Saturday, November 22, 2014

An (almost) Cuban taxi in Toronto

   I've never seen a Checker Marathon in Cuba. That's probably because the Marathon, built in Kalamazoo, Mich., didn't go on sale until September 1961, more than a year after the direct export of U.S. vehicles to Cuba ended.

   But the Marathon's 1950s styling makes it look like a Cuban cab, at least to the Toronto residents who hopped into the Checker that Transat Holidays put on the streets of the Canadian city to promote its winter sun excursions. And the actors playing the driver and his friends are certainly convincing.

   The video makes me think of an earlier commercial that just might have been the inspiration for the Transat campaign. See The Lost Chevy Commercial.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Cuba Gullwing chronology

How the 300SL would have looked new. Wikipedia photo.
   In six years, no topic here has drawn more attention than the story of Cubas's rotting Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe. Visitors from around the world seem endlessly appalled and fascinated by the sad fate of such a rare and beautiful car. 
    The same analytics program that tells me the home nations of these visitors tells me where they land – and it's apparent that many are missing the full story (or as full as anyone has been able to make it). The world's largest Internet indexer – you know who I'm talking about – insists on routing the curious to a five-year post and refuses to make note of subsequent entries.
   Why? Who knows?

   To provide a more complete picture, here's a list of CARISTAS entries on the Gullwing, which, to be clear, was first brought to the world's attention by British auto historian Michael E. Ware in Automobiles Lost & Found (Haynes Publishing, 2008). 

Dec. 11, 2009: Discovered in Cuba: A rare Mercedes bird
Michael E. Ware shares details of the his visit to a district near Havana to see the silver Gullwing rusting amidst scrap outside a private garage. Location scout Tony Robertson tells of his own unsuccessful search for this same Gullwing. Links (one now defunct, unfortunately) offer views of two Gullwings in competition events in Cuba in 1957. 

As seen in the scrapyard. Michael E. Ware photo.

Dec. 13, 2009: Gullwing bits and pieces
More photos of the Gullwing and numerous 300SL parts in the same yard, as provided by Michael E. Ware. 

April 7, 2010: Tracking the Gullwing

A potential clue to the car's history is found in a novel by Rachel Kushner. 

June 14, 2010: Elvis in a Gullwing in Havana

A link to Pieralfonso Longo's photo from years earlier of a Cuban official in another 300SL Gullwing in Havana. Follow the link; you will not be disappointed.

Dec. 9, 2012: Gullwing and a prayer
World traveller Miguel Loriente, aided by clues from CARISTAS entries, sets out to locate the Gullwing.

Dec. 16, 2012: The young man and the 300SL
Miguel Loriente locates the Gullwing at a different site. The frame is twisted, the body riddled by corrosion. Still, says Miguel, finding the Gullwing has been "one of the most rewarding experiences of my life."

Feb. 5, 2013: The Gullwing: Watch it and weep
Miguel Loriente's YouTube video of the crumbling car.

Nov. 10, 2014: 25,000 photos, and the world's only known derelict Mercedes Gullwing

The Gullwing resurfaces, this time in the 2015 Degler Calendar by Piotr Degler Jablonski. In an interview, the young photographer describes his month-long mission to find the car. 
Captured for a calendar. Piotr Degler Jablonski photo.

Monday, November 10, 2014

25,000 photos, and the world's only known derelict Mercedes Gullwing

Piotr Degler Jablonski with the 2014 calendar.
 Piotr Degler Jablonski is the creator of the Degler Calendar, an automotive-themed calendar that for 2015 presents a series of glorious images from Cuba. CARISTAS recently spoke with the 29-year-old photographer about his project, his art, and his pursuit in Cuba of one special vehicle.

Q: Tell us how someone with a Polish name and Spanish upbringing finds himself an automotive photographer working out of Turin, Italy.

A: I was born in Poland and have some German heritage as well. Both of my parents are musicians, and when I was two we moved to Spain. I grew up there and studied at the German School. My interests have always been cars and photography. At age 19 I moved to Italy to study car design and I then worked for several years as car designer. In the meantime I also worked as a car photographer for different car companies and magazines worldwide. Today photography is my full-time life.

Q: How did the Delger Calendar come about? Was the Pirelli Calendar an influence?

A: The initial project was a book featuring 100 unique cars, but I thought a calendar in the meantime could be quicker to create. Obviously Pirelli is a great calendar, but focused essentially on women's beauty. If you think about a car calendar, nothing very strong comes to your mind. There are a lot of car companies producing their own calendars, but those can look nearly the same year after year.
Keepsake: Numbered Collector's Edition.
   I wanted to create something different, a calendar that every year explores a new and exclusive automotive theme. Even if you are not familiar with the theme, you will discover something new. The goal as well was to offer something very special  that's why you can choose between the Standard (without frame) , Exclusive (black anodized aluminum frame) and Collector's Edition (rusted aluminum frame and numbered plate).

Q: Why Cuba as the 2015 theme?

A: The 2014 theme was "Concept Cars by Bertone"; 12 prototypes designed by the famous Italian coachbuilder, photographed in the dark in different studios around the world. For 2015 it was nice to find a completely different theme, even changing the style of photography from studio work to reportage.
   I always wanted to visit Cuba, as I am a big fan of 1950s American cars. I thought this contrast from last year's edition would work well, and I also thought it was the right moment to do it.

Q: How long were you in Cuba, and how many images did you take?

A: I spent one month on the island looking for the most interesting cars. I wanted to show not only the American classics but also what can be hidden from tourists' eyes. Visiting Cuba from ViƱales to Santiago de Cuba, every day in a new location, was an experience I will never forget.
For April, a Chevrolet convertible.
   In total I took about 25,000 images. It was not easy to summarize all of this project with only 12 snapshots. On the one hand, photographs showing the human side, the people, the environment, cars maintained with inventiveness and necessity for decades ... on the other, obsolescent cars showing what they once were and dreaming of what they could be again.

Q: There's an honest, even vernacular sense to your Cuba images. How important was it to avoid overly staged scenes and after-the-fact manipulation?

A: I am accustomed to offering a commercial look for my clients. Most of them seek a brochure-like image for their latest commercial campaign, so there's usually a lot of postproduction work required. I try to get the right balance avoiding over-postproduction – a very diffused look nowadays.
   "Carros de Cuba" was a chance to show the purity of photography. You don't need to sell anything, just show the reality as it is. For me it is a documentary work, I wanted to show how Cuba and its cars appear in 2014. Natural and improvised photographs, no forced elements placed in the frame for the occasion, everything happening by chance, natural colours, unretouched photographs ...

Q: What was your biggest surprise about Cuba and its cars?

A: My first surprise when I arrived at the airport at night was seeing the large number of classic cars on the road. I really didn't expect to still see so many of them. I felt like a little boy on Christmas Day! Every day was a big surprise in Cuba.

Q. Tell us about photographing Cuba's famously derelict Mercedes Gullwing Coupe.

Moonlit Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing.
A: I've heard about the Gullwing before starting the project. I thought it would be great to show it in the calendar, as you can't find a unrestored Gullwing anymore! It took nearly four weeks to find it; nobody really knew about the car. After travelling the whole island from west to east and asking everybody I met on my way, I finally found it just a couple of days before I was to leave. I first saw it during the day, sleeping under a banana tree, rusted, almost gone ... I thought, "It deserves to be photographed by night, it would look nice for the December month." So that's what I did.

Q. When will you return to Cuba?

A: I hope soon. I encourage every car enthusiast to go to Cuba.

Photos © Piotr Degler Jablonski. Used by permission.