Sunday, January 25, 2015

The light burns brighter

Chevrolet row: A new proposal for an international tour.
   The renewal of U.S.-Cuba relations, however tentative, has been a tonic for Rick Shnitzler of TailLight Diplomacy.
   Shnitzler is a co-founder of the Philadelphia group, which has long pressed for closer ties between vintage car owners in the two nations. But by 2013, with the political divide seemingly as deep as ever, the effort was sputtering, Michael Matza reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
   That changed with December's surprise announcement, and an invigorated Shnitzler now has a new proposal: bring a select number of Cuban cars and their owners to the United States – and perhaps other countries too – for a friendship tour.
Organizing such a car-culture exchange would be a huge task, of course, going beyond even Shnitzler's earlier call to include Cuban cars in Detroit's yearly Woodward Dream Cruise. But the "inveterate dreamer" is undaunted as he talks up the idea with government, media and the antique-auto community.

  And at a time when Cuban and American delegations are meeting face-to-face for historic normalization talks, everything seems possible.

See also:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

If I had a Volga, I'd name it Olga

The Volga 24 was introduced in 1970 and became the 2410 in 1985.
   No. 4 on Ramon Rivera and Jay Ramey's list of 10 cars to see in Cuba is the GAZ Volga 2410, a Russian-built sedan. What you see here is the 2410's predecessor, the Volga 24. But as a Cuban mechanic might say while transferring a bumper from one to the other, "Close enough!"
   The Volga 24 entered full production in 1970, but its mid-1960s lines – with nods, shall we say, to the Chevy II, Plymouth Valiant and Ford Falcon – bear evidence of a long gestation. A fullsize car by most of the world's standards, its mechanical arrangements were typical for the era with front coil springs, unit-body construction and a live rear axle suspended from leaf springs. The engine was a 90-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder, linked to a four-speed manual transmission.
Construction was strong to meet the rigours of police and taxi service.
   After a moderate facelift and a boost to 100 h.p. in 1985, the 24 became the 2410 of Rivera and Ramey's list. It and later variants would stay in production until 2009, with the final models displaying much more aerodynamic styling, though with the same central structure and doors of the first Volga 24 of four decades earlier.
   The 24 was intended as the Soviet mid-market car, sturdy enough for police and taxi service and with sufficient visual presence to proclaim that the communist party functionary allotted one was a rung up from Lada status.
   Robert Kim, in an entertaining discussion at Curbside Classic, suggests the Volga 24 was meant to fill the same multi-purpose roles as the Chevrolet Caprice and other General Motors B-Body models.
   It succeeded at this, though it could never approach the refinement of the GM sedans. Kim writes that he has ridden in dozens of Volgas, "and every one was an ordeal featuring the unpleasant roar of a large four banger, gasoline fumes, wind rushing around doors with massive panel gaps, and a jolting ride."

Four-on-the-floor manual was, for a long time, the only available transmission.
   I owned a B-Body, a 1986 Caprice Classic with plush interior and two-tone gold-over-brown paint. It was great car, reliable as sunrise, steady at speed and more nimble through curves than it had a right to be.
   Perhaps, had I lived in the Soviet Union then instead of Canada, I would have had a Volga. I know what I would have called it.

The American influence is clear in the Volga 24's handsome, mid-1960s lines.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Ten cars you'll see in Cuba

The minuscule Polski Fiat 126p is one of Cuba's most affordable cars, writes Ramey, with solid construction and low operating costs.
   For the car-watcher with catholic tastes – that's catholic as in universal, not Catholic as in Popemobile – it's the mix of vehicles that makes Cuba so fascinating.
   American classic, Soviet workhorse, Chinese arriviste ... you never know what you'll come across next. Cuba, writes Jay Ramey of Autoweek, is the one place "where, if a modern Geely clips your 1950s Cadillac, the traffic police are bound to arrive in a 1980s Lada."
   In an entertaining car-spotter's guide to Cuba, Ramey and photographer Ramon Rivera profile 10 of the island's most popular vehicles. Some, like the 1955-through-'57 Chevrolet, will be familiar to the American buffs who now have hope of finally seeing Cuba for themselves.
   Others, such as the Beijing BJ212 or Argentine-variant Ford Falcon, could seem wondrously strange.
  Above and below are three of Ramey and Rivera's selections that I've come across:
 the Polski Fiat a bit strange, perhaps, the others, I'm afraid, rather prosaic. For the full list, including some more exotic entries, see the report at

Imported in the 1990s, the Peugeot 405 is 'the next best thing to a fully modern car in Cuba on the used car market,' says the author.

In Russia, most Moskvich 2141s have succumbed to rust. In Cuba's friendly climate, they last much longer. 'Barring a sudden change in the political landscape in Cuba, there will be more running 2141s in Havana than in Moscow in a few years,' Ramey predicts.