In 1965, shortly after his father’s death, Mike Cegelka’s mother got ripped off when buying a Ford from a dealer on lower Broadway in Kingston. Outraged, at age 14, Cegelka decided to be the change in the world he wanted to see, an honest and fair person in the automotive industry. Being mechanically inclined, he developed that aptitude by taking a series of garage jobs in New York and Virginia. It was an old-fashioned apprenticeship.
Twenty-four years ago, the Hurley resident started his own automotive repair shop, Especially Swedish, which has operated at two locations on Route 212 between Saugerties and Woodstock. As its moniker implies, the garage specializes in the maintenance and repair of Volvos and Saabs long out of warranty – he typically doesn’t meet new customers until they’ve put 150,000 miles on their car. Certain models of Subarus no longer in production have Saab-related components, so Especially Swedish fixes those also.
Ask around. Especially Swedish enjoys a stellar reputation in a field notorious for shady — sometimes sexist — characters. Mike’s quietly proud of his shop’s reputation.
A few of his customers are extremely famous musicians, who probably own other cars, but for the image and the nostalgia they keep the old Volvo they bought back in the day, and they trust Mike with its upkeep.
Cegelka’s discreet – he wouldn’t divulge any celebrity customer names – but during the interview for this article the dashing writer and photographer, Stephen Green-Armytage, 74, a native of Bath, England who divides his time between New York and Woodstock, came to pick up his much-loved Saab, which he’d bought second-hand and has owned himself for about a decade.
“We replaced our old Saab with another Saab, and one of the reasons was that we felt (Especially Swedish) could be relied upon not to play games with us,” he said.
Green-Armytage said that he’d chosen to buy his first used Saab when he and his wife bought their country place. After doing some research, they chose to buy a Saab because they wanted a car which had front-wheel drive, fuel injection and disc brakes, and in order to carry camera equipment, Stephen wanted a fold-down backseat.
“We really didn’t have a choice!,” said the Saab enthusiast and author of “Extraordinary Chickens” and its sequel, “Extra Extraordinary Chickens,” a Cegelka customer for at least 15 years. Stephen said he appreciates the way Mike sends him a mailed reminder about scheduled oil changes.
“He keeps track of when we last did what,” the photographer said.
Green-Armytage then told me a rather typically British “stepped on the ping-pong ball” automobile anecdote. It was about the time he had an assignment from Fortune magazine to photograph the chairman of General Motors and the ensuing awkwardness when circumstances required that the chairman need ride in the old Saab’s passenger seat.
“Our average customer is slightly eccentric and each is delightful in their own way,” said Cegelka, after Stephen had left. Green-Armytage was neither thrilled nor particularly unhappy that his computerized electric throttle repair set him back about $800, and not the $600 he’d personally estimated.
“We really have very few problems dealing with people,” said Mike, who added that since he often sees individuals when they’re “up against a wall,” facing several hardships all at once, such as surviving a car accident next combined with the inconvenience and expense of vehicle repair, he’s comfortable with allowing customers to vent.
“My personality is just to be calm,” he said.
When repairing a vehicle no longer makes economic sense, and money is in fact the issue, Mike delivers the bad news professionally. Then he refers the customer to his friend Dave Hanzel, who has a separate office inside the Especially Swedish building. Hanzel sells reliable used cars – mostly Swedish – which run well but may have fairly high mileage. Cegelka and Hanzel have worked as separate but complementary businesses in this fashion for about 20 years.