To Keep A 98-Year-Old Volkswagen Repair Shop Thriving, She Fixes Cars And Customers Too
Though she’s no stranger to lying underneath a chassis in a jumpsuit, Guinevere Freccia excels in taking care of her customers on a human level at her family business, the nearly 100-year-old Freccia Brothers Garage on iconic Route 1 in Greenwich, CT.
The great-granddaughter of Frank Freccia and great-great niece of brother Gene Freccia, she is the face of the air-cooled Volkswagen specialist shop on Instagram. And she’s proof that when you run a vintage repair shop, your job isn’t just to fix cars—it’s to be an evangelist for driving.
Greenwich, CT, an exceedingly affluent suburb of New York City that the rest of Connecticut doesn’t even recognize, is a town proudly defined by its pretentiousness; how big your house is, how expensive your car was, and what Ivy-League schools your kids go to. In contrast, Freccia Brothers is an unpretentious family-owned business with a distinctive vibe, specializing in vintage VWs, or “air-cooled engines.” It’s been in business since 1922 when it was founded by Frank and Gene Freccia, who emigrated from Italy in the early 20th century. And as you might guess, not many car dealerships today can lay claim to being almost a century old—let alone one that’s still family-owned after all that time.
When I set out to write this piece, it was intended to be a profile of a funky old VW garage, seemingly misplaced on “Car Row” in Greenwich, flanked by various high-end dealerships ranging from Audi to McLaren. It seemed like an interesting enough story on the face of it, as there are very few remaining, purely air-cooled specialist shops in the US. Volkswagen and Porsche aren’t exactly rolling out new ones every year anymore.
But, as with any good human-interest story that just happens to center around cars, it wasn’t until I learned about the people behind Freccia Brothers, Guinevere in particular, that I learned what makes Freccia Brothers Garage a town landmark.
Long before they got into Volkswagens, Frank and Gene originally specialized in repairing and customizing horse carriages with pinstripes and monograms. It’s no surprise, then, that the artistic gene would carry through the generations, which explains a lot about Guinevere, a graduate of The Art Institute of Boston.
Though she works full time as a photographer for a creative agency, she spends her “free time” at the shop promoting the family business on Instagram. Freccia has always been a family business with various descendants running the shop or working in it through the decades, but Guinevere is the first woman in the family to have an active and fixed role.
And it’s Guinevere’s role there that has made the shop what it is today. Whether it’s on Instagram or in real life, she’s helped cement the Freccia brand as one that aims to uplift people who “get out and drive,” as she says, as well as the community writ large.
Guinevere, named after the legendary wife of King Arthur, has harnessed a level of authenticity in her Freccia Brothers Instagram account so effective, she brings in customers with air-cooled engines from all over the country—even internationally. In a marketplace of millennials burgeoning into middle age who like to spend money on experiences rather than stuff and get back to the earth, her customers forge a bond with her through social media which become personal relationships. It’s how I know her, even though we grew up in the same town and I don’t even own a VW. It’s this authenticity and passion that takes regular car repair to a personal experience. And the garage is busier than ever.
During the 1960s, local auto magnate Malcolm Pray opened a VW dealership across the street that outsourced service work to Freccia Brothers, who had evolved from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. And until five years ago, they worked on all makes and models for regular maintenance and repairs. It was about this time that Guinevere moved back from Boston, resettling into her life in Greenwich. There, she saw an opportunity in a growing market.
As the interest in vintage VWs grew, Guinevere’s marketing expertise gradually began influencing the direction of the business. Her father and owner of the shop, Frank, named for his grandfather, wanted to streamline the business. With her help marketing their expertise in air-cooled engines, Freccia Brothers Garage began to narrow their niche, which in turn expanded customer interest and demand for their services. In the last two years, they went even further to work strictly on air-cooled vintage VWs. They are one of the very few shops in the tri-state area that specialize in only air-cooled VWs, with an emphasis on Buses and Beetles, the most popular of the vintage VW market.
As Freccia Brothers’ business evolved, their social media presence “blew up,” as Guinevere put it. Even now, amidst the pandemic (in some cases thanks to it), they are scheduling customers out in advance weeks at a time. Not bad for a shop with just two mechanics: Guinevere’s father, Frank, and her husband, Dave D’Andrea.
As Guinevere explained to me over a FaceTime and coffee this week, they are usually someone’s “fifth call.” After having little luck with local garages or VW dealerships who no longer have training or basic knowledge on air-cooled engines, customers—some from NY, NJ, MA, RI—find their way to Freccia Brothers through today’s version of word-of-mouth: social media. She said they are seeing more new customers, more variety in cars, and are busier than ever.
And so, too, have the problems changed. Air-cooled engines are among the easiest to maintain and repair, but the problems drivers face in today’s world are rapidly shifting. Fewer and fewer people know how to drive a manual transmission, people don’t know how to maintain or winterize old cars, and even the pandemic has presented new obstacles to car ownership. Owners of vintage cars like old VWs don’t just need frequent repairs—they also need personalized care and training. This personalized care is probably what has kept Freccia Brothers in business for so long, but it’s Guinevere’s touch that’s taking it to new heights this century.
