Celebrating Detroit at an American Car Show in Hungary

Nagy Attila Karoly and Mate Petrany

Friends of fossil-fueled Americana gathered in Komarom, Hungary, on the south bank of the Danube river, to celebrate those rare but beloved Detroit-built machines that have emigrated to central Europe. This was the scene at the 19th International American Car Festival, and while it took place during a brutal heat wave, that couldn’t jeopardize the fun taking place nearly 5000 miles from Michigan’s motor city.

The human desire to stand out can take many forms. Yet few communities boast a variety quite like this, where fans of Austrian-built Chrysler minivans can unite with mothers who wholeheartedly love their Pontiac Azteks–not to mention a fire-breathing Soviet monster truck, a sort of Volga El Camino built to slay humble Kias.

Celebrating Detroit at an American Car Show in Hungary

Nagy Attila Karoly and Mate Petrany

Hosted in a fortress first built by the Romans sometime in the 1st Century and located on what’s now the border with Slovakia, the largest annual American auto festival in Hungary meets every one of your car-show expectations, as long as they include bad food, questionable music, and cars that have no value where they came from.

And a vast number of happy people who, presumably, prefer to order their Coca-Cola in ounces, not liters.

While both Scandinavia and Germany are somewhat famous for having a thing for American cars, Hungary isn’t far behind. The classic car scene here is stronger than you’d expect in a country of less than ten million. But in a land historically drawn to the efficiency of small four-cylinders, nothing feels more exotic than a stylish V-8 cruiser that eats up £6-a-gallon gas faster than drunk people plowing through cheeseburgers from a McDonald’s drive-through.

Compared to fragile European vintage, Detroit iron can be an easy choice in terms of reliability and maintenance as well. Not to mention, entry into this cheerful lifestyle of big cars formerly only seen on TV can be delightfully cheap. Most American vehicles arrive in Europe through a Dutch port, and if there’s one thing my travels have taught me, no matter where you land in the EU, the neighbor of your neighbor’s cousin almost certainly has a loud, proud, mildly inconvenient chunk of Americana in the garage.

Celebrating Detroit at an American Car Show in Hungary

Nagy Attila Karoly

Celebrating Detroit at an American Car Show in Hungary

Nagy Attila Karoly

The International American Car Festival was a four-day extravaganza with no shade in sight, where groups used inflatable swimming pools or pickup beds filled with water to counter the strikes of global warming.

One truck even acted as a wave pool, for those keen on such a stop-and-go experience. Kids got busy trying to decide which was better–a bone-stock DeLorean or a surprisingly faithful KITT replica. In this demographic, the Trans Am won.

This group of happy campers was never going to bring big-buck rarities to a sand pit in the country.

The third-generation F-Body is always well represented at Hungarian classic car events. The rest of the field was an eclectic mix of personal dream rides, rolling male compensators, miscellany from a budget shipping container, a strong showing of second-generation Chrysler Grand Voyagers, the constantly popular grey-market import Mopars and Camaros, and of course, all the modern Mustangs that would fit in the parade. One sign of globalization: Getting a Mustang in Europe used to be a challenge.

Now, it’s officially imported, and getting into one is easier than hopping into a Fiesta.

Celebrating Detroit at an American Car Show in Hungary

Mate Petrany

You’re familiar with “the brown note,” a hypothetical frequency purported to ruin your pants. The unmistakable sound of an American vee engine–be it a Harley-Davidson twin-cam, a Chevy small-block, a Ford Coyote, or the big-block rumbling under the hood of a ’61 Imperial–might have a similar effect on this crowd at close range. It’s a specific type of sound wave that narrows the gap between generations, uniting all sorts of people in the joy and companionship of big, bold cars in a faraway place, riding on the fumes of incomplete gasoline combustion.

We are directed by emotions catalyzed by mysterious biochemical reactions. The universe seems just a bit more on track when you’re surrounded by friendly folks from neighboring countries, united by a cloud of tire smoke and dusted with fine-ground rubber.

After a Bumblebee Camaro with Polish plates bailed out of a burnout at the verge of overheating, a couple follows suit in a Challenger R/T, punishing their tires until one of the rear fenders gets destroyed to the standards of the event. Previously, the husband introduced himself as “Ebay Joe,” and the car is almost definitely for sale, in case you’re living in central Europe and prefer your Dodges well broken-in.

Later comes a crew well-versed in the magic of hydraulics. They’re called Low Rider Amistad, and they live to scrape pavement.

To end the day, both the Chevy-powered Blazer monster truck and its GAZ-66-based, Volga-bodied Soviet buddy break down, the latter rather spectacularly, breaking an axle shaft on landing. However, they’ve destroyed a European Ford Escort and a Ford-based Kia in the process, so it counts as a victory.

As my friend Attila and I leave the event in his four-cylinder Renault Megane wagon, we pass a yellow Pontiac G8 on the highway to Budapest.

GM’s Zeta platform, now more appreciated than ever.

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