Wrenching for Empowerment: The All-Female Girl Gang Garage Builds Cars, Confidence, and Community

Markkus Rovito
Markkus Rovito November 30, 2022 7 min read

At a busy autoshop in Phoenix, Arizona, feverish work on a vintage car re-build presses on ahead of a deadline for a large automotive convention. Engine work, welding, grinding, painting, and polishing are all part of this large collaborative effort that has taken many months to transform a more than 60-year-old husk into a modern marvel. The fact that everyone working on this car restoration is female—a woman or a chaperoned girl—may still seem a little unusual to some people, and that is a big reason why Girl Gang Garage exists in the first place.

Veteran automotive industry expert Bogi Lateiner is a dealer-trained BMW technician and entrepreneur, having owned an award-winning boutique repair shop for many years. As the co-host of the MotorTrend+ original TV series All Girls Garage since 2012, she’s also a star in her field. But even celebrity status has not shielded Lateiner from the bias and gender inequities she and other women have experienced as female mechanics and automotive professionals. Not only do women in the field often feel like an “only” in their work environment, but also females often feel unwelcome and discouraged from entering the field in the first place.

As a way of addressing that gender gap, Lateiner started an all-female car restoration she called the Chevy Montage. The project was launched with the goals of bringing attention to women actively working in automotive and the skilled trades, showing that there are many women interested in those fields, and giving those women a place to meet, learn, and do where they’ll be greeted with a wholehearted “yes.” Since then, that initial project led to the founding of Girl Gang Garage, where more than 300 women—from actively working experts to complete novices—have participated in workshops, networking events, classes, and the hallmark all-female builds that restore vintage cars from junkyard to showroom condition.

Participants show up to collaborate, practice, and learn new skills with access to a fully equipped auto shop. But the largest benefit may be less tangible. “The most significant impact is the indelible connections made by women—often from entirely different walks of life—forging lifelong friendships,” Lateiner says. “They walk away inspired and connected with a supportive network of women.”

The finished Chevy Montage

Junk-to-Gem Car Restorations

With every vehicle build it executes, Girl Gang Garage wants to challenge the status quo with a unique and unconventional project that stands on its own, according to Lateiner. Then with the knowledge that each build was created by an all-female crew, they can change perceptions and create dialog and opportunities in the industry.

The first build, the Chevy Montage, took about 10 months and attracted around 100 women to help—30% of them with no previous automotive experience. Its base was a ’57 Chevy truck, but it incorporated a BMW M5 engine, which caused a bit of stir when it debuted at the 2017 SEMA Show. Next, the gang built what they called the High Yellow 56, another antique truck that was restored with a heightened emphasis on speed and aesthetic detail.

The finished High Yellow 56 build

“These are the fodder for changing hearts, minds, and opinions about a woman’s place and what the collective power of a diverse group of women working together is,” Lateiner says.

Skill-Building in the Garage

Camaraderie and networking make Girl Gang Garage an irresistible destination, but it’s also invaluable as a place of learning. Sky Watson, a self-described hobbyist at car restoration, says she joined Girl Gang Garage as a member “to learn new skills in a safe space among like-minded women.” Since then, she’s been able to learn automotive skills she had no chance to practice on her own, such as gas metal arc welding, precision grinding, and body shaping. But it was software skills that really opened new doors in Watson’s personal quest to restore a vintage car.

She attended a three-day Fusion 360 class that Autodesk offered at Girl Gang Garage, which she said, “opened my mind to its possibilities in the automotive industry.” After learning to navigate Fusion 360 in the class and with additional help videos and tutorials, she was able to start the process of designing a dome light replacement for her vintage car restoration. “Now I feel the freedom to recreate the part in Fusion 360 and have it printed,” Watson says. “That’s pretty exciting given the scarcity of the parts!”

Before Girl Gang Garage hosted the Fusion 360 training that Watson attended, most of their software design work was done by engineers in the group. However, the Fusion 360 workshop acted like a springboard for new users to now produce complex renders to be 3D printed for either the in-garage build or their home projects. “It has empowered an entirely new audience of women from varying walks of life” says Shawnda Williams, technologist, strategist, and member of Girl Gang Garage.

Just like Girl Gang Garage exists to dispel any notions that women can’t work in automotive jobs, Williams says that Fusion 360’s intuitive interface also helps squash the idea that beginners can’t work with a technical design software. She says the most important qualities for any Girl Gang Garage member to use Fusion 360 on automotive parts are creativity and curiosity. “This software is truly built with a non-technical audience in mind but powerful enough for the most technical person.” For women without technical experience trying the software for the first time, she recommends not being intimidated and beginning simply with Fusion 360’s self-directing interface showing you where to start. “You may be impressed with what you can create. Even the most complex of designs is just a collection of simple geometric shapes.”

Custom Parts with Fusion 360

Founder Bogi Lateiner and the Iron Maven at SEMA

Complexity plays a big role in Girl Gang Garage’s latest build, the “Iron Maven,” a 1961 Volvo PV544. The original 1958 PV544 2-door sedan updated the 1947 PV444 with a larger backseat, single-pane curved windshield, 4-gear manual transmission, and other details. Volvo made 440,000 total PV444s and PV544s from 1947 to 1965, and they became emblematic of the Volvo brand at the time. However, the old-styled cars were already throwbacks in their own time, and 60 years later, original parts can be difficult or impossible to find. However, with more of its members familiarized with Fusion 360 and custom fabrication, Girl Gang Garage has been able to think bigger and make bolder decisions for its latest all-female build.

“Iron Maven is steeped with technical complexities that sit nicely at the cross-section of automotive, engineering, and imagination,” Lateiner says. The group wanted to modify the old “family sports car” to make the Iron Maven look more aggressive and modern, as well as give it a more powerful engine. As an additional complication, Girl Gang Garage has integrated as much of the technology as possible from Volvo’s current S60 sedan, including the S60’s keyless entry system and the modern door handle, door lock actuator, and interior door handle carrier.

Some of that integration has required customized parts, and the gang has created five 3D-printed parts in Fusion 360 for the Iron Maven build. The most challenging of those, a new door handle cover, involved scanning the original handle and handle cover, identifying how they could be reduced in size, and then modelling a new cover in Fusion 360 that would be large enough to accommodate the keyless entry sensor and integrated door handle light, yet small enough to look natural on the PV544’s smaller doors.

First, they created a test piece from the scan data to ensure that the new cover would snap tightly onto the handle. Then they iterated a total of five prototypes to perfect the angles, scale, and the opening for the door handle light. Next, they body worked the part to be included as a finished piece of the final build. As a final touch, they painted it Rebel Berry to match the car’s color. Rebel Berry is a custom purple hue mixed in collaboration with BASF and was determined as the Iron Maven’s color by a public vote.

The Road to Change

On top of the complexity of its most ambitious restoration yet, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated matters further during Girl Gang Garage’s Iron Maven build. However, perseverance has paid off, and after about a year’s delay, the group debuted its Iron Maven Volvo PV544 build at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, November 1-4, 2022—one of the largest vehicle trade shows, and Girl Gang Garage’s customary home for showcasing its new builds at the BASF booth. With the group finished on what they call their most audacious project, now should be an opportune time to get involved as a participant, a donor, or an attendee of one of the garage’s regular workshops and classes. Girl Gang Garage has made an impact on many women’s lives and careers, but its achievements are not in the rear-view mirror. The most complex custom parts, the boldest builds, and more women assured in pursuing their dreams are still to come.

Follow Girl Gang Garage on Instagram and Facebook, or go to GirlGangGarage.com to get involved with participating or taking a class at the Phoenix location or to donate to the group.