Clas­si­cal and Vin­tage Car Club: “A lo Cubano”

On Cuba - - CUBA WON­DER -

“A lo Cubano” will be cel­e­brat­ing its 15th an­niver­sary in Oc­to­ber. It started off as an ad­ven­ture in 2003 and it al­ready has some 140 mem­bers, most of them with cars that have more than 60 years of ex­ploita­tion. The re­quire­ment to be a mem­ber is to have vin­tage cars, “but there are also peo­ple who are fa­nat­ics and don’t have a car and come to the gath­er­ings,” says Al­berto, its pres­i­dent. Amer­i­can cars also pre­dom­i­nate here.

“They are called al­men­drones, and some­times in a pe­jo­ra­tive way, es­pe­cially those who don’t own a car. But a car is like hav­ing chil­dren. The club’s ac­tiv­i­ties are fam­ily gath­er­ings,” he says.

In Cuba there are two lev­els of Amer­i­can car own­ers.They are in­vis­i­ble bar­ri­ers con­di­tioned by the cars’ qual­ity and the prin­ci­pal mar­ket they work with. The care, con­ser­va­tion of the cars that re­sem­ble the most the orig­i­nal ones usu­ally varies among these.

The taxi driv­ers who work for na­tional pas­sen­gers charge in na­tional cur­rency or in CUC, with routes in the cities or in­ter­provin­cial trips.These Amer­i­can cars usu­ally suf­fer more trans­for­ma­tions than the oth­ers. Some of them have body­work ex­ten­sions to in­crease the ca­pac­ity and in­creas­ingly dis­tance them­selves from what they once were.

But there are those that work di­rectly with for­eign tourists, like many of the mem­bers of the “A lo Cubano” Club. Their cars are bet­ter con­served, have greater com­fort and their own­ers mainly move in the tourist ar­eas.

Both worlds, in­dis­pens­able to un­der­stand trans­porta­tion in Cuba, are part of that im­age of the is­land per­ceived abroad. Many vis­i­tors

come look­ing for these relics. They al­ways ask, among other things, about the price and how orig­i­nal the cars are, Al­berto ex­plains. In ad­di­tion, they ask to visit the work­shops where they are saved from de­struc­tion, at the risk of chang­ing their essence.

“The cars have lost a lot of orig­i­nal­ity de­pend­ing on log­i­cal things: if the parts are fount or not; if the diesel en­gine is more eco­nom­i­cal than the gaso­line one; or if the en­gine is very old. When your in­comes are good you can de­cide if you leave it orig­i­nal, but if you have a sin­gle car and your re­sources are not the most ap­pro­pri­ate, you have to adapt and give it the en­gine of an­other car or change the brakes.

“That means that it will not look nice. It fre­quently gives the car greater value. It is a car that me­chan­i­cally runs well, with a good

ap­pear­ance, with more adap­ta­tions. We are a case apart in the world due to how dif­fi­cult it is to get parts, al­though it is no longer so dif­fi­cult be­cause now they bring them from Florida and the cars can be re­stored,” he says.

Ac­cord­ing to Al­berto, in the his­tory of vin­tage cars in Cuba there have been three stages that have de­fined the fate of these cars. Be­fore the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion and when re­la­tions were bro­ken with the United States, the is­land had one of the world’s high­est in­dices of cars. “U.S. com­pa­nies tested their cars in Cuba…. The Amer­i­cans came to buy their cars here,” says Lupe Fuentes, in charge of the Club’s pub­lic re­la­tions.

But Amer­i­can cars and from other coun­tries stopped be­ing im­ported to Cuba in the 1960s. It was the start of the sec­ond stage. “Here’s where the in­ven­tive­ness of the me­chan­ics, the tool­mak­ers and auto body­work­ers starts. They con­tinue with­out re­sources, parts from one car are changed to an­other. It is the time of sur­vival: a nice stage but with con­se­quences. We never learned to value what we had at hand, we al­ways no­ticed more on how good it would be to have a mod­ern car,” Al­berto ex­plains.

The third one, he af­firms, was marked by the boom in tourism. “With the ar­rival of tourists many peo­ple re­al­ized the value of these cars

in the rest of the world. They are also the cause of at­trac­tion to travel to Cuba,” he adds.

In ad­di­tion, for Al­berto his 1957 Wind­sor Chrysler is his life, his fam­ily’s sus­te­nance. He in­vests time and money in main­tain­ing it up to date not only be­cause of this but also be­cause “it is part of the his­tory, of the her­itage of the Cuban fam­ily.”

He ex­plains that around them an in­dus­try has been cre­ated that links them to the na­tional econ­omy and his­tory. “Thou­sands of fam­i­lies live off of that: from the driver, the me­chanic, the tool­maker, even the car washer.”

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