I Was a Guest in Bogi Lateiner’s Girl Gang Garage

Me Working On The Iron Maven. Photo: Volvo
Me working on the Iron Maven. Photo: Volvo

Atop a glass cabinet in Bogi Lateiner’s Girl Gang Garage, a sign proclaims: “They told me I couldn’t, that’s why I did.”

That sums up Bogi’s philosophy perfectly and sets the tone for her all-female shop, where Bogi and her girl gang are building a one-off car with the body of a 1961 Volvo PV544 on a 2021 Volvo S60 Polestar Engineered chassis. Basically, think about squeezing a new Volvo sedan into a classic Volkswagen Beetle and you’ll get the idea. Bogi dubbed the car the “Iron Maven” and it fits perfectly.

I spent the day with Bogi and several other women, learning how to weld and use various tools to build this project car. The fact that I’ve never wrenched on a car before was a little intimidating at first, but also exhilarating. Walking in the door of Bogi’s shop fills you with confidence because she assures you not only that she’s going to help you learn, she’s here to make mistakes and learn, too. It’s empowering.

Related: What Drives Her: Bogi Lateiner Is Empowering Women To Take Control Of Their Auto Repair Experience

Iron Maven. Photo: Volvo

Iron Maven. Photo: Volvo

From Harvard Law to Technical School for Mechanic Training

A Volkswagen Beetle, incidentally, was Bogi’s first car and it sits in a place of honor in front of her Phoenix, Arizona-based shop. She loved that Beetle so much that when she was an exchange student in high school in Hungary, she picked up a nickname to replace her given first name, Sarah.

“My Hungarian friends gave me a new name; Boglarka, which is a type of flower and that turned into Bogi, which actually means beetle,” Bogi says. “The VW Beetle is the car that got me started down this automotive path. So, it stuck for multiple reasons.”

While still in high school, Bogi enrolled in shop class over her guidance counselor’s objections and offered up her VW Bug for a full restoration.

“My counselor said to me, ‘Why would you want to do that? You’re smart. You can go to college,’” Bogi remembers. “That fueled me even more.”

However, she never really thought of being a mechanic as a career path; she just enjoyed working with her hands. She hadn’t been exposed to that as a career and Bogi says it didn’t click that this was something she could do as a profession.

Ultimately, Bogi did take the college track, at first. She graduated and had all intentions of becoming a lawyer after high school, and earned her degree from Oberlin College with a double major in Women’s Studies and Pre-Law. As she finished her college work, she set her course for Harvard Law School.

But before she got there, she had a reckoning with herself and realized she was going the wrong direction. To the confusion of some of her friends and family, Bogi enrolled at the Universal Technical Institute to learn how to be a mechanic instead of practicing law. And she hasn’t looked back since.

Related: This Girl Has Drive: Inspiring Woman Aurora Straus, Teen SportsCar Racer with Harvard On Her Radar

Bogi, Porsha, And Me. Photo: Volvo

Bogi, Porsha, and Me. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Making the transition to full-time mechanic

Even after graduating from UTI, finding a job as a mechanic who also happened to be a woman wasn’t easy. Finally, a BMW dealership hired her and Bogi worked as a well-respected mechanic for seven years. Meanwhile, she was in an unhealthy relationship and found herself stuck in a rut.

“I had lost sight of the goal and the vision,” Bogi says. “Fortunately, I had some amazing friends that intercepted me and encouraged me onto a different path. And in about a year’s time, I rewrote my life.”

She quit her job. She broke off the relationship. And she started her own business. After a year and a half of fixing cars in her driveway, she took the leap and opened her own shop. In the process, she found herself again.

“When I started my own repair shop, it was focused on women from the start,” Bogi says. “And it was getting me back to the point of all of it, which was that I love automotive and I love working for women’s empowerment and women’s rights. So how do I bring those two together? I did that in my shop. I was very committed to creating a space for women technicians to get their first start.”

Related: Rebelle Rally: Empowering Women Off Road

Kristin Welding! Photo: Volvo

Kristin welding! Photo: Kristin Shaw

Learning how to fit in

Bogi Lateiner’s Girl Gang Garage isn’t just a place. It’s a movement, picking up energy from the sweat and tears of the hundreds of women who have passed through her door. Inside the garage, women spend an hour, a day, a week, or more learning and sharing their own dreams. Bogi sees the culture up close and she understands both where women in automotive come from as well as where they’re going.