During the initial uptick of COVID-19, when uncertainty shuttered retail businesses and sent everyone into quarantine, many small businesses had to find ways to adapt. Business owners and managers had to learn to take things mobile and improve their own social media presence.
One business, in particular, the VW Picture Bus, a trendy mobile photo booth used at wedding receptions based in Westchester County, NY, uses a 1972 Volkswagen Bus named Skye. Skye wasn’t reliable on the road and instead of being driven, it was towed from venue to venue—more of a prop than a vehicle. But when Skye found itself broken down in a shop in the spring, Guinevere was called in to consult, which she often does for area dealers who are not well-versed in air-cooled engines.
Since weddings, the bulk of the Skye Bus’s business, were being canceled, the owner of VW Picture Bus, Marissa, was worried about her business. She confided in Guinevere that they didn’t know how they were going to make it through the summer. Guinevere told me she “sat Marissa down and said, ‘here’s what we’re going to do…’” She coached Marissa on bringing their expertise outdoors, converting the picture bus into an at-home Drive-In Movie Theater and charging for private rentals. She also gave Marissa advice on how to leverage the Bus’s social media to bring in more engagement and more customers.
Frank and Dave got Skye back on the road, where it proceeded to spend the summer zooming all over Westchester County, not on a tow truck, with an entire new business model thanks to Guinevere’s personal touch. She sees it as her job to not just promote the family business but to help her customers figure out how to personalize and make the best out of their vehicles. “It’s because I’m just sitting here drinking coffee,” she says of her free time spent working at the shop and connecting with customers.
Guinevere told me about a customer who had been recently diagnosed with cancer and decided to buy an old VW to drive all over the northeast, visiting family and seeing the sights. The shop stopped all business and got to work on Clemi, the orange 1975 Bus, so as not to spare a single day that she could be on the road. In a text to Guinevere, Clemi’s owner said the Bus was “a joy making machine!” and thanked her for helping bring it into “fighting shape,” a profound word choice given her own tenacity.
Guinevere recently celebrated selling a restored VW Bus for $89,000. What made it fun wasn’t the commission, but teaching her new customer how to drive stick, a skill she believes is essential.
The garage has a Beetle in the shop right now that is a right-hand drive shipped in from London. Guinevere remarked that it was in rough shape, wondering if it had been stored in a box in the English Channel. It was explained to her by the customer that it was a very sentimental car that had been in the family since the early 70’s and to do whatever they could for it. “Very sentimental” is what Freccia Brothers does best. When it’s all done, the Beetle will head to its new home in Westport, CT, where it will be close to Greenwich for regular TLC.
While she does have a day job, Guinevere spends much of her time at the shop because it gives her more time to spend with her father. As an artist, she finds the shop “visually pleasing.” She says that social media has brought all of her interests together: she is able to be a part of the family business as their chief marketer while exercising her love of photography.
But I’ve seen Guinevere, standing outside the shop, saying hello to personnel walking by from neighboring dealerships, waving at cars as they drive down Route 1, customers dropping in and asking for her just to chat. I’ve even dropped by out of the blue to schmooze. Guinevere says she loves cars, but I believe it’s people who drive that she really loves.
Freccia Brothers’ Instagram account also leverages its popularity not just for its own business, but to give back to the community. They partner with local charities, particularly ones that help dogs, as this is a main initiative for Darla, the senior shop dog with a wanderlust to be envied by the world’s most accomplished explorers (she routinely takes herself for walks around car row; she is a known entity in Greenwich). Guinevere is getting ready to launch a campaign to “find your co-driver” partnering with local animal shelters to help rescue dogs in need, not just of homes, but of car windows out of which to stick their heads.
On Saturdays, Guinevere uses the Instagram account to help promote other local businesses that need a shoutout. She calls it “Small Business Saturdays” and she’s got a list booked out through the end of the year of people wanting to be featured on her page.
She told me about a fundraiser held for a very young local boy who was sick last year. The garage was able to raise enough money to buy the boy and his brother each a VW Power Wheels plus other assorted toys for Christmas. Of all her stories, it was this one that Guinevere seemed most proud of.
Guinevere should not be reduced to a “woman in automotive,” but since she is a woman in automotive, I had to ask: do you get any bullshit?
“Oh yeah,” she said laughing and rolling her eyes. People are so ingrained to think that automotive repair is an inherently masculine affair, they assume she is a man, despite her name. She added that people don’t think she can answer “real questions” about vintage VWs or the status of someone’s repair and are “shocked” to learn that she, too, can do work on cars.
She laughs it off with a casual indifference that I envy. To her, it seems, it doesn’t matter what people think. She’s not out here to bend gender norms or impress anyone, except whomever is pulling up in a 50-year old air-cooled motor in distress.
She left me with some parting words of advice for what to do with my spare time while we brace for potentially more winter COVID lockdowns. “In quarantine,” she said, “everyone should learn to drive stick and change a tire.”
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