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Showing posts from March, 2016

Coming soon: Zillions of Americans

 OBAMA'S BEEN there. And before long, every American should be able to travel to Cuba unfettered.
   The United States, but for a dwindling number of hotheads, wants this. Economically, gaining access to a nearby market of more than 11 million people, while at the same time earning goodwill among Latin American nations that have grown frustrated with the decades-old U.S.-Cuba impasse, are big incentives for the U.S. to drop its trade embargo.
   And Cuba, hurting for cash, needs this.
   Even as the island and longtime patron Venezuela drift apart politically, the collapse in oil prices has erased the profits Cuba once made from trading the services of doctors and other professionals for Venezuelan crude.
   Squeezing Cuba even more, however, is the fall of another commodity – nickel.
   A decade ago, exports of nickel from a vast reserve near Cuba's eastern tip were the island's single largest source of income. Now, with prices dropping to a 13-year-low in February, there'…

Hail to the chief

 PLAYING ALONG in a skit for Cuban television, U.S. President Barack Obama asked the comedian known as Pánfilo to pick him up at the Havana airport in an almendrón.
   "We have a lot of almendróns," responded Pánfilo, who with grey beard and Tyrolean hat could be a Latin version of Red Green. "My neighbour Chacón has a '58 Chevrolet."    Obama's actual ride for the first visit to Cuba by a U.S. president in nearly nine decades is his own state limousine – a much-reinforced Cadillac sedan known as "The Beast."
   Should the presidential Caddy break down, however, and should Pánfilo's neighbour's Chevrolet not be available, this almond-shaped 1958 Cadillac from Santa Cruz del Norte, not far from Havana, could serve as a worthy substitute.

Hard life for a four-door hardtop

   THE STEEL tow cable stashed behind the grille is just one indication of how this farm-country Chevrolet must work for its living.
   For the original buyer of the 1956 Bel Air, however, the prime attraction was almost certainly style, not utility.
   Why else would he (gender-specific pronoun defensible here) pay a premium – $261 in the U.S., no doubt more in Cuba – for Chevrolet's new four-door hardtop over a traditional four-door Bel Air sedan?
   Convertibles begot hardtops. Even with their canvas roofs raised, convertibles looked sleek and airy, and manufacturers realized they could replicate this pleasing profile in steel by ditching a sedan's door posts, or B-pillars, and removing the metal frames surrounding the side window glass.
   The first hardtops were two-doors, but by the mid-1950s, carmakers were adding pillarless four-doors. General Motors began in 1955 with Buick and Oldsmobile, adding Chevrolet, Pontiac and Cadillac versions the following year. (Confusingly, G…

A conventional, and thus unconventional, Corvair

THE CORVAIR owner smiled as he saw me crossing the airport parking lot with camera in hand.    "¿Petróleo o gasolina?" I asked, my usual opener, though fully expecting the answer to be gasoline. I don't know of any diesel powerplant that could be an easy substitute for the Corvair's rear-mounted, flat-six gas engine.
   But the owner replied, "Diésel, Toyota," his smile broadening as he watched my expressions of surprise and then, realization. I pointed to the front of the car and he nodded.    Could I see? Obligingly, he lifted the hood to reveal the four-cylinder Toyota oil-burner nestled in the former luggage compartment as if Ed Cole and Eiji Toyoda had intended it to be there.
   Chevrolet built the Corvair from 1960 until 1969. This, almost certainly, is a 1960 model, one of the last American cars to reach Cuba before the supply was cut off (initially for reasons as much economic as political).
   It was a radical design, and not just for the aircooled rea…