anjan_c2007

Old American Cars in Cuba

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Cuban cars have attracted a lot of attention as the country has a

vast population of  upto five decade or older American cars, that have been largely compulsorily kept as fit as a fiddle. These indicate the best of times as far as relations with the US were concerned. Thereafter, the imports stopped around 1959 and the cars on the streets had to be kept moving.Spares became scarce and hard to get. Tinkering, ingenuity and fabrications were of help, but at the cost of quality and reliability.

Outwardly, most of these cars have been kept in a gleaming condition but their interiors, dash, engines, mechanicals and electricals have all from time to time been replaced with local replacements.

One Indipop video in the late 1990's by Lucky Ali for his album entitled "O Sanam", if my memory serves me right, showed the streets of Cuba and a gleaming 1950's Chevy that he was driving.

Read more about these below:

Source New York Times website by Tom Miller

Ricardo's recently purchased four-door 1956 Chevy Bel Air, freshly painted, looked just the ticket.

After a couple of miles, Leonardo nonchalantly asked about oil. "I

don't know," Ricardo replied. "I've never put in any in." The Chevy

peaked at about 35 mileack on the road, a side window fell into the lap of a startled Juan

Carlos. The car lacked windshield wipers, rear lights and bumpers, and

none of the dashboard dials worked. Ricardo himself lacked a driver's

license. The clutch pedal fell through what was left of the floor.

Often they had to push-start the car after a stop. (The car did have a

fully functioning theft-alarm system.). While driving they routinely stopped every five miles to suck

gas into the siphon and feed the engine.

Ricardo's Chevy is one of an estimated 60,000 pre-1960 American cars

roaming Cuba. About 150,000 existed at the time of the 1959 revolution,

shortly after which the Detroit auto giants and all American

manufacturers were forced to stop sending goods to Cuba to conform to

the United States' embargo. Ricardo's car is far more typical than the

ones that art directors love to put on the covers of books about Cuba

to evoke a melancholy feeling. Movies about Cuba like "Buena Vista

Social Club" turn the jalopies into objects of nostalgia by panning

lovingly over a wheel-less Chrysler here or a Plymouth stalled in

traffic there. Yet to get dewy-eyed about old American cars in Cuba is

to get whimsical about our trade embargo against the island.

There is a feeling abroad in the land that Cubans love old American

cars. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cubans love new American

cars, not old ones, but the newest ones that they can get their hands

on are 45 years old.

I once saw a functioning 1934 Plymouth on the streets of Sancti

Spiritus, a town of about 100,000 in the country's interior, and I know

how that sensation of visiting a living museum of old cars can

unexpectedly creep up on you. Informally, when Cuba hands sit around

and consider the opportunities that could arise when the United States

and Cuba return to their senses, some fantasize about getting into

construction or electronics, industries that may burst wide open. But

after seeing Ricardo's '56 Chevy, I predict a great future in low-end

auto parts.

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A local mechanic relies on creative wiring and the

assistance of neighbors to install a battery in an American car from the 1950's

in Havana.

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"To own one of these vintages, known as cacharos, or

less commonly bartavias, in Cuba

defines who you are, how you spend your time and how you wish to be

known," author Tom Miller says.

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The reality of old cars in Cuba

is closer to this scene in a parking garage.

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American members of a U.S.- Cuba travel conference toured Havana

in pristinely maintained Detroit

products from the pre-embargo age.

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A late 1940's Buick Super

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A late 1950's Cadillac

Tom Miller says, "... when your motor purrs, when you accelerate effortlessly

from second to third gear, when the doors click into place, you momentarily

forget your difficulties and glide for blocks with a prideful smile ..."

more pictures source: jewishcuba.org.autos

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anjan_c20072009-03-20 15:32:33

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