Chatting With Two Enthusiasts Who Are Creating Artwork And Redefining Automotive Journalism In Lithuania
Photography from Lithuanian car shows by Benjaminas Lekas
While visiting my hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania this summer, I noticed a colorful magazine in a local coffee shop. It was dedicated to cultural development of the second biggest city in the country: Kaunas. Intrigued, I flipped through its pages and was surprised to find a colorful Datsun illustration in one of the spreads. Paulius Gaurilcikas and Aurimas Margiris Girnys were the protagonists of this particular story introducing local readers to an ambitious project called Sumauta Pavara (“Meshed Gear”), a page for dedicated petrolheads who are interested in artfully curated stories, random facts, or more extensive articles about classic cars.
Even if Meshed Gear is only a hobby for its two busy writers who already have day jobs (Paulius is a Michelin representative for Baltic states, and Aurimas works as a lawyer), the project is already shifting automotive journalism in Lithuania. Both Paulius and Aurimas spend lots of time researching and seeing out special projects in order to tell the country’s mostly untold stories with the automobile, and the project has been well received with several thousand people tuning in for stories and artwork. The car scene in the country might be smaller than most and the names are a bit more challenging to pronounce perhaps, but I wanted to share this story to shed some light on a part of the world that isn’t known for its car scene and these two seemed like the right ones to talk to.
Monika Repcyte: What forms did your interest in cars take before this project?
Paulius Gaurilcikas: I remember quite vividly how my father’s friend came back from abroad and brought a German auto magazine with him. It must have been 1988 or 1989. I don’t recall the title of the magazine; maybe it was even the famous Autobild… As I couldn’t understand German, I was only flipping through the pages, appreciating the pictures. I will never forget the moment I saw the Porsche 911. I was thinking, here we are stuck with Moskvich and Lada, meanwhile somewhere people are driving cars like this?! I guess you could say it was a defining moment for my growing interest in cars.
Later on, I sporadically watched various TV shows about cars, but there weren’t many of them. A breakthrough came with the Internet, though. At first I was more intrigued by new cars, but gradually I developed a passion for classics. For me, new cars are a little blank, there are more interesting stories surrounding the earlier ones.
Aurimas Margiris Girnys: I’ve been interested in cars as long as I can remember. From the age of four I would ask my dad to sit on his lap and let me steer the wheel while he manipulated the pedals. As soon as I turned eighteen, I got my driver’s license. The automotive field is incredibly interesting, and definitely not only from the mechanical point of view. There are so many layers underpinning the history of automobiles, and as soon as I started diving into the subjects I was interested in I became very determined to unearth incredible stories that no one in Lithuania had heard.
MR: Paulius, you were the actual founder of Meshed Gear, with Aurimas joining you soon after; what was your vision for the project, and why did you choose Facebook as your medium?
PG: When I decided to create it I had been an automotive writer for quite some time. As a student, I was writing for a local magazine called Auto World, but only a few issues were released. Later I joined the editorial team of a magazine called Stories where I was responsible for the automotive section. Unfortunately, all these magazines I was writing for went bankrupt—I sincerely hope it wasn’t related to my performance! Around 2010 I had a blog of my own, because everyone at that time had blog, but I have to admit I wasn’t always consistent with this hobby of mine.
Nevertheless, I gathered a lot of information and I felt a need to systemize it in a form of articles which could be of interest to others. You know, people have been telling each other stories for thousands of years and that’s precisely what I wanted to do. Simple as that. This is why Meshed Gear was born: to share. I guess I chose Facebook because of convenience and engagement, but my vision was to tell stories that would be interesting not only to those who fall in this small category of “technically-oriented” people, but also for those who have no idea how a car engine works. I try to avoid specific stuff, such as horsepower or Newton meters while discussing automobiles, because I honestly don’t believe that it’s the most captivating information about the car, especially not older ones.
MR: In your social media descriptions, you insist that nobody’s interested in generic auto reviews anymore. Could you explain what exactly is wrong with what you call generic?
PG: To be fair, nothing is wrong with traditional automotive journalism—maybe our message came out too harsh. However, I believe auto writers should be divided into two categories. First, the ones who write mostly about new cars and dive into the technical stuff that can be measured, analyzed, and put into numbers and graphs. Their articles are aimed towards people who are interested in buying cars and keeping up with modern tech in general. Everything about that is alright, but I think that social media is slowly replacing these kind of articles, because people become more and more interested in the feedback of their peers; they’re not necessarily looking for a professional analysis anymore. The second category of writers are those who dive into historical, cultural details, who try to look at a car from various angles. This is the category we fall into. For example, I am not sure if I or Aurimas will ever own a Ferrari, but that doesn’t stop us from admiring the car as a piece of art, it doesn’t stop us from reading stories about it and sharing thoughts ourselves.
