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Showing posts from April, 2011

Red, white and true

The blue in Cuba's flag is said to represent the island's original three provinces, the red the blood that was shed for its freedom, and the white the purity of the patriotic cause and the absolute freedom of its people.
   But perhaps on this day, the colours could also stand for a red-and-white (well, orangey-red-and-white) 1955 Ford Fairlane, making the turn from La Rampa to the Malecón under a blue February sky.

Another rental choice

Mention Samsung, and Canadians and Americans will think of cellphones, sewing machines and microwave ovens. In other markets, however, including as close as Cuba, Samsung also stands for cars, as I learned when I inquired about the make of a rental sedan bearing the designation "SM3 LE16" on its deck lid.
    So which, I asked, was better — the Korean-made Samsung, or the Chinese-built Geely CK parked alongside?
    "Samsung," came the prompt reply. "Renault engine."
    Well, close.
    Samsung began building cars in 1998, just as the Asian financial crisis took hold. Two years later it sold a majority stake in its auto division to Renault in a deal that included the use of the Samsung name until 2020.
    But rather than containing any Renault parts, the rather characterless sedan I saw in Cuba was actually a rebadged product of Renault's global partner, Nissan, dating back to the early 2000s. And looking at it, it did resemble a 2002 Altima.
    Not th…

Mechanical governors

President Raúl Castro has called for term limits for Cuba's leaders, admitting that new blood is needed to replace the island's aging incumbents. "It's really embarrassing that we have not solved this problem in more than half a century," Castro said.
  Perhaps this means a well-deserved retirement is finally in sight for Cuba's Studebaker Commanders and Presidents, Lincoln Premieres and Pontiac Star Chiefs — not to mention any surviving Volga General Secretary Mark IVs.



A Cuban car in America

The last thing I expected to encounter at the Sarasota Classic Car Museum— or anywhere, really — was a made-in-Cuba vehicle.
    Yet parked at the back of a display in the rambling Florida museum was a 1905 Rapid depot hack, its manufacturer listed as the Havana Carriage Co.
    Cuba produced cars? Who knew?
    With three rows of seats and a surrey-style fringed roof, the Rapid looks largely like a traditional horse-drawn depot hack, so named for its role ferrying passengers and baggage between rail station and hotels.
   Below its red wooden body, however, a two-cylinder gasoline engine and live rear axle allow it to move under its own power while the driver steers the front axle with a tiller handle.
    It's a safe guess that the powertrain came from the Rapid Motor Vehicle Co. of Michigan, formed in 1902 to produce 12-passenger Pullman cars, sight-seeing buses and other commercial vehicles. In 1909 General Motors would acquire Rapid as the basis for its GMC trucks division.
    In …

A real ragtop

With fenders from 1954, a bumper from 1955 and a hood badge from — when? — '53? — this Pontiac Chieftain Deluxe might be a product of the Johnny Cash assembly line.
    Without question, however, our Pontiac is a true convertible, and not some hacksawed hardtop. And even with its bruised flanks and tattered interior, an innate elegance shines through.
   The straight-eight engine, turning over so slowly at idle, tells us the Chieftain is in fact a '54, the final year for Pontiac's torquey inline flathead. The Canadian flag on the antenna could be the driver's tribute to the generous visitors he hopes to encounter on this resort road near Santa Cruz del Norte.