Could anyone possibly consider the 1982 Chrysler LeBaron the paragon of freedom? We’ve joined forces with Budapest-based American journalist Erik D’Amato to discover the magic of American iron in post-communist Eastern Europe. —Ed.
Greetings fellow Americans! You don’t know me, but we both know Peter Orosz—a.k.a. the Crazy Euro Car Boy—who lives across town from me here in far-away
Budapest, Hungary, and with whom I just witnessed a stirring sign that our nation’s great motoring legacy lives on, at least in some places where no one got to enjoy it the first time around because they were too busy being crushed under the boot of international communism.
For four days ending last Sunday, the 9th annual International US Car Festival took place on a field inside a disused military fort up on the Slovak border. We got there well after lunch on the last day, and thus missed most of the organized highlights, including the lowrider and bigfoot cartreading exhibitions, loudest car competition, and the “sexy car-wash all day long.”
Now, to be frank, you probably would haven written off most of the cars—and car owners—as tragic. Who brings a dinged-up ‘82 LeBaron to a car show?
Let me tell you who: Someone who in 1982 probably never dreamed they’d get to touch an ‘82 LeBaron—if he even knew what it was. And now he not only owns an ‘82 LeBaron, but gets to throw a suitcase in the trunk and drive the fucker wherever he wants, whenever
he wants, without worrying about getting pulled over and having his fingernails pulled out. Just like an American.
Political scientists and historians have now spent two decades arguing over the various factors that led to the collapse of communism. Was it the burden of trying to keep up with Star Wars, or the lack of consumer goods on the shelves? Sure, both probably played a role. But why not give Detroit a bit of credit? For there to have been more and better food and bigger apartments and silky-smooth toilet paper and 240D Benzes driven by senior managers over the fence was crippling to the system. But more and better food and bigger apartments and deodorant and silky-smooth toilet paper and red ‘75 ‘Vettes with aftermarket chrome sidepipes driven by mid-level managers? Fatal.
Call me a slushy old fool, but I smelled something on that field, and it wasn’t just sausages and potatoes stewing in paprika and hog fat. I smelled freedom, and it was coming from the cars.
Erik D’Amato is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the All Hungary Media Group, the CEO of media services startup EURADEX, and a (semi-retired) industrial spy. Photo of the author by Andreas Meichsner for The New York Times.
All photos of the event by Peter Orosz.