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Island Cruisers

   NEXT TO the Willys Jeep, the Toyota Land Cruiser 40 series (best known as the FJ40) could be the most common vehicle in eastern Cuba. Rugged and long-lived, it serves as a ranch truck in the countryside and a taxi in the cities.

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Further on the topic of catalytic converters

Going topless for the tourists

CONNER GORRY is flipping her lid over the number of convertible conversions in Cuba's largest city.    The American ex-pat and Here Is Havana author says collective taxis are being pulled from their routes serving locals to have their roofs sliced off so they can ferry visitors on open-top tours of the capital.
   Her fantasy? Watching "fun- and sun-seeking tourists from Kansas jump into the convertible and instead of traveling around ‘Disneyland Havana,’ they’re taken into the dark, gritty depths of Jesús María, La Timba, Fanguito, Los Pocitos and Coco Solo, ending up in Mantilla … and left there."
   She bemoans the "incalculable" environmental damage from "all these cars without catalytic converters" – perhaps unaware that most every vehicle in Cuba runs on leaded gasoline or low-grade diesel, neither of which is catalytic-friendly. A few more won't make a discernible difference.
   Gorry's resentment of those who come for Cuba's "cla…

A 1961 (and later) Volkswagen Beetle

MOST VOLKSWAGENBeetles in Cuba appear to be of 1970s vintage and almost certainly came from Brazil, where the original Type 1 body style remained in production long after it was retired elsewhere.    This Santiago bug, however, dates to 1961, according to a notation painted on its rear deck lid.    Many of its parts – the headlights and taillights, the "VW1302" badge, the housing for the rear licence plate lamp – are clearly from a later era. But the hole on the hood just below the centre chrome strip confirms the Beetle's age. It's the mounting point for the Wolfsburg crest (missing on this car) that was dropped after 1962.

AFTER A momentous 2016 – Fidel's death, Obama's visit, Venezuela's vanishing support – we have to wonder what's in store for Cuba in 2017.   One thing, however, we can confidently predict. It will never lose its groove.

Lost to history: Fidel Castro's Lincoln Continental

V-12 ENGINE purring, the big Lincoln rolls along U.S. 1 through Florida.    Since leaving New York five days ago, the two couples inside have caught only glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean. But after St. Augustine the road swings east, and now, between the palm trees that whisper to them of Cuba, they see the saltwater channels of the Intercoastal Waterway and know the ocean is near.
   Soon they will be crossing it on their way home to Havana.
It is December 1948. The driver, one casual hand on the Bakelite wheel, is a tall and voluble 22-year-old law student named Fidel Castro. His brother-in-law, Rafael Diaz-Balart, rides next to him. In the back seat are Castro's wife of 10 weeks, Mirta Diaz-Balart, and Rafael's wife Hilda Caballero.
   Other vehicles will figure in Fidel Castro's long and eventful life – the Buick he crashes into a curb in the attack on the Moncada Barracks, the Land Rover from which he leads his guerrilla fighters in the Sierra Maestra, the Soviet jeeps he f…

Fidel Castro Ruz, 1926-2016

"He often told interviewers that he identified with Don Quixote, and like Quixote he struggled against threats both real and imagined ..." – Anthony DePalmanov in the New York Times, Nov. 26, 2016.