Cuban vintage cars evoke US industry's better times
Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:20am EST
By Patrick Markey
HAVANA, Dec 10 (Reuters) – U.S. automakers are struggling to survive the
financial crisis but in communist Cuba the cars that Chevrolet and Ford
built decades ago are still cruising the streets and their owners have a
message for the manufacturers: they don't make 'em like they used to.
Buicks and Plymouths made in the 1950s growl through Havana alongside
Ladas and new Korean and French cars with Cubans creatively keeping the
old vehicles running despite a four-decade-old U.S. embargo against the
Patched up with Russian spare parts and often motors salvaged from other
cars, their owners say the sturdy classics could run for years more even
as the industry that made them seeks billions of dollars from the U.S.
government in a bailout.
"They are never going to have quality like this again. Modern cars are
made to last three or four years, these were made for 50, 60," said
Argelio Hernandez, tapping the bumper of his blue 1952 Ford taxi in
Havana's old quarter.
"The companies are never going to build quality cars because they need
With car sales falling the fastest in years, the White House and
congressional Democrats are trying to push through a rescue package for
automakers that were once a symbol of U.S. economic power.
The plan, which needs to be approved by the U.S. Congress, could provide
$15 billion in short-term loans to help General Motors and Chrysler LLC
stave off bankruptcy. Ford Motor Co. (F.N: Quote, Profile, Research,
Stock Buzz) has called for an emergency credit line.
BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
In downtown Havana Vieja, a sprawl of Colonial era buildings, lines of
pastel-colored Chevrolet Deluxes, Fords and Plymouths wait to ferry
passengers for less than $1 to nearby suburbs. Complaints about high
fuel prices and repair costs are as common as in other taxi lines.
The cars still run, and many are in decent shape, although in some cases
the stolid chassis is only original part. Around 60,000 vintage cars are
still running in Cuba, where private car ownership is restricted and the
public transport system is deficient.
"This is all about invention," said Luis Hernandez, a mechanic who was
slapping grease on an axle of his black and yellow 1956 Buick, his tools
spread out on the sidewalk.
Some of the cars are older than their drivers, handed down from father
to son. Many date from before 1959 when Fidel Castro came to power in an
armed revolution. He then became a Cold War enemy of the United States
and Washington has refused to end the embargo against Cuba.
Raul Castro, who took over the presidency in February from his ailing
brother, has said he would be prepared to sit down with U.S.
President-elect Barack Obama, although talks seem distant.
Chomping on a cigar as he took his worn-out 1956 Buick for a spin along
Havana's Malecon boulevard, 65-year-old Daniel Vencomo is not so sure
about ties with the United States, but he has little doubt about his
"I reckon this car is going to outlive me," he said. "I am going to pass
it on to my youngest boy to see whether he can finish it off."
(Reporting by Patrick Markey in Havana; Editing by Kieran Murray)