“One of the biggest things I’ve learned was how quickly women will say ‘it’s because I’m not good enough,’” Bogi says. “’What am I doing wrong? Why doesn’t this fit? It’s not working the way it’s supposed to. It’s something wrong with me, right? Why am I not good enough? Why am I not smart enough?’ It’s immediate, and I would watch it happen over and over again.”

Men, Bogi has observed, blame the tools or the engineers. She has seen them go outward with the blame and women go inward. On her first all-women build, Bogi and a friend spent two days assembling and disassembling the front end of a Chevy truck and it wasn’t aligning properly. Bogi realized she was thinking the same things: “What are we doing wrong? What’s wrong with us?” They were banging their heads against the wall and feeling frustrated with themselves. Finally, Bogi called a guy friend and explained to him the situation. Quickly, the perspective flipped.

“He said, ‘Oh yeah, those fenders are all crap. You gotta cut ’em and just make it fit,’” Bogi remembers. “I was terrified to make the first cut. And then once I got over that, that’s just what you do. So now everything I see, I’m like, ‘Okay. Make it fit.’”

Related: Jessi Combs Foundation Awards $30,000 To Women Pursuing Automotive Trades

Learning In The Girl Gang Garage. Photo: Volvo

Learning in the Girl Gang Garage. Photo: Kristin Shaw

Stepping up to represent women

Bogi realizes that in a career that’s comprised of more than 95% male mechanics, she doesn’t quite fit and she’s ok with that. She’s geared up to represent women in the industry and understands she’ll be judged on their behalf, whether that’s fair or not.

“I may be the first female technician that somebody’s ever met,” she says. “And if I don’t leave a good taste in their mouth as far as the value and integrity and professionalism, then they’re going to judge all future women in this role.”

Where Volvo comes into play on this build is helping to represent women who work on cars in the public eye and show that men and women can be equally successful at this work, Bogi says.

On this Volvo build, two female technicians from Volvo dealerships in Atlanta and Colorado Springs are visiting and together we strip out the brake lines and replace them with flexible hose. I didn’t know I could do that, and I’m euphoric about the accomplishment of something new.

At Bogi’s Girl Gang Garage, every woman who spends time here has had a hand on the build and while it’s not the easiest way to build a car it’s certainly among the most meaningful. Women come in and out of the shop and it’s like writing a story line by line with a different person writing each one and picking up where the last left off.

“I think this is very empowering, especially for young girls,” says Porsha Conrad, the Volvo technician from Colorado. “They’ll see this and think, ‘I want to be like them.’”

Alex Cote, Porsha’s counterpart from Georgia, agrees that the impact is consequential.

“What’s so important is that Bogi shows that women can do this stuff too,” Alex says. “I love the idea that it’s an all-women build and it’s nice to have her support for women. I feel that some people want to give working on cars a try but they don’t know how. It’s very inspiring; honestly, when I was there seeing the Volvo project car, I was thinking that I have really wanted to start a project car and was intimidated. Now I’m pumped up to try it myself.”

While Bogi is shattering stereotypes and shaking up the car world with unexpected project cars like the Iron Maven, she’s starring in MotorTrend’s popular “All Girls Garage” and jets back and forth across the country. She doesn’t seem to sleep and when someone in the shop asks her about balance, she stops and gives us an authentic, raw answer that resonates with all of us.

“I actually take issue with the whole idea of work/life balance,” she says thoughtfully. “I feel like it’s just one more way in which women get to feel bad about themselves for not living up to this standard that doesn’t actually exist. Nobody has it, and that does not make you less than, it makes you human. It ebbs and flows.”

There is great comfort in that sharing, and the women around the table nod because they get it. They’re all here to make mistakes and jump into the off-beat rhythm of working on something much bigger than this one car. It’s a car that represents what’s possible.

Disclosure: I was a guest at Bogi’s Girl Gang Garage courtesy of Volvo. All opinions are my own

Writer. Car fanatic. Mom. Kristin is the co-owner of auto review site Drive Mode Show and a nationally-published writer... More about Kristin Shaw