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Girl Gang Garage Project Iron Maven Volvo

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The Volvo PV544, "Iron Maven" sits on the SEMA show floor.

Photo: John Jackson, Not Stock Photography

Following my time at Girl Gang Garage working on the Iron Maven Volvo restomod, I found myself with a new sense of confidence in my place in the automotive world. Like many of the women who had participated in the build, spending a few days with a group of women building each other up and cheering each other on was inspiring. But in the weeks that followed, the excitement died down, and doubt crept in. I asked my husband, “what if everything we did doesn’t matter? What if it’s not as great as we thought it was?”

Then I arrived at the 2022 SEMA show in Las Vegas. There were five custom cars at the BASF booth, all hidden under black covers. Iron Maven was one of them. The energy in that crowded room helped the reality set in. There was a huge throng of people waiting to see the Volvo unveiled — women who had worked on the car, with loved ones surrounding them. Excitement buzzed in the air as Girl Gang alumnae reunited, catching up and anxious to see the completed car. The feeling was overwhelming; tears began to fall on my cheeks. Even before the car was revealed, I knew it was a huge deal. It made a difference. And indeed, it changed lives.

A few months back, I wrote about my experience working with Bogi Lateiner, co-host of the TV show All Girls Garage and founder of Girl Gang Garage. I joined a shop full of women, more than 160 in total, who contributed their time and skills — or learned to do things they’d never done before — to a lofty restomod project, fitting the hybrid powertrain from a 2019 Volvo S60 into the body of a 1961 Volvo PV544. Our reward? The Iron Maven’s massive reveal moment at the heart of the 2022 SEMA show in Las Vegas.

Full Disclosure: Volvo, which helped sponsor All Girls Garage and the Iron Maven build, flew me to Las Vegas to participate in the car’s first official unveiling. The automaker also gave custom coveralls to the women who participated in the project, which I plan to wear on all my garage adventures from here on out.

Driver's-side tail shot of the Iron Maven Volvo restomod on the SEMA floor

Photo: Lalita Chemello

Adopting a project car is a commitment – one you sometimes don’t fully grasp at the start. You find yourself daydreaming about how you’ll personalize it, or what you’ll work on after you have the mechanicals in check. The list grows larger and the project more complicated. Sometimes you fight – the car doesn’t want you to take off that one stubborn part. Working by yourself, there are days that leave you angry, bitterly defeated, or in a spiral of realization that you’re in over your head. But when (or if) you do finish, the feeling that follows is immeasurable.

Now imagine that project will be on display at SEMA. The event can be an overwhelming beast of a showcase for a first-timer, spanning more than a city block in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Cars, motorcycles, tools, upgrades, and more are showcased on multiple floors, with enough chrome to put the Woodward Dream Cruise to shame. Realizing the Volvo I helped build would be there in that crowd nearly made my head spin.

On the day of the big reveal, the Iron Maven sat covered in black cloth alongside four other builds, all sponsored by BASF. Dozens of Girl Gang Garage alumnae surrounded the Volvo, wearing t-shirts and coveralls commemorating us as members of the Iron Maven build team. Friends and family crowded around too.

Large crowd surrounds Iron Maven Volvo build at the BASF booth at SEMA

Photo: Lalita Chemello

Danae Buschkoetter, the badass who taught our group to weld during my Girl Gang visit in July, was pretty emotional herself leading up to the reveal. “I cried a few times,” she told me at SEMA. “Inside, I was still very emotional. I mean, just the amount of people that go to SEMA, and our car had the opportunity to be there. It was just so incredible to me, because where I’m from, we don’t get opportunities like that.”

For a good 10 minutes after Iron Maven was unveiled, it was impossible to get anywhere near the car. Everyone was friendly, helping one another get group photos, reuniting Girl Gang members from throughout the build. Lateiner, who had been finishing the car until the moment it rolled onto the show floor, had only caught a few hours of sleep, but she joyfully stood for photos with everyone who asked, including me. She was beyond exhausted, but she made sure to let every woman there know how much she was appreciated. The feelings went both ways, with Girl Gang alumnae letting Lateiner know how the experience had inspired them, and how they planned to pay forward her efforts by introducing new women to the automotive field.

The Volvo S60 engine looks nearly wedged into the small frame of the PV544. But it does fit.

Photo: Lalita Chemello

“Looking at Bogi and the impact that she’s made on so many women, it’s kind of pushed me,” Buschkoetter told me. “I’ve always been an advocate for the trades. So it has pushed me to push myself to be more impactful and find different ways to get my voice heard.”

For Alex Coté, one of two Volvo Certified Technicians who worked on Iron Maven, seeing the completed car debut at SEMA opened her eyes to possibilities beyond the shop. As a factory-trained Volvo pro, Coté served as an on-hand expert during her visit to Girl Gang Garage, helping out whenever someone had a question about the complex components of the modern donor car. “It’s pretty cool to have people come to you for answers when they don’t know something,” she told me at SEMA.

The rear window of the Iron Maven Volvo Project, reads "Iron Maven"

Photo: Lalita Chemello

Both Buschkoetter and Coté hope to parlay the excitement of the Girl Gang build and the SEMA debut into project cars of their own. Coté is making room to jump into a build at home; Buschkoetter discovered a latent fascination for drag cars. Neither woman feels intimidated or afraid to take on such projects, because they know they’ve done it before. And if they run into problems, they can reach out to their new, vast network of wrenching ladies for all the advice, support, or helping hands they might need.

The 1961 Volvo PV544 with a 2019 Volvo S60 hybrid powertrain and chassis, sits on the show floor at SEMA

Photo: Lalita Chemello

“You know it’s a hard industry, but you can totally be in it,” Buschkoetter told me. “And there’s several women out there that are going to help back you. I mean, look at us — there’s 160 of us that said we would back Bogi on her crazy idea for this Volvo. There’s […] a support system out there that these women can reach.”

Every woman who worked on this project — all 160 of us, who contributed thousands of hours of work across 18 months — came away with something invaluable, something that can’t be taken away from us. For me, it was the ability to apply my newly-learned skills on my own vehicular projects at home. For Buschkoetter and Coté, it was the inspiration to jump into hobbies they’d never pursued before.

There was a phrase printed on the t-shirts and coveralls the Girl Gang wore to the Iron Maven reveal: “If she can see it, she can do it.” This restomodded Volvo, and Lateiner’s hard work, provided a beacon of hope and support for women who had dreamed of getting involved with cars, but might not have known how to take the first step. Lots of us plan on sticking with it for the rest of our lives. And we’ll be here to help each other make it happen.

Piece of the car from the Iron Maven project with every female participant's signature

Every woman who participated in the project signed this piece of the car.
Photo: Lalita Chemello

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