Friday, 15 July 2011

Wild East

(Originally published at on 29th May, 2009)

„So, what is it like where you live, Wilson?” I asked my old friend from Tennessee, America. It was quiet. The lake had been within the distance of throwing a stone, the field was busy with crickets and some deers were mating in the forest according to the noises we heard. Besides that, only the exhausted engine was cracking behind us, the only technological monster in this scenery. „Pretty much like this…” he answered. He stared into the distance. So did I for almost an hour. We were enjoying peace for a while. Heading back to the civilization I looked in the mirror while taking the forest route. Wilson was sleeping on the back seat… or praying, I couldn’t tell. Maybe he was just dreaming about God. I was wondering. We were seperated by thousands of miles in distance, a thousand years of culture, approximately 40 years in age but we still had something in common. If he hadn’t been a committed Christian he could have easily been a moonshine runner as well – I was thinking. Although we didn’t have booze in the trunk (for both of us had been on a mission) nor a V8 under the hood we were still riding fast deep in the forest… just like a moonrunner. Wilson just not happened to notice this. But I tell you, it was a real hot ride in the woods, somewhere in South-West of Hungary…

The county I have been living is mutually called as the ’rebel one’. Back, more than a thousand years ago it was the property of a chief called Koppany, who, according to ancient pagan laws ought to had been king the first time for the then fresh nation and planned to continue pagan rituals. He was ultimately executed and Saint Stephen became the founder of state being the first king of Hungary in 1000. Somogy county (pronounced more or less as ’shomod’) had been the birthplace of many national racing legends in Hungary.

Also, Hungary had been at the birth of automobile industry and racing. Janos Csonka, who, along with  another Hungarian bloke Donat Banki, ivented the carbureator. Then a third bloke, named Jozsef Galamb happened to be one of the main designers of the Ford Model T. The very first Grand Prix ever organised (the series, which in later was turned into modern Formula 1) was again won by a Hungarian, Ferenc Szisz and many-many more. Do you think Hungary is ’hot rod’ enough?

Unfortunately, history crossed all plans concerning automotive successes as well. Two World Wars, changing systems in the meanwhile from monarchy to democracy, then to communist dictatorship, then back to governed monarchy, followed by fascist dictatorship just to be replaced by communist dictatorship again for 40 years to be concluded in democracy for the past 20 years.

If you walk in Hungary, you will not see ’street rods’ as expected. Rules concerning street legality are  very strict. Also, the cars made or imported in the ’30s and ’40s were mostly destroyed during the wars thus the main experiences concerning automobile customising for performance come from all those vehicles that had been produced 30-40 years ago. Of course, the whole hot rod scene (or I should say culture) is being more and more popular, but we have a slightly different definition of hot rodding. Drag racing is also getting more and more popular but this isn’t again where we come from…

…and this is the part where we turn back to my friend Wilson, who, by my belief of his poential bootlegging business. Hungary’s traditional alcohol would be vine. Up in the hills you may inevitably meet with vineyards. And if you take many gallons of vine int he car, you got to prepare it to the mission. Jut like a moonrunner. And there is a car as the perfect choice.

The one that is known internationally as the Lada Riva. The Russian muscle car. Of course it was not ’Riva’ in the domestic Russian market and first it wasn’t even named as ’Lada’. It was simply called the ’Zhiguli’ upon the mountain located near the factory. Based on the Fiat 124 (just being more stiff), it had a very simple FR layout but extremely effective. Note all today’s current Toyota AE86 freaks that the ’hachi-roku’ was being developed under the codename ’Project Zhiguli’ because the Japanese’s only intention with that car was the beat the impressive Soviet mountaineer. These cars participated in the first drift events in Eastern Europe, it is just the lack of horsepower that makes them incompetitive.

Going on with cars, let’s take the legendary Trabant. A REAL woody. I mean it was actually made of plywood. Impressive turning abilities compensated for lack of power. 2 cylinder 2 stroke engines created the legendary ’Trabant-sound’ that has being mocked by comedians today. And it also had a cool 50s retro-look making it a great base car for customizing. The Polish Polski Fiat 126P could be concerned as the communist Mini. Again, based on a Fiat, it had a rear mounted engine with less the size of the Mini. If you took it to icy roads you got the greatest driving experience ever. There were other RR layout cars as well, the now VW-subsidiary Skoda from the then Checkoslovakia, now Chez Republic. Groovy desgin and the RWD, rear engine experience made it to a racer (especially the 130 ’Rapid’ version that was a fastback, nicknamed as the ’communist Porsche’). All of these werejust everywhere if you watched!

These were just a few cars to mention, there were many more produced within the communist block, just to be tuned, hot rodded, raced in rallys, hillclimb runs. Built as sleepers or highly aggressive challengers for international competitions even up to the highest classes of motorsports if you watched closely. Today you can get virtually any car on the planet, losing the vintage feel for upgrading rides for dusty roads somewhere beyond the woods, somewhere in the middle of Europe. These scrapmetal heaps on wheels were once respected and customised by enthusiasts and many of them are still running the roads.

We have modern cars, we have a Formula 1 race held every year, but experiencing one of these vintage models tuned up to the extreme by vintage methods in a sideways motion on the dust. The spirit of racing and customising is within. There are just different concepts and possibilities.

If you liked this article, we may get into details later with cars, customising, hot rodding, and the whole scene!

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