Monday, April 14, 2014

The tale of the mystery muscle car

Window sticker identifies fat-tired two-door from the 1970s as a Chevrolet Camaro.
   Every car tells a story, and some of the richest stories, we know, are told in Cuba.
Consider this green muscle car from an era rarely seen on an island that has not imported vehicles directly from the United States since 1959.
   It is, says the owner, nodding to the decal in the rear window, a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro. It came to Cuba years ago from Canada, he tells me, the property of a contract worker who left it behind when he returned home.
   Alas, the original big gasoline V-8 engine has been replaced by a more economical diesel, the owner admits. But with fat tires and raised tail, the car retains its muscular swagger.
   Except it does not look like any 1979 Camaro I've ever seen.
   I decide not to mention this to its proud custodian, thinking that perhaps it came not from Canada but South America, where the Camaro badge might have been applied to some altogether different General Motors model.
   Not the case, I've since discovered. The name has always belonged solely to Chevrolet's distinctive long-hood, short-deck coupe and convertible.

The real '79 Camaro, this one a sought-after Z28 / Wikipedia photo.
   So what is the green machine? The taillights reminded me of a 1970s Mustang II, but I was sure it couldn't be a Mustang, either. Turns out, however, that there is a sort-of connection.
   The car, I would eventually determine, is a Chevrolet Monza, a forgettable (for me, certainly) rear-drive subcompact built between 1975 and 1980 and based on the more memorable, though generally not for good reasons, Chevy Vega.
   The Monza 2+2 hatchback was actually quite sporty looking, but the Cuban car is the second Monza body variant, the notchback Towne Coupe introduced to compete with, yes, the Mustang II coupe. The "e" in Towne tells us sportiness was not a message the designers wished this model to convey.
  It does appear to be a 1979 Monza, so in year and in Chevrolet origins, the owner is correct. But did it really come from Canada, or did it make its way here from Mexico, or Venezuela? And who decided it to call it a Camaro, and why?
   Even if I knew the answers, I wouldn't share them with the owner. He already has a fine tale to tell.

Monza Towne Coupe, seen here in a Chevrolet advertisement, was a challenger to Ford's Mustang II.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Your Cadillac has arrived – and so have you!

One-piece windshield was new to Cadillac in 1950s.
   Should you desire to tour Cuba in style and comfort – and, of course, you do -- you'd be hard-pressed to find a better conveyance than this 1950 Cadillac sedan.
   Though its side trim is a bit confusing – some pieces missing, others perhaps adapted from a Cadillac of the previous year – I'm pretty sure from its overall proportions as well as the vaulted shape of the decklid that this a Sixty Special model rather than the more common Series 62.
   If I'm right, it's one of 13,755 Sixty Specials built for 1950, all on a 130-inch wheelbase that was down three inches from 1949 but still ensured copious interior space. The Series 62, of which 55,311 were produced, had a 126-inch wheelbase.

Sixty Special looks to have been well used, and well cared for.
   Almost certainly, this Cadillac was sold new by the busy Ambar General Motors agency in Havana. It might have gone to a wealthy businessman or politician, maybe even to a mobster.
   From the shine of its brightwork, we know this enormous Cadillac has been given much love in the decades since. It deserves its due, and when you alight from it at the Tropicana or Habana Riviera, its chrome reflecting the flashes of the tourists' cameras, so will you.

Big exhaust pipe hints at a diesel engine in place of the original 331-cubic-inch gasoline V-8.

Monday, March 31, 2014

All hail the Tri-Fives

Two-tone 1955 Chevy is finished in white and a shade I'd call georgeous green.
  While just about any brand of American car from the 1950s can be found serving as a private taxi in Cuba, Chevrolet is the most popular choice by far.
   Easy to figure out why. Chevrolet, the bread-and-butter line of General Motors, had a strong grip on the Cuban market in the pre-Castro decade, and in the years since, its sturdy mechanicals and the ready availability of replacement parts (even to Cubans, relatively speaking) have only increased its representation in the Cuban fleet.
   Of those Chevy taxis, a favoured choice is any model from the famous Tri-Five period of 1955 through 1957, viewed by many as the epitome of styling and performance in that era. Delving still farther, the '56 seems the most popular Tri-Five entry, followed by the '55 and then the '57.
  Some of these Chevrolets, usually found in tourist spots, are convertibles that would be greatly prized by collectors. More often, though, they are more prosaic four-door sedans that would carry less value in the classics market.
  Still, they're great to see, great to ride in. You come across one, make sure to give the owner a thumb's up – even a high five!

The '57 is the least-seen Tri-Five Chevy in Cuba. Too bad.

Anodized rear fender panel is a hallmark of the '57 Chevy Bel Air.

You may have noticed this sweet '56 peeking out from a photo in an earlier post.

Likewise, this honest '55. Four-door or not, I'd love to own it. 

Drivers and guides chat while a bull-barred '55 awaits its next fare. 

See also: