A Cuban car in America

Assembled in Havana: 1905 Rapid depot hack.
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 advertisements, the Rapid Co. boasted of its ability to equip its vehicles with bodies to "suit your special requirements." In this case, however, the chassis would have been turned over to the Havana Carriage Co. to complete, a common practice for automakers at the time.
    How this early automobile came to the United States isn't stated, and the only visible clues to its history are a pair of California Horseless Carriage licence plates, still attached, from 1967.
    Of course, the Rapid depot hack is hardly the first Cuban to find residence in Florida.


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