Freaky kit-car and bathyscaph show zest of two Lithuanian tech geeks

  • 2010-10-13
  • By Linas Jegelevicius

SWIMMING WITH THE FISH: Gintautas Pyragas, in his homemade bathyscaph, says plans include diving in the Baltic sea.

KLAIPEDA - If there were a Nobel-like prize for distinguished achievements in mechanics, both car-mechanic Arunas Giedrys and border patrol agent Gintautas Pyragas, under their lucky stars, could land it. Having incarcerated himself in a windowless garage for one and a half years, after painstaking and meticulous work, Giedrys, an inhabitant of Panevezys, in the north, rolled out from it an awe-inspiring crawler – a kit-car that he constructed solely with the help of his father. Nearly 250 kilometers to the southwest, in the small border town of Kybartai, after the same one and a half years of strenuous effort, Pyragas launched a first ever Lithuanian bathyscaph.

Giedrys would have shown his four-wheeled crawler to the public much earlier if not for the rigid Lithuanian regulations regarding the registration of off-conveyor belt cars. For as long as six months the dexterous man has been entangled in vain arguments with a vehicle registration agency over the nature of the kit-car. Exasperated by the stubbornness of Lithuanian clerks, he found an unexpected solution – to register it in liberal Estonia. The skilled electrical engineer by profession had made a so-called chopper-motorcycle before. “The car was all about my striving to always be involved in something new. Maybe two years ago, when visiting my friends in Latvia, in a parking lot, I saw an eye-catching kit-car, which means a car constructed from parts with the details of other cars. Initially, somebody suggested for me to assemble a dismantled car, as if a childish toy, but I refused – I sought some real challenge,” Giedrys explained his endeavor to The Baltic Times.

Unwavering, on his days off, assisted by his father, a mechanic by profession, and glancing at the British “Lotus Super Seven” and Dutch “Donkerworth,” two legendary car brands, the men started pursuing their goal - piecing up something that no one has seen before, at least in the town of over 100,000 inhabitants.
“Basically, we were replicating a ‘Lotus Super Seven’ when it came to design. However, we did rely on our own thought-out project and schemes. Thus, we made the car’s body, and then proceeded with its front chassis, but we ‘borrowed’ a rear chassis from a BMW. As for the 1.8 liter petroleum-running engine, it was also a BMW,” the 37-year-old Automera mechanic related. “Only when it came to estimating mechanical things did we seed some help from professionals in Vilnius,” he added.

Barely weighing 700 kg and with 100-horsepower, the vehicle churns up 10 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers. The constructor feels grateful for his encouraging co-workers, as he says “They, in particular the heads of the venture, let me chip away some work hours, as well as use the firm’s tools. Besides, they gave me some car parts for free.”
With the local press coverage, the still unnamed kit-car rests in a parking lot, drawing dozens of gawkers and nosy youngsters. “These kinds of cars are quite trendy in the Western countries, especially in Great Britain, where nearly 40 kit-car construction ventures are estimated to be.

In Lithuania, we have very few kit-car makers. I am happy to add to the bunch,” Giedrys says, rejoicing. His joy over his metallic baby has been long tarnished by the lasting arguments with the state vehicle-registration agency. “According to our vehicle registration regulations, a non-conveyor belt car is subjected to numerous high cost inspections and expertise. Thus, just the inspection of the brakes would have cost a whopping 10,000 litas (nearly 3,000 euros). That is sheer crap. What goof can pay the dough if the car itself costs less than that? An even more ludicrous situation was the inspection of its wheel – no agency in Lithuania has the capacity to check it and sign the registration papers. I was getting totally pissed off, when somebody advised me to try to register the car in Estonia. Therefore, I just jumped into it and drove it all the way to Estonia. Thank God, Estonians have very flexible and liberal laws on kit-car registrations – no hassle whatsoever, as I was awarded the registration certificate,” Giedrys said.

