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Posted December 30, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Sports

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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]

  1. Follow up post #1 added on December 31, 2004 by waldo with 264 total posts

    Great example of Cuban inginuity, intelligence, recycling and perseverance. 

  2. Follow up post #2 added on January 01, 2005 by YoungCuban with 409 total posts

    I must disagree in some aspect,not every car in Cuba has been altered,I know my familys 1938 Mercedes Benz Conv. has not been altered,it still has all of it’ original parts,just very well taken care of,like many others I know that are not altered.

  3. Follow up post #3 added on January 02, 2005 by waldo with 264 total posts

    You can not compare a Mercedes with a Chevy or Ford. Mercedes are expensive but made to last by high quality German technology. Chevys and Ford are cheap thecnology made by american commercialism to collapse in a few years so you have to buy replacement parts and repair or buy a new one and thus increase consumerism, sales and taxes.

  4. Follow up post #4 added on January 02, 2005 by Dana Garrett with 252 total posts

    I’ve wondered how they keep those cars going.  Some of the mechanical parts must have worn out by now on many of the cars regardless of how well they’ve been taken care of.  I suspect that the Cuban govt must have some industrial capacity to provide replacement parts for the cars. If so, if it weren’t for the embargo, this would be a good export business for Cuba. 

  5. Follow up post #5 added on January 02, 2005 by Jesus with 42 total posts

    To be able to maintain its identity and idiosyncrasy the people of Cuba, 90 miles away from the U.S., have had to be not only ingenious but very courageous as well in the face of a century of attempts by the U.S. to bring Cuba to be just another satellite of this country. 

  6. Follow up post #6 added on January 02, 2005 by waldo with 264 total posts

    There are parts shop set up at very many cities that sometimes manufacture or improvise parts. Also many private shops are set up in garages that repair and/or fabricate many replacements parts. There are also some shops that refurbish for example batteries. Sometimes engines are replaced and even exchanged. Gasoline engines are replaced by diesel engines and then addapted. They do incredible things with what they can get their hands on, and mechanics and shops help, communicate, share and trade. It is a grat effort and admirable solidarity that I have seen and felt only in Cuba. Something to emmulate world wide.

  7. Follow up post #7 added on February 16, 2006 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    We just finished loading in about 100 photos of classic American cars in Cuba.

    Take a look here

    Cuba consulting services

  8. Follow up post #8 added on March 18, 2007 by Bruce Pettinger

    I am always amazed at how the American cars are so well maintained in Cuba despite almost 50 years of no new American ones being imported there. I have lots of respect for the way they can recreate parts from scrap metal and other resources such as shampoo for brake fluid to name one.

    I think we here in Canada and the States waste way too much and could easily make do with what we have already. Computers are a good example of landfill waste. I own a 1951 Plymouth 4 door sedan and have seen pictures of beautiful ones in Cuba still in prestine condition. I have also seen such cars in bad condition but still running. I’d much prefer to have cars of the sixties and back compared to what we have now. They were a lot simpler to maintain and repair compared to the computerized ones of today. They were also so much nicer styled an solidly made. Keep up the good work and I hope soon the American ban will be lifted so the Cubans can get proper parts for their cars, as they have a trove of ‘50’s “Americana” that doesn’t exist even in the States.

  9. Follow up post #9 added on July 24, 2008 by Jonathan Briggs

    It’s funny that this article on cars was started by a chap called Barry Spyker.

    Sorry if I’m telling you something you already know but Spyker are a Dutch car manufacture who now produce what are arguably some of the nicest looking sports cars in the world.


  10. Follow up post #10 added on November 02, 2009 by Ches Hernandez

    “Chevys and Ford are cheap thecnology made by american commercialism to collapse in a few years”

    How are those cars imported from the non-commercial / non-capitalist soviet union doing today?

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