Cuba – The Old Cars

Happy Easter everyone,

By the time you read this post, I’ll be in West Africa in the country of Ghana helping to strengthen a rice farmers association. I’m looking forward to the experience, my first time in Africa and working with a business culture so different than ours. So stay tuned, I’ll be bringing you photos and narrative about my adventures in future posts.

This week the focus is on the old and interesting cars in Cuba, not many new cars but those old 40’s and 50’s are special. These were the kinds of cars that were prevalent in the US when I was young kid back in the 50’s. By the time 1960 rolled around most of the boys in our community could identify the brand and year of the car from a distance. Sometimes there were arguments whether it was a ’53 or ’54 Chevy but hey we were close. Interestingly enough, all that came back to me in Cuba, oh I was a little rusty but came pretty close most of the time! Ah, to relive my youth!

My memory was really challenged when one morning, our guides arranged for our group to ride in old convertibles from El Morro Castle to a large indoor art market, Havana Feria de Artesania. Donna and I were the last tour group members to return from exploring the Castle and they were one car short. As we waited for another car to arrive, some light rain came upon us so the drivers had to get out and put up the tops. By the time our car arrived, the rain stopped so the driver put the top down and wiped off the windshield with a cloth. Note: the one windshield wiper didn’t work, it was there for decoration, I think!

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As we were waiting to the caravan of cars to begin, I noticed that the radio and dash had the Plymouth emblem, whoa, I could have sworn that the car we were riding in was a Chevy but it did turn out to be a Plymouth, a ’50 or 51, I think. Here’s what the car looked like from one of the other cars in our group, photo provided by photography friend, David Yockum.

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You’ll note that the top is up in this photo, it started raining again so we had to stop and put it up. A good thing the windows didn’t roll up or were missing because we would have been overcome by exhaust fumes! We were just glad that only a little rain came through the side windows and from the cracks in the top. Here’s a photo I took through the window while the rain was coming down (and the top up).

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And a photo holding the camera over the top of the windshield as we went through the Havana harbor tunnel.

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And finally, a photo of our driver, he didn’t say much but was very skilled at wiping off the window with a cloth while driving the car so he could see the road. These cars have been passed from generation to generation, an inheritance that generates family income by giving rides to tourists.

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The challenge is to keep them running ever since the blockade (we call it the embargo) began in 1959. A number of these cars are Chevys, Fords, Plymouths, Cads, etc, only on the outside, many have been retrofitted with European or Chinese gas or diesel engines and transmissions. I think most of them have been painted several times with the preferences to the really bright colors to attract attention and hide defects. Here’s an example of a couple of cars in our caravan.

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And a close up of one of the hood ornaments with part of the castle in the background and the rain storm approaching.

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Owners of the cars are often seen polishing the paint and chrome to keep them looking shiny and bright.This line up of cars was in the parking of the Colon Cemetery in Havana waiting to take a group of tourists for a ride in their cars.

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Here’s a photo I took of the Colon Cemetery chapel between these two cars, note the Chapel reflection on side of the shiny cars.

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Here are a couple more cars we saw as we walked around Havana. The top car is a Ford Edsel, either a ’57, 58, or ’59, good guess since they only made the car for three years!

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This is ’48 Mercury convertible, we talked with the owner for a bit, he was very proud of his car and worked really hard to keep it in nice condition.

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This photo was taken near the Hotel Nationale where a lot of tourist stay. There are always lots of old cars lined up offer rides. I don’t think I’ve ever seen three pinkish convertibles in a row like this! I think a Buick in the front, a Studebaker in the middle and either and ’57 Olds or Pontiac on the left. Please correct me if I’m wrong!

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As we went one of our walks in Havana, we came across these guys with the hood up and either discussing what to do next or waiting for someone to come and help. Either way a good story. The car is some European model, help me out if know what it is.

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And here’s one photo that I took of cars in Trinidad. Not nearly as many cars, old or new, as there were in Havana. Lot of Bondo putty to cover all the rust spots, almost more Bondo than metal. But hey if runs, who cares! Not sure of the make and model of this car either, looks like a late ’50’s or early ’60’s Renault.

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Yes, there were newer cars but the old cars really did stand out from the others. Here’s the taxi stand across the street from our hotel, the Capri. Note that the two black cars are Russian limos left over from when they had a heavy presence in Cuba. Also note the cycle taxi fourth in line.

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You might wonder what traffic is like in Havana. Here’s a photo that I took from the grounds of the Hotel Nationale overlooking the Malecon and a major intersection during the afternoon “rush” hour. Not many cars, some old, some newer but traffic isn’t a major problem because most people don’t own their own cars. If they can’t walk or bike to their destination, they rely on public transportation or taxis or friends to give them a ride.

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Well, thanks “riding” along on my nostalgic trip back to the 50’s and 60’s through the old cars of Cuba. Next week watch for my final Cuba post sharing some of the places we visited as part of photo tour of Cuba.

Until then,

Tom

 

 

 

 

 

 

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