The more things change, the more Freccia Bros stays the same. In Greenwich, where longtime residents lament the changes including demolished historic houses, increased traffic, and the loss of mom-and-pop shops, to name a few, the Volkswagen mechanics at Freccia Bros are celebrating 100 years in business.
Frank Freccia, whose father and grandfather were both also named Frank, said people mispronounce his name all the time. (It’s pronounced free-shuh). But he doesn’t mind.
“My dad was Frank Jr, but everyone knew him as Skip,” he said. “He started working here full time when he got out of the Marine Corp. I am Frank the third.”
The business, passed down through generations, has evolved from its start in 1922 repairing and painting carriages.
“From what I understand, they were mostly painting, fixing and monogramming horse-drawn carriages when they started the business,” he explained. “When cars caught on, they started working on cars.”
And while the business has evolved, not much has changed inside the shop, including the wooden floors and vintage refrigerator.
The original Freccia Brothers were Frank’s great grandfather and his sons, and for years Frank worked alongside his father, grandfather and great uncle.
The business has had its ups and downs, struggling during the Depression and World War II when auto production for domestic use came to a halt.
Over the decades the business evolved with the times.
“If you’re around 100 years, you better evolve,” Freccia said, adding that during the 1950s, the business was a thriving used car dealership. “I’ve seen photos where there were 100 cars lined up.”
But the 1960s were a turning point. That was the decade that Freccia Bros started working on Volkswagens.
Freccia said he started hanging out at the family business at the age of 10.
“It was around 1972, and I spent every minute here that I wasn’t in school,” he said. “Volkswagens were everywhere back then.”
“You could stand out front and see 10 Volkswagens waiting at the red light,” he said, gesturing to the intersection of Putnam Ave and Edgewood Drive.
Freccia recalled how in the 1970s, salesmen would visit on a regular basis with Volkswagen mufflers and spark plugs in their trunks.
In fact, he said, Caldor’s in Old Greenwich had a dedicated Volkswagen parts section.
“Even Sears sold Volkswagen parts,” he added.
Affordable and Reliable Family Cars
Freccia said the 60s Volkswagens were no-nonsense, affordable, family cars. “It was all daily drivers,” he said.
While the cars were ubiquitous, they were also unique. First, their engines were in the rear of the car. But also, they were one of just a few foreign cars sold in the US at the time.
“Back then you had Volkswagen, Toyota and Datsun. Foreign cars were a totally different concept, and people were afraid to get into it,” Freccia recalled. “Though there were backyard mechanics, there were a lot of shops that wouldn’t work on Volkswagens because they were foreign cars.”
The Volkwagen Bug sold in America for about 30 years before the company halted US sales in 1979.
From there, Freccia said his family business pivoted to restoration of Volkwagens.
“That business has just never gone away,” Freccia said. “We’ve become specialized in our field. We have people from all over the northeast come here.”
At the start of the pandemic Freccia feared the business might suffer. But the opposite proved true.
He said, for example, older Volkswagen buses have become popular, and often sell at national auctions for between $100,000 and $200,000. He explained that the buses are referred to by the number of windows: 15-window buses and 21-window buses that also have windows on top.
Regardless of the price paid for a classic Volkswagen, the first stop off the tow truck or flat bed is Freccia Bros.
“They push them across the showroom floor. They don’t run or their breaks are no good. This is the first place everybody comes,” Freccia said, adding that he gets a kick out of being sought after.
“You never get rich,” he said. “But I love what I do. I wouldn’t do anything else. It’s hard to run a small business in America. But we’re staying afloat. We made it through the Depression, World War II, 9-11 and Covid.”
In fact, Freccia said he was pleasantly surprised at how the business thrived during Covid.
“I didn’t think people would be spending money on frivolous stuff. Back in the day, Volkswagens were for daily drivers. They were essential vehicles. You left them down at the train station. Now they’re all fun stuff – luxury stuff. But we’ve never been so busy ever, since Covid started.”
Freccia said the all the mechanics he knows who work on classic cars are experiencing something similar.
“Everybody is spending money on these cars. What’s the reason? Because they’re home, because they had a little more money, because they figure this is the end of the world, and let me have some fun first.”
Freccia said every day calls come in from people who say, ‘I just bought a Bug, I just bought a bus. I just bought a Karmann Ghia. Now I have a waiting list for my waiting list. I can’t believe this is what I do every day.”
And while prices for classic cars in the best condition have risen sharply in recent years, the Volkswagen Bug remains something of an equalizer with wide appeal.
Frank’s daughter Dart said, “I’ve been here when a guy comes in wearing a suit, and I’ve been here when a guy who flips burgers comes in and says, ‘I want a project to do with my son.'”
“Every day we have people come in here with cars that were at another shop, but they can’t fix,” Freccia said. “These are the easiest cars to work on – it’s just that a lot of these guys are technicians and go by what the computer tells them.”
“We get busier every year,” Freccia continued, adding that while in the 60s and 70s people junked their old Fords, Dodges and Cadillacs, people were loathe to get rid of their old Volkswagens because they were considered part of the family.
“These things keep coming out of the woodwork,” he said.
Freccia shakes his head in disbelief at the number of customers who buy a classic Volkswagen online.
“It amazes me,” he said. “People buy 50, 60, 70-year-old cars off Ebay and Facebook. They come from all over the country, sometimes all over the world. Why would you buy a 60-year-old mechanical device without knowing you can get parts or have someone to work on them?”
“Sometimes they don’t even call us first,” said Frank’s daughter Guinevere. “We just come in and there’s a Bug with a wish list and it says, ‘Hi, my name is Ava the Bug, and this is my owner’s name.'”
Guinevere said much of the appeal of classic Volkswagens is nostalgia and fond memories of simpler times.
“The cars make people happy,” she said.
And then there are the people who smile, wave and beep as they drive by the garage on West Putnam Ave. Freccia joked some of his friends tease him for how he waves greetings greetings to passing drivers all day.
“Most of my friends say they don’t wave or beep any more because they say, ‘I see you out there like an idiot waving all day.’ A lot of people wave at us who don’t know us. And people stop in just to say hello, that’s what really amazes me, not that they have a Volkswagen, but they say they’ve come by here their whole life and we’re still doing the same thing we were doing years ago.”
“People say, ‘Don’t change. Everything else in Greenwich has changed,'” he said. “It’s a good feeling to know that people look for something like this in this crazy world.”
Right now, Freccia said Guinevere and her husband Dave D’Andrea are both working at the family business.
“Our Dave is probably the best Volkswagen mechanic I’ve ever seen,” Freccia said. “He’s amazing.”
Freccia said he had no plans to retire, but expects keep the business going and keep it in the family.
“We offer first-class service, and friendly, guaranteed work. And honesty,” he said. ” I love what I do. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad day at work.”
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More information on Freccia Bros is available on their website.
Open Monday through Friday 8am-4pm
Freccia Bros is located at 246 West Putnam Ave, Greenwich, CT. Tel. (203) 869 2334