Saturday, August 29, 2015

Nomad on an island

Rare sight: A 1955 Chevrolet Nomad two-door wagon
   SOME TIME back, CARISTAS reader Paul voiced a hope that any Chevrolet Nomad in Cuba had not been irreversibly altered, and I realized that I had never come across one of Chevy's delightful two-door station wagons on the island.
   This was surprising, given the presence in Cuba of late-1950s Corvettes, Continental Mark IIs and other classics produced in far fewer numbers than the 22,000 Nomads built between 1955 and '57.
   Surprising too in that station wagons would appear to have sold well in Cuba in the '50s, though perhaps Cuban wagon buyers, even more than their U.S. counterparts, valued utility over style.
   Then, riding on a bus through Matanzas – one of my favourite car-spotting locales – I glimpsed a gold-over-copper '55 Nomad at a traffic light. My camera was in video mode and I wasted time switching to the photo setting, and as a result didn't get a good shot in either mode.
   Still, the images I did capture suggest the Matanzas Nomad remains largely stock, 60 years after it arrived in Cuba. Paul in particular will be pleased.

Wheels are from the aftermarket, but the rest of the Nomad looks to be original.

Friday, August 14, 2015

U.S. shows colours, Cuba shows cars

Havana's former flag thicket. Wikipedia photo by Angelo Lucia.

   Not so long ago, the plaza separating what was then the U.S. Interests Section building in Havana from the Malecón waterfront boulevard was home to a forest of Cuban flags – part of the long-running propaganda war between Cuba and the United States.
   Today, the plaza's flagpoles stood bare, allowing a unimpeded view of the ceremony to raise the Stars and Stripes outside the newly reopened U.S. embassy.
   The now-clear sightlines had an additional purpose.
   Perfectly positioned on the Malecón to appear in the camera shots behind U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was a trio of handsome old Chevrolets: a two-tone '55 sedan, a black '59 Impala four-door and the king of classics – a red '57 Bel Air convertible.
  The message? American tourists, your rides await.

Old Glory and old glories, as captured in a video by CCTV America and posted on YouTube.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Gullwing for the gullible

   THE STORY OF Cuba's decaying old Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Coupe lives on. For the latest chapter, we can thank a New Hampshire prankster who last week listed the Gullwing for sale on Craiglist.
   Under the heading "Attention scrappers," the purported vendor wrote: "I have a rusty old Mercedes to get rid of. No engine, Has doors that open to the top. Glass is good."
   And just to make sure his ad got noticed, the prankster tossed in a photo of the Cuban Gullwing taken several years ago by British writer Michael E. Ware.
   Though taken down almost immediately, the listing still caught the attention of, which looked at the offer with equal parts suspicion and wistfulness. "If this is the real deal, it would be the find of the century!" said the website.
   Sorry, BarnFinds, but you were right to be sceptical.
University of Miami Libraries. Cuban Heritage Collection,
Ramiro A. Fernández Collection
 A couple of other Gullwing notes:
What might be the Cuban 300SL in its early years can be seen in a photo of a 1950s-era Havana road race that is part of the University of Miami's Cuban Heritage Collection. In the shot, the two-tone No. 24 Mercedes coupe is drifting around a corner ahead of an Austin Healey. At least two Gullwings are known to have raced in Cuba: one, driven by Modesto Bolanos, bore the name of its sponsor, tobacco maker Trinidad Y Hermano; the other – this one? – was driven by Santiago “Chaquito” González.
According to a post I read on a forum (sorry, but I've lost the link), someone inspected the Cuban Gullwing and reported that it has been stripped of all its manufacturer's identification numbers. If that's true, it means there could be a bogus 300SL out there somewhere, assembled from spare parts and fabricated bits and registered under the Cuban car's VIN. I bet it's in New Hampshire.