodder but, like so many hot rodders, he started with VWs”

It is with heavy heart, that I share the sad news of the passing of a great friend and well-known automotive photographer, Mike Key. Mike’s photography has appeared in countless magazines and books around the globe over the many years he spent travelling around the UK, Europe and beyond with his beloved wife, June.

Mike and June worked harder than anyone else in the business to ensure they ‘got the shot’, and I speak for each and every one of the many hundreds of vehicle owners they worked with over the years when I say that not only was Mike ever the professional but that, as a couple, Mike and June were true charmers – the nicest folk in the business, bar none.

Having already been a keen hot rodder for some years, it was only when Mike changed jobs and found himself working alongside a few keen amateur snappers that he decided to try his hand at photography. One thing led to another and Mike soon joined the local photography club where he picked up tips and learned the ropes. He later worked with a fellow hot rod enthusiast who introduced him to the delights of drag racing at Santa Pod, which was where his professional photography gig began.

Although his career began with race coverage, Mike soon moved on to snapping hot rods and custom cars for magazines, with June working at his side from the very beginning.

What started as a few photos published in HOT CAR and Drag Racing News in the early ’70s went on to become far more than a hobby, as Mike’s work began to appear in magazines around the world. From Custom Car, Mike went on to become VolksWorld’s best-known snapper for many years, but it wasn’t until 1996 that Mike and June decided to drop the part-time gig and make automotive photography their full-time business and livelihood.

It was during my first term at VolksWorld c.2001 that I began working alongside Mike and, having grown up reading Custom Car and VolksWorld, I have to admit I was a little star struck. Whoever it was that said ‘never meet your heroes’ could not have been more wrong, though, as Mike proved to be not only a great mentor but also, and more importantly, a close personal friend.

Unlike other photographers I’d met, Mike was always happy to explain the technicalities of photography, and it’s fair to say without Mike’s invaluable guidance I wouldn’t be doing this job today.

When Keith and I later launched Ultra VW magazine, I insisted we needed Mike and June on board if we were serious about making it work and, to my delight, Mike agreed to throw caution to the wind by joining the launch team of a brand new magazine. Working with Mike and June in the early days of Ultra VW was a delight, and we spent practically every summer weekend together at events across Europe, not to mention the weekdays spent travelling to and from photoshoot locations.

Looking back, these were truly ‘the glory days’, and I’ll never forget the good times we enjoyed with Uncle Mike and Aunty June, as we fondly referred to them. And when we’d finished with the cars, there was always time to chase down some baby back ribs and / or a cream tea, too.

I know Mike was never a fan of the digital revolution, but that didn’t stop him from dominating the pages of car mags right up until the point at which he decided it was time to retire.
Of course, Mike was also renowned for building cars as well, with numerous quality hot rods under his belt, the construction of all of which were documented in magazines along the way. Retirement gave him the opportunity to get back in the workshop to build his dream ’32 Ford coupe, and to enjoy driving his cars more.

Mike will be remembered by many as a prolific British hot rodder but, like so many hot rodders, he started with VWs. First a ’66 Bug, then later a string of Wizard conversions (roadster, van and a Windjammer with a targa top), as well a pink mild Cal Bug he assembled for his daughter, Rachel, and a more hot-rod inspired one for his son, Matt. Finally, there was June’s yellow 1303 Cabriolet, powered by a hot twin-carb motor assembled by John Brewster when he was at Autocavan.

Mike Key made a huge impact on the hot rod and VWs scenes alike, and will forever be remembered, not just as a legendary photographer but as a true friend to so many.

Our thoughts are with his family and, in particular with June, who has lost her husband and her best friend.
God speed, Mike.

Words: Paul Knight (April ’21 issue)

Further information (originally printed on February 20, 2021 in the Eastern Daily Press.)

Mike Key passed peacefully at home on February 15th, 2021, aged 74 years. Loving husband of June and adored dad of Rach and Matt. The funeral service will be held at the City of Norwich (Earlham) Crematorium on Monday, March 15th, 2021 at 11 a.m. Family flowers only please, however donations to benefit the Alzheimer’s Society and Cancer Research UK are welcomed. Due to Covid restrictions attendance at the service is by invitation only, however for details of how to view the service online or make a donation, please visit www.ivanfisher.co.uk or contact Ivan Fisher Independent Funeral Home, Norton House, Park Drive, Hethersett, NR9 3EN. Tel. (01603) 810022.

Charity donation direct link: https://mikekey.muchloved.com/Donate