Race against time

On Cuba - - FRONT PAGE - Ed­uardo González Martínez

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.

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