VINTAGE CARS IN CUBA
Race against time
It is said that between 60,000 and 75.000 more than 50 year-old cars circulate in Cuba, although the figure is not official. Armando’s 1956 Plymouth; Alberto’s 1957 Windsor Chrysler; and Ricardo’s lowest and refined AustinHealey surely form part of those numbers on the means of transportation that Cubans haven’t been able to stop using.
The island is a museum in motion because of the vintage cars that transport millions of Cubans and visitors every day, while in other places in the world they are exhibition pieces or luxuries for sporadic outings.
Cuba is a repository of Chevrolet, Ford, Cadillac, Jaguar or Dodge cars, the previously mentioned trade names, and also some from the extinct socialist camp: Lada or Moskvitch. But American cars mark the tendency in the Cuban auto park. Cubans baptized them as Almendrones, supposedly because many of them share a certain resemblance to an almond.
That’s why Armando spends days fixing the faults in his 1956 Plymouth. The
estimate is difficult, since just on trips to the airport the old car gobbles up thousands of kilometers a month. Repairing it, being on the lookout for noises so that it is trustworthy and docile, and afterwards transporting the clients, is his day-to-day routine.
“This car is my life and that of my family. Most of the parts are not found, the only way to keep it running is adapting them, using parts from other cars. That’s why I changed the engine. There aren’t many original cars left,” he says.
The 1956 Plymouth seats six and reaches more than 100 km/h on the HavanaPinar del Río thruway. To keep it running, you have to be a driver and a mechanic, a duality that the owners in Cuba learn almost by force.
Armando has lived off of American cars for almost two decades. He started off with one that was rundown and half rotting. He transformed and painted it, changed the engine and afterwards sold it for double its price. That’s how he began
his journey as a mechanic, a botero, which made him go on to change cars.
He goes over how many he had, later another would come and then another. He repaired and sold them with greater comfort and better engines at a higher price than the previous one. For the time being, his list stopped at 17 transformed cars.
Now he has two: the modern and the old one. He distributes them according to the destination and the duration of the trips and other things, like the state of the highways. But he would like it if someday all his cars were modern.
“The thing is that it’s already easier to find parts for the modern ones. The old ones I keep out of necessity, but it will never be the same. They are valuable because they attract the attention of foreigners, but without help it’s difficult to conserve them,” he says.
For the time being the 1956 Plymouth is his family’s sustenance.