When I was told that our friend Nino Karotta was organizing a meetup for readers of his site Totalcar and Jalopnik in Budapest's "Heroes Square" to show us American auto journos cars we'd never seen before I expected a small group of people to show up. Instead more than two dozen cars and about 50 true heroes educated us.
In retrospect, it makes a certain kind of sense that people deprived of great automobiles for decades by a Soviet government would appreciate automobile culture more than anyone. A lifetime of Trabants makes a BMW seem that much more valuable.
But I think it's more than that. If you had a lifetime of Trabants and can still appreciate automobile and not hate it then you are forever going to love cars. Therefore, on an unusually warm and humid day, in a parking lot meant for communist marches, I got to sample a mix of lustworthy Western European models and curious Eastern European cars.
It's hard to catalog all of the cars we saw because it was a blur of Fiat Puntos, Alfa 155s, Autobianchis, and Fords mixed with Skodas, Trabis, and Zaporozhets. I loved seeing a Sport Ka and, of course, an Alfa Romeo Montreal. Though, perhaps, the Eastern European cars were somehow more foreign and interesting to me.
Many of the cars were turned into rat rods, like a Wartburg pulling a Wartburg wagon. Some were just nicely preserved legacy communist era cars like the Trabant wagon I got to drive (more on that another time) and the Zaporozhets I sort of fell in love with.
Yet no matter if it was a perfectly renovated Fiat from the guys at Alfarium or a well-worn Lada, the uniting factor was that all the people saw in whatever car they had the sort of freedom of expression and movement that cars represent and we sometimes take for granted.
The person in the old Ukranian car didn't feel any less than the person in the newer Italian one (although they'd probably trade if given the chance). It was a great experience and I'd like to thank Nino and everyone for showing us around and also I want a Zaporozhets and a Skoda with an air-cooled engine in the back.