While seeking a way-out from the deadlock, he had researched laws regarding kit-car registration orders in many countries. “Only Lithuania and Latvia bear the toughest legislation. That is why most kit-car makers prosper somewhere else – in Great Britain, Germany or at least in Estonia,” the mechanic says, drawing his conclusion. Instead of a five-digit registration charge in Lithuania, he paid only 4,500 litas in Estonia. With the Estonian registration, he had no problems registering it in Lithuania afterwards.

With the kit-car resting cozily in the parking lot, Giedrys fields questions about the car’s fate. Is he going to present it to his patient wife, who has rarely seen her hubby for most of the evenings and days-off throughout one and a half years? “No, she prefers riding a cozier conventional car. Besides, this one attracts too much attention – something she does not want,” the builder snickered.

Recently, he put his ‘car for sale’ ad on a trendy car Web site, asking 35,000 litas for it. The engineer claims it is a modest price, as he acknowledges to have spent approximately 20,000 litas for the car’s body, details and other components. Though he has received plenty of curious calls, devoting hours to explain to everyone about the vehicle’s mechanics, aerodynamics and legal papers, he has not struck a sale’s deal just yet. Some callers from abroad are interested in the Lithuanian-made kit-car as well, but they are cautioned by possible registration hindrances back home. Nevertheless, Giedrys remains hopeful, as he believes that kit-cars, being exceptional vehicles, will ever remain the most-talked-about item in the car market.

While Giedrys roars down his hometown streets, bringing cheers and grins, Pyragas, another tech geek, in Kybartai, in the southwest, slides inside the 1.3 cubic meter body of his bathyscaph and plunges in the murky waters of a lake, lead by the vessel’s melodic hum. The vessel is fitted for two persons, but so far no one has expressed a desire to join the border patroller in his underwater journey. “You wonder how I feel inside. If not for the slight engine hum, it is so dead quiet. While inching slowly forward, with the blurry swamp waters outside the porthole, I feel like being on another planet, a nice and magical one,” Pyragas exhilarates. He has been assembling his vessel for one and a half years, exactly as long as the builder of the kit-car in Panevezys. Had he employed others, he is convinced, his pursuit would have taken much less time, but the thrifty tech geek could not allow himself the luxury. “I was determined to complete it on my own,” he confides modestly.

Nevertheless, he was not shy to ask his friends and peers for needed details. “They have sifted through all their backyards and come up with many useful things,” the man grins. However, the main part of the vessel, a solid body, he grappled with on the way to a scrap metal landfill - Kybartai’s factory was about to get rid of the metal container as junk. The handyman has spent just 2,000 litas for the whole thing. On its maiden voyage underwater, he was submerged nearly 10 meters in the Vistytis lake and, driven by two engines, plowed through the water for nearly 50 meters. In order to make the bathyscaph plunge and, afterwards, to surface, two welded car gas cylinders were used. Besides, an electric installation enables switching on a little lamp, which allows for better observing the underwater world, peeking through a 7-centimeter wide glassy window.

The builder asserts that the vessel can move, on average, 2-3 kilometers per hour. With the air filter switched off, a two-person crew can breathe safely for nearly half an hour. With the filter on and one man in, air would be sufficient for as much as twice that. On the vessel’s maiden trip, Pyragas was determined to plough the waters up to the exhaustion of the air-limit, but due to the rough underwater currents and opaque view, he was forced to cut his trip short. While he was encapsulated beneath the lake surface, his petrified wife, on shore, was casting quick glances towards the rough water and hostile, cloudy skies.

It seems she is to go through more tremors in the near future – her bull-headed man, in order to increase the speed of the vessel, is pondering an increase in its leveling propellers. “I believe it can reach a considerably higher speed,” he is convinced. With the bathyscaph’s maiden voyage already history, the fidgeter is contemplating much deeper plunges next summer. “First, I am going to dive in the Platelis Lake, with an average depth that reaches 50 meters. If it goes well, I plan to submerge myself in the Baltic Sea. Klaipeda University’s students have already asked me for help in search of sunken medieval and inter-war ships and sailboats. I cannot wait to embark on that. I am so happy I can be useful for somebody with my metallic boy,” Pyragas cheered to The Baltic Times.