For Chelsea Sweeney, cars just make sense.
“I’ve always liked fixing things,” she says. “And I just thought that [cars] were so cool.”
The Baiting Hollow resident is the co-owner, along with her husband Mike, of Hampton Car Club in Southampton. Opening last July, they took over what was home to Southampton Auto and Marine Upholstery, a mainstay owned by Mike’s father that served the area for about 40 years. Since taking over the County Road 39 location, its gears have shifted.
The mother of two serves as mechanic at Hampton Car Club while her husband focuses on the detailing and bodywork side of the business.
“I’m definitely more concerned with what’s going on inside of your car,” she says.
After working for years at GM dealerships on the west coast, beginning as a teen automotive technician in California, Sweeney returned to New York and became a tech at Southampton’s Jaguar Land Rover, where she achieved a perfect score on her practical assessment—the only person to do so on the continent.
Her nonchalance toward the distinction belies the high difficulty level of the test: “They put bugs in the car and they time you to fix it,” she says. “It was a little stressful.”
Under her vision, the Hampton Car Club offers the kind of souped-up mechanic experience that anyone who’s ever sat in a cold metal folding chair on a grease-stained garage floor waiting for their car has only dreamt of. Sweeney’s efforts include unique amenities, like their café situated near the main entrance, complete with tables and chairs as well as a small grab-and-go section for customers to hang out at while waiting. This spring, the café will offer coffee drinks and locally sourced hot food from a rotating roster of excellent East End food trucks, restaurants and caterers.
Services, of course, include what you might expect: repairs, general diagnostics, maintenance, expert detailing, window tinting and glass replacement. But there’s also a bevy of options that you won’t find from your garden-variety repair shop: Folks can also explore exotic car rentals, vehicle consignment and car storage.
Membership has two tiers, coyly designated as Unleaded and Premium. Unleaded is $99 and includes invites to the club’s special events, while premium is $199. The latter also includes priority treatment with regard to appointments, free diagnostics, a 10 percent discounted labor rate, free flat repairs, free top-offs of general fluids and access to a private conference room.
But the club is offering much more than tune-ups and oil changes.
“It’s very personal, what we’re trying to do here,” she says. “I want people to feel like they have full access and that it’s friendly.”
The café’s counter, Sweeney notes, is resourcefully made out of old sewing tables from her father-in-law’s former business, adding an extra unique touch to this already singular spot. Adjacent to the open-concept café is the detailing station, presently lined with a stunning beige Pierce Arrow and a couple of shiny Porches. Separating the café and the detailing station are shelves stocked with T-shirts and automotive memorabilia for sale.
Upstairs is the club’s newly renovated lounge for members, complete with a bar and plenty of plush seating arranged under a big screen TV. In February, Sweeney hosted a Super Bowl party for both club members and the public, as well as a Daytona 500 fete, where Sweeney put out a spread of food and drinks for fans of the annual NASCAR race. This month, on March 26th, members can enjoy a visit from the Ferrari Club of America’s Long Island chapter.
“There’s not always a lot of stuff to do around here,” she says. “I want people to feel like they can come here and have it be your ‘home away from home.’”
Beginning on May 6th, Hampton Car Club will host Cars and Coffee, a weekly Saturday morning event for all car enthusiasts to gather and grab a cuppa, with locally roasted coffee from North Fork Moto. For the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, the club will host a barbecue starting at noon.
For Sweeney, Hampton Car Club is very much a family affair, and her fellow four-wheeled fans are extensions of it.
“It’s really for everybody,” she says. “My father-in-law still comes by, my sister helps me with events. I want this to be a very comfortable space.”
Hampton Car Club, 471 County Road 39, Southampton, 631-600-2277. Open daily.