AMG: I completely agree with Paulius. Let’s take a Citroën DS; it’s a car and an art piece at the same time, and I mean that in a way that marketing campaigns don’t. This is a car that could be in MoMA. Even though they are fascinating with their engineering elements, it would be a shame to talk about technical details only when discussing the DS. When I was little, I really missed this approach to cars in the magazines I was reading. Talking about cultural impact, aesthetic statements. Perhaps it could only come with time though.
MR: You write a lot about Lithuania and the Baltics as well. I honestly doubt that many Lithuanians could tell me something meaningful about their automotive landscape, mostly because the country doesn’t produce anything of the sort. However, it doesn’t mean there aren’t legends and stories to be told! Which one of your stories from this country could interest a foreign reader?
PG: For starters, I think we should look back to our Soviet past. Of course, the Americans knew of the “Evil Empire” and they grasped the concept of the Iron Curtain, but I imagine it was nearly impossible to understand what it was like for a petrolhead to live in a country like this. There was even an anecdote about people receiving their cars twenty years after they ordered it. However, even in times like this, there were guys who managed to create quite competitive race cars like the Lada VFTS and Lada EVA with limited resources and only using modified Lada parts. They weren’t the fastest cars, but the ingenuity and gumption were there in spades.
AMG: When one such car showed up in a Finnish rally in 1988, it was compared to a Lancia 037, which is quite a compliment even though it’s hard to say how fitting that description really is. To add a story, I find it very interesting that one of the first prototypes of the Volkswagen Beetle actually spent most of its time in Lithuania! Somehow, some Soviets managed to acquire it and even if it reached Lithuania in a dreadful condition, I think that it’s since been restored and is being kept safely back in Germany.
PG: The interwar period in Lithuania was quite unique. There was an independent auto park, and the majority of it was comprised of American cars. At the time, they sold some American cars, mostly Fords, to the community living in Lithuania at the time.
AMG: In the end of the 1940s, Ford even planned a factory that was supposed to be built in the temporary capital, Kaunas. However, it never came to be because of the war. Isn’t it kind of mind-blowing? To think that somewhere in the Eastern Europe such a strong love for American cars was born and spread so quickly?
MR: Talking about Kaunas, some of Paulius’ illustrations feature exceptional classic cars in the backdrop of this city…
PG: I am incredibly fascinated by modernism. When Kaunas was a temporary capital of Lithuania (from 1920 until 1939), it underwent a spectacular transformation. So many new buildings were built at the same time and they all reflected the spirit of the times, which was modernism and art deco. My idea was to show my favorite buildings and beautiful cars from the era.
MR: What are the most spectacular cars that you have ever seen in Kaunas?
PG: Probably the weirdest one is the AG Excalibur (just Google it and add “Kaunas” to see what it looks like), whose eccentric appearance is due to some local guy who went to some, let’s call them, extreme lengths.
AMG: When the Soviet Union collapsed, the country saw an influx of various foreign made cars, including modified cars from well known tuners like Irmscher (Volkswagen, Opel, and Audi), but if there was anything attention-worthy it wasn’t very appreciated here, because there wasn’t much common knowledge about them. An interesting fact: when the Soviet pilot Yuri Gagarin was gifted a Matra Djet during his visit in France in the ‘60s, he didn’t like driving around in this eccentric car and preferred his own Volga. As far as I know, this Matra Djet is now kept in Kaunas, in a private collection.
MR: Before we go, what do you think about the future for Meshed Gear? What’s in store?
PG: Well, we’re not planning on creating a huge media channel because we don’t think it’s really possible in Lithuania. Our focus is to continue sharing stories that are worth being told while focusing on quality rather than quantity. However, we are pondering over the idea of making videos as well. Talking about our current projects, we’re working on a piece on Lithuanian tuning in the ‘80s. We’re doing our research, reading books and contacting people who are (or were) really active in this scene. Fingers crossed we will be able to create something really exceptional!
AMG: I agree with Paulius. It’s nearly impossible to make a living in Lithuania from writing articles only, so I believe Meshed Gear will remain our hobby, but yes, we do have thoughts about making some videos and larger projects if it makes sense. And I sincerely hope that our page will help build more interest around old cars and car culture in general in a part of the world not really known for it.