(December 2012 note: See update link, below.)
GUESS I'LL have to set aside my search for the younger Batista’s 1956 Corvette. An even tastier trophy has emerged – a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, better known as the Gullwing.
Even on the Island of Surprises, I’d be astounded to come across one of these rare beauties. But in a brief section on Cuba in Automobiles Lost & Found (Haynes Publishing, 2008), I see a photo of a battered 300SL observed by author Michael E. Ware outside a private garage near Havana.
Reached in England, Mr. Ware tells me he was holidaying in Cuba when an acquaintance brought him to an unnamed community to see the car.
“I never asked where it was – I was just taken there,” he reports. “All I can add is that I believe it’s now been moved to another ‘collector.’”
The author, a noted motor historian, kindly provided the photos of the Gullwing you see here.
Tony Robertson, a Toronto-based location scout for TV commercials who visits Cuba frequently, says he has actually heard about two Gullwings on the island. He visited a garage in Havana’s Marianao district that was said to be housing one, but it wasn’t there. His goal? Not to buy it – he couldn’t, anyway – but simply to see it and take pictures.
Marianao would make sense. It is home to the Columbia military airport, site of several races in Cuba’s active motorsports scene in the late 1950s and even in the early ’60s, after Castro took power.
Just 1,400 or so Gullwing coupes were produced from 1954 to 1957, and 80 per cent of them went to the United States, where some, as in Europe, became track cars. Evidently, some reached Cuba.
Albert Quiroga recalls a Gullwing driven by Modesto Bolanos competing in races leading up to the 1957 Grand Prix of Cuba. A scale model of that car, complete to the markings of its sponsor, tobacco maker Trinidad Y Hermano, was later produced by diecast specialist Bang of Italy, Mr. Quiroga writes here.
And the photo volume I Was Cuba (Chronicle Books, 2007) offers a picture of another Gullwing in those 1957 races in Havana, this one driven by Santiago “Chaquito” González.
The Gullwing in Mr. Ware’s photos could be either of those cars, or perhaps another 300SL entirely. I’m glad he found it, and now, like Tony Robertson, I too want to see it, and photograph it, and marvel at how such a rare bird could have been roosting all these years in Cuba.