BARRY SPYKER | Miami Herald
Some 60,000 vintage cars roll around Cuba and author Richard Schweid finds that fascinating, as well the Cuban ingenuity that keeps them on the road.
Studebakers, Nash Ramblers, Kaisers and De Sotos—cars declared extinct in the United States long ago—are alive and well on the streets of Cuba. And these are not pampered collectibles, but daily workhorses.
Author Richard Schweid in a new book offers a profile of the pre-1959 cars of Cuba, where every day is a classic car show—by our standards—on the streets of Havana. The book, Che’s Chevrolet, Fidel’s Oldsmobile: On the road in Cuba, was released a couple of months ago.
Schweid, who was born in Nashville and now lives in Barcelona, where he is editor of a magazine, says he was fascinated by ‘‘the role this most capitalist of products plays in one of the last and most interesting of the old-style communist regimes.’’
There are about 60,000 vintage American cars running around the island, mostly in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. That’s the figure most experts use, he says, and it’s probably accurate based on how many cars he saw on the streets and how many were in Cuba at the time of the revolution.
What in the world keeps them running when there have been no new parts coming into Cuba since 1960 and no junkyards to scavenge? ‘‘Cuban genius,’’ Schweid said during an interview with the publisher, The University of North Carolina Press. That, and an ‘‘ability to make do, to be innovative and tremendously resourceful, and a great respect for the cars.’‘
‘‘Necessity has demanded much [from] the people and the cars, and both have been up to the task,’’ he said.
Schweid says the book’s title was chosen from post-revolutionaries’ choices of autos: ‘‘When it came to dividing up the spoils left behind by those who fled in airplanes across the Florida Straits, Che chose a Chevrolet and Fidel an Oldsmobile,’’ Schweid said. ‘‘Both of them knew a good car when they saw it.’‘
Castro has long since graduated to Mercedes travel, with a driver.
The author weaves through a history of cars, trucks and buses in Cuba since the turn of the century, dating to the island’s first car, a Locomobile, in 1902. He includes 52 black and white photos and eight contemporary color photos by Cuban photographer Adalberto Roque.
Today, there is only a tiny new-car market in Havana for diplomatic and government agencies. European and Japanese companies accommodate that minuscule market.
Might collectors be champing at the bit for Cuba’s classics some day? Schweid said there probably would not be much of a market for them if the trade embargo were lifted. ‘‘The majority of these cars have been drastically altered from their original selves to run on diesel. They have been rewired and repainted, and the materials at hand have not always been the best,’’ he said.
‘‘These cars will not be of value to anyone but their owners, and they have to keep working until they die.’‘
For more information on the book, visit [url=http://www.uncpressunc.edu]http://www.uncpressunc.edu[/url]