Showing posts from December, 2012

Batista's fleet, and a doomed airliner

From the collection of the Biblioteca Nacional José Marti.     A WHILE back, I challenged readers to name the cars lined up behind the 1956 Chevrolet Corvette occupied by Fulgencio Batista and his son Rubén in this August 1957 photo.    Rashly, I did this before identifying the makes and models myself. And when I sat down to do this, I found myself stymied by the second car from the left. It's clearly recognizable as a late-1950s General Motors product, but while the hood badge looks vaguely like a Chevrolet crest, its grille seems more Oldsmobile or Buick.    A closer look, however, revealed that the emblem, though obscured by the sun's reflection, is indeed the ringed-globe badge that adorned Oldsmobiles through much of the 1950s. That and the grille shape make this a 1957 Olds, though it is impossible from this angle to know whether it's a Super 88 or the longer-wheelbase 98. Its two-tone paint doesn't narrow it down, since that was available across the line.

Starsky, Papa and Hutch

  DAVID SOUL  has had success as pop singer and stage actor. But it's as police detective Kenneth Hutchinson in the cheesy 1970s television drama Starsky and Hutch that he will forever be best known.    Cheesy 1970s television? OK, redundant. Yet even for that era, Starsky and Hutch was especially ripe fromage.    Each episode, Hutch and partner David Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser) would skid and slide through the streets of the California town of "Bay City" in a jacked-up 1974 Ford Gran Torino, tomato red with great white side slashes (or sometimes a '75 or '76 Gran Torino – the show went through a lot of cars).    Often they seemed to just slither about at random. But really they were hunting down crooks who apparently were unaware that the flashiest vehicle in three states was occupied by a pair of undercover cops.    Guess those crooks weren't getting the word on the street. Unlike Messrs. S. and H., plugged in to all goings-on courtesy of informa

The young man and the 300SL

All photos courtesy of Miguel Llorente, This European Life.     Miguel Llorente, as already noted here, has determined that least one of Cuba's rumoured Gullwings is metal, not myth.    But not a lot of metal, it turns out.    In the years-old photos that helped spur his search, a Mercedes-Benz 300SL, engine-less, rust creeping up its sides, lies beached amidst debris in a yard said to be in or near Havana.    In the photos Miguel took of that very car last month, in or near Havana, the rust has spread everywhere: door sills, window frames, the roof. Worse, the car bends up at either end, its trademark doors jammed open. Because it was transported and stored poorly, Miguel writes at This European Life , "it's almost broken in half."    Too little remains for it to be revived. This "fractured carcass," as our writer calls it, might at best provide a serial number and a few scraps to allow some monied collector to turn a Gullwing replica into an origin

Gullwing and a prayer

The 300SL years ago. What does it look like now? Photo: Michael E. Ware    IN THE BRAVE  tradition of Spanish adventurers, Miguel Llorente decided to set course for the New World.    Already, he has conquered America, and now, at the helm of a 30-year-old Mercedes-Benz 300 TD station wagon bearing Kansas licence plates – Miguel apparently being the first Spanish explorer to settle in Wichita – he`s pressing south to Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala and beyond. His ultimate destination: Tierra del Fuega, at the tip of South America.    But unlike his forebears, Miguel Llorente`s quest is not gold, or a passage to the Pacific, or even the Fountain of Youth (unlikely to be a priority for a man who appears to be younger than his car). Instead, this explorer seeks scenes he can photograph and experiences he can write about. And because of his keen curiosity, he`s never short of subjects.    Miguel has, however, at least one additional goal. He wants to see for himself the famous Mercedes 300

Defeat, delayed

Ford Consul: nearing the end of its road.     Even in Cuba, it is evident that metal is mortal, and that vehicles have finite lives, albeit, on this island, probably much longer lives than their designers and assemblers could ever have imagined.   In sagging testament to this inevitability is this British-built Ford Consul. Its tailpipe hangs by a cord. Its fenders, its hood and trunk lid, even its roof show rust that will not be deterred by a buttering of body filler.   But it is the sad droop of its doors that betrays the extent of the inner corrosion and metal fatigue that seek to return this five-plus-decades-old sedan to the base elements from which it was formed. Later I see the Consul labouring along the street, blue smoke drifting in its wake, a death clatter coming from its Soviet tractor engine. How long could it last? Who could bother trying to repair it?    In Havana I come across a 1955 Chevrolet four-door, its oxidized fender speaking of a restoration a