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Showing posts from June, 2011

Cadillacs, continued

OUR CADILLAC kick has prompted Tony Robertson to share this photo of a 1958 convertible that he recalls often seeing around Havana. Certainly a pleasant sight!
    And that reminds me of this November 1959 account by Harry F. Byrd Jr., editor of the Winchester, Virginia, Star (and later a U.S. senator). Part of a diary-style report on changes in post-revolution Cuba, it reveals a sudden drop in Cadillac values after the Castro takeover:

"Another incident demonstrates to what an extent business conditions have deteriorated. A friend of mine sought to purchase a Chevrolet, which was priced at $4,900. The dealer told him that if he would take a Cadillac convertible Eldorado (priced at $12,?50) he would sell it to him for $4,700. The dealer explained that if he did not immediately get rid of the Cadillac (a pet hate of the revolutionaries) that with conditions worsening he probably would never be able to sell it."

   For a moment, I thought the car described by Byrd might be the sa…

Diplomats, Consuls and Ambassadors to the front of the line

Cuba is home to the world's largest collection of vintage American cars in daily use. Detroit is home to the world's largest one-day automotive event, the Woodward Dream Cruise on the third Saturday in August.
    So why not build a connection between the two? Seems like a natural.
    Well, there is that five-decade-old diplomatic imbroglio that is the reason so many of Cuba's cars date from before 1960.
    But as Mark Phelan reports in the Detroit Free Press, one American car guy believes a shared appreciation of old iron could outweigh the political differences. Rick Schnitzler hopes to see Cuban classics joining the parade along Woodward Avenue, and perhaps modern American cars returning the favour with a display on the Malecón in Havana.
    Schnitzler, of Philadelphia, is a co-founder of Taillight Diplomacy, a volunteer group that offers its expertise in maintenance and restoraton to Cuban car owners. It recently helped authenticate Ernest Hemingway's 1955 Chrys…

Synchromesh-ity

Update: Videos below have gone missing. Too bad.

 It was Carl Jung, I believe, or maybe Carroll Shelby, who observed: "Coincidence? Ain't no such thing."
    Which suggests some other meaning for my encounters with Cadillac Eldorado Broughams.
    Item: I read Carlo Gébler's account of his search in Cuba for a 1957 or 1958 Brougham, a rare, ultra-luxury model of which I was previously unaware.
   Item: My brother and I spot a 1958 Brougham outside a classic car dealership in Sarasota, Florida (and yes, hanging around a classic car dealership does indeed increase your odds of seeing a classic car, but remember, they made only 704 of these things).
   Item: Flipping through the TV channels, I'm stopped by the sight of a black, late-'50s Cadillac executing high-speed doughnuts on the Bonneville Salt Flats to a soundtrack of barking exhaust and Pérez Prado's Mambo No. 5. Squared-off fins, stainless trim, doors that meet in the centre -- Hey, that's a Brougham…

The Brougham next door

Carlo Gébler went to Cuba to find the "Cadillac of Cadillacs," an Eldorado Brougham. I came across a 1958 Brougham not far from Cuba, at Vintage Motors of Sarasota Inc. in Florida.
    Chamonix White on the outside, white leather with black trim on the inside, this was one of just 704 Broughams produced in 1957 and '58. As Cadillac's showpiece, the Brougham was set apart by quad headlamps, brushed stainless steel roof and rear-hinged rear doors. Self-levelling air suspension cushioned the ride as a 365-cubic-inch V-8 engine (fed by a pair of four-barrel carburetors in the first year, three two-barrels in the second) powered it along the new Interstate highways.


   With no centre pillar, swinging open the four doors allowed easy access and an unimpeded view of the contoured seats and other luxuries within. Many of the Brougham's standard features would not arrive in other cars for decades — automatic locks, power seats with memory settings, power trunk lid, auto…

Tilting at Cadillacs

AFTER YEARS of seeing references to Carlo Gébler's 1988 work, Driving Through Cuba, an East-West Journey (Hamish Hamilton Ltd.), I've finally found a copy. Not that anything was lost in the interval. Given the slow pace of change in Cuba, Gébler's book could have been written last week.
    As the title promises, this is a road trip. The best kind, too, it turns out — the kind in which the narrator pushes ahead without set itinerary or even a reliable map, as unknowing as you, the gleeful reader, of what might await beyond the next rise.
You aren't the only one along for the ride. With the author in a rental Lada of dubious electrics is his pregnant wife Tyga and their young daughter India, both seemingly as willing as he is to accept whatever they encounter, from empty grocery shelves to pursuing money-traders to tire-puncturing crab migrations.
    They have a quest, of sorts. Gébler (God love him) is an admirer of the grand, 1950s-era American cars for which Cuba, by t…