Friday, August 20, 2010

Interview with Stipistop's Szilagyi Mihaly

I am a huge fan of Stipistop, the Hungarian car (and other modes of transportation) website.  It has a simple and effective layout.  There are Polaroids with snapshots and brief descriptions below each picture.  If a picture interests you, you click on it and are transported to another site.  You don't need to understand Hungarian to navigate it.  It is universal.

Stipistop will come out with an English version soon.  Its editor-in-chief was kind enough to answer a few questions:

1. Why are Hungarians so fascinated with cars (as compared to other Central and Eastern European countries)?  For example, Hungary hosted its first F1 race before the fall of Communism.

Good observation. Yes, we seem to be obsessed with motorsports. The largest spectator sport in Hungary is rally racing. I don’t exactly know the reasons. One guess I have-- we have been deprived of our cars during and after WWII. So up until 1985, having your own car was a big thing. It’s hard to imagine for your readers, but between 1960 and 1985, it was not unusual having to wait 8 to 10 years to be allowed by the government to buy a new car. When I say car, I mean a Trabant, or the better scenario, a Lada.
So that might be one explanation. The other thing is, during socialist times, we could only travel abroad once every four years. So traveling (or mobility) in itself was and I guess still is a romantic and exciting thing.  But these are just my guesses, and some other readers from Hungary may disagree with me, or have better reasons to explain this.

2. For the gearhead visiting Hungary, what are two or three places he should visit in your country?
A track day at the Hungaroring to get a taste of the local tuner culture.
Downtown Budapest on a Saturday afternoon– just strolling around and spotting the evening cruisers.
Renting a local biker with his pedicab, and go up to Castle Hill. 
Renting a Trabant

3. Give us an idea of what Hungarians drive.  Is the percentage of car owners in Hungary similar to Western Europe?  Higher?  Lower?  What make/model cars do office and factory workers drive?  Well-paid managers and business owners?  
Well, 15 years ago, there were still a lot of Trabants, Ladas, Dacias and old Skodas on the roads. Gradually, they have disappeared, and have been replaced by imported German and Belgian used cars. The average guy with low income would normally drive a 10 to 15 year old rust box. Nissan Micras, Opels, VW I’s and II’s, etc.
If you become a manager at a big company, like SAP, Coca Cola, or Microsoft, then usually a VW Passat, a Volvo, or a Toyota is what you get.  Government’s choice is Audi.

The best selling car here is Suzuki (they have a huge manufacturing plant in Hungary.)  Second best selling car is Opel, and Fiat is there in the the lead too.

4. What was the state of the car industry in Hungary during the Cold War?  What cars are manufactured in Hungary now?
We had a lot of microcars.
Nowadays we have Audi, Suzuki and Mercedes manufactured here. We do not have our very own car brand.  The only thing that comes close is IKARUS, the famous and reliable bus brand. 

5. Tell us about your own cars.  I remember the profile of your Ape in Jalopnik.  What else do you have?
I’m a big fan of old cars and vehicles, but as I get older (turning 32 next year), I am also less enthusiastic about purchasing them. I found the Ape on Ebay, and bought it from Naples without knowing what I was getting myself into. It cost a 1000 euros to buy, and an additional 4000 to renovate. It was a nightmare, but the little time I spent with it was of course worth the effort. I have never been looked at or cheered by so many people in any other vehicle in my life. It was the best “car” to win smiles with from cute girls.

Saying what I just said, my other car is a Chevy P60 Step Van that I am renovating now. I’d love to turn it into a pancake food truck, running under the Stipistop brand, but this is a distant dream for now. This is the baby.

I currently drive a Skoda that runs on LPG. It was given to us by Skoda, because we are running a blog on LPG. I must say it’s an educational experience… I now am a strong believer in gas, and would be happy to suggest it to anyone. Less pollution, more money in the bank, peace of mind, and a modern, accessible system all in all. That is what LPG is.

6. You have a website called Stipistop.  I am a big fan of it, even though I can't read Hungarian.  How would you describe your website to a stranger?
It’s a smorgasbord, with appetizing and exciting vehicular bites every single day for the last two and a half years. We had this “insight” so to speak. There were all these big car blogs and sites out there that cover cars, but most of the people we knew who loved cars, were also interested in a long list of other vehicles. Bikes, boats, planes, etc.  But there was no site that catered to these people, so we just had to build one.

The layout was not our idea. To be totally honest, we stole it, but have always been open about it… from Notcot. Jane Aw designed this amazing Polaroid style layout as a diploma work. One picture, a few lines of script, and off you go to the content that excites you. Jane and NotCot covered design, not vehicles. So that’s how Stipistop was born in April of 2008.

7. How do you and your colleagues find all of the content for your site?  Do you literally check hundreds of car-related websites every day?
That’s right. Even though our fan base submits better and better stuff for us (it took a long time… for the first two years we only had a few submissions weekly), we still do much of the work ourselves.
You would not believe it, but we read about 1000 blogs by now on a regular basis… actually manually visiting their websites. This is how I found your blog, and would like to take the opportunity to thank you for the great posts you have produced. Your blog is a true gem.

8. Tell us your favorite car-related websites (language does not matter).
I love Jalopnik, but try not to read it because I am envious seeing the great content they have. They are first to cover stuff, but then of course they have this amazingly big audience, who act as spotters of trends and breaking news. So it’s easy for them. But they deserve their success.

Justacarguy is a true hero in my eyes, he is unearthing all these amazing photos… he is just very reliable as a blogger. Whenever you visit him, you will find interesting stuff.

Bring A TrailerThis is a great and simple concept. I like simple. It’s ZEN. Very hard to achieve. Bring a Trailer is very focused, so I like visiting it.

In my view, the best thing on the web right now is the audio slide show of the New York Times.  Innovative, yet simple and elegant.

9. I understand that there will be an English version of Stipistop soon.  What can you tell us about it?
Well, as a blogger, I can tell you, that the biggest mistake I have made was starting the blog in Hungarian. Why it took us two and a half years to actually act on that realization remains a mystery. 

What I can tell you, is that we are very excited right now, because in a few weeks time, the site will launch. It will be similar to what you see now as the Hungarian version, but we plan more regular updates (10 to 12 Polaroids daily). There isn’t much more to say really… see it for yourself, and be our judge.

10. Why do you love cars?
I guess it’s not cars per se I love. If you ask me personally, and not as editor-in-chief of Stipistop, what I do through Stipistop is serve. It just causes me a great deal of satisfaction to amaze people day in, day out. But why cars and vehicles? I really don’t know. I cried the first time I climbed out of a Ferrari. I cried when the cruise ship I worked on first left its port. I got emotional when I first rode my Piaggio Ape. God knows why.
I think shapes, forms, design, history and colors are very close to my heart, and they all come together in vehicles.

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