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Showing posts from July, 2011

Havana's fixed-route taxis, Part I

FOR THE car spotter, the shared "peso taxis" that run along set routes in the Cuban capital provide a parade of opportunities. These privately owned taxis, nearly all of them 1950s American sedans and wagons, serve Habaneros as an alternative to the city's crowded public transit buses.They aren't showpiece vehicles; they're too well used for that. But most look remarkably good considering the thousands — millions? — of miles they've travelled.
    For the next while, I will be bringing you images of these hard-working cars.

The Truth About Cuban Cars

At the website that calls itself The Truth About Cars, contributor Ronnie Schreiber reports that per capita income in pre-Castro Cuba "was one of the highest in the western hemisphere."
    Wrong-o, Ronnie. The average annual income in Cuba in the 1950s was about $500 U.S. (No Free Lunch: Food and Revolution in Cuba Today; Medea, Collins and Scott, 1984). That trailed Venezuela and and Argentina among Latin American nations and was perhaps one-third of the figure for the United States and Canada.
    So what has this to do with cars?
    Schreiber has a hate-on for Fidel Castro's regime, and a conviction that those with more moderate views are unwitting tools of the bearded one and his buds. Or in the case of Taillight Diplomacy, a small, U.S.-based movement to support Cuba's classic car owners, witting tools, he suggests.
    "Taillight Diplomacy may appeal to our automotive and human interests but their agenda may be more political than humanitarian," wr…

The only Porsche 911 in Cuba, Part III

David and I walk to the backyard, where we're joined by the woman I met earlier and her husband, a compact, quiet man named Armando. If  Armando is surprised by my interest in his project, he doesn't show it. A curious young neighbour comes over, adding to the party as Armando pulls open the garage doors to reveal the car within.
    Seen for more than a moment, it's clear this Porsche never came off the Zuffenhausen assembly line. The wheelbase is too short for a 911, and the body proportions are wrong. This is especially revealed in the roof that falls back sharply from the windshield post. On a true 911, the roof slopes only gradually over the front seats.
    Armando is making this Porsche.
    Yet were I unfamiliar with the 911, I might never guess this car was not factory-built. The body needs more filling and sanding, but its line are ruler-straight, and its many curves beautifully executed. Armando proudly invites me to inspect the rear bumper fascia. I expect it …

The only Porsche 911 in Cuba, Part II

The next day I walked to the rental agency up the road and took out a Yamaha scooter. I wanted to find that Porsche.
    Within half an hour I was in an area with the sea close by to the north and a scattering of houses on the far side of the highway. It looked right. I drove along the shoulder, scanning the yards as blue tour buses rushed by. No Porsche.
    Back and forth I rode, the breeze off the water working first for me and then against me. A motorcycle cop rumbled past on his Virago. I looked over and smiled — Hello, my Yamaha brother! — but he ignored me.
    In one yard stood a small wooden garage. Could it be in there? I bumped up a short dirt road and stopped before the house. I was taking off my helmet when a woman came out. "Carro?" I asked, pointing beyond the house. "Porsche? Mecánico?"
    She held up a finger and disappeared around the side of the building. A few moments later, a young man appeared. "Hi," he said. "Can I help you?&q…

The only Porsche 911 in Cuba, Part I

WE WERE CLIPPING along the Via Blanca when I caught a glimpse of the blue car in the yard of a house near the highway. It took a few seconds to register.
    "Porsche," I said to Daniel, our driver, pointing over my shoulder. "Porsche 911!"
    "Yes," he said, smiling blankly.
    I realized my hand was tracing in the air that delightful curve of roofline and tail. I picked up my notepad and tried to draw it.
   "Yes," Daniel said again, nodding politely. I looked at my rough sketch and realized that to him, it might have looked like a '51 Chevrolet Fleetline.
   But why would he recognize a 911? The car that is an icon to the rest of the world never reached Cuba, its 1963 introduction too late for the island's once vibrant motorsports scene that had faded to nothing in the first years of the Castro government.
   There are a handful of older Porsche 356s in Cuba, including this 356A Coupe T2 that Ralphee of CubanClassics spotted in a Vedad…