Wednesday, July 22, 2015

* Jurassic Park on Wheels in Cuba


Cuba, diplomatically unfrozen after 50 years,  is more than an economic treasure for investors now that the Cuban flag flies over an embassy in Washington.  It is a living (driving)  automobile time capsule. And it should be preserved as such,  like the San Francisco cable cars,  cruising (or rumbling) alongside all the  modern  vehicles which will now flow into Cuba’s auto market.

It’s an automotive Jurassic Park, with dinosaur cars long extinct in the rest of the world, still roaring away, the bizarre, time-warp creation of the embargo which prevented Cubans from importing new cars for 50 years.  Ah, politics! Creator of  such a strange beauty, at least beauty to my mind. Cubans had no choice but to make do with the cars they had in 1960, the year the embargo was imposed by the United States. The Ford Edsel, produced only from 1958 -1960, just squeaked under the embargo’s wire.


Every time I watch a news snippet of Cuban streets, I see all the cars I grew up with.  I can identify by sight instantly every car from 1949- 1960----- practically the entire automotive inventory of Cuba’s traffic in 2015.

Cars were my life when I was a kid.  Every September I would ride my bike  a mile on Whitney Avenue and stand in front of Ekblade Oldsmobile’s show room hoping to see the new model Oldsmobile for next year. Sometimes it took days of wasted bike trips before the new car appeared in the showroom.  But once it did you had a preview of four other GM cars which were variations on the theme of Oldsmobile, up or down:  Chevy, Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac. The same went for DeSoto:  Once you saw that new model, the rest of Chrysler models were simply variations on the theme:  Plymouth, Dodge, Chrysler, Imperial.

I understand that Hollywood producers each year purchase and save ten samples of every car and every model of car going back to the 1920’s.  Scenes in the 1974 Robert Redford film The Great Gatsby for instance used those cars on the actual  Riverside Drive, a block of which New York’s Mayor’s office closed for a day or two for Hollywood filming.

But that film-industry automobile preservation doesn’t help the average citizen much, even if they could go to a Hollywood museum and look at all those models, which as far as I know, they can’t.

Sixty years ago my brother and I, constantly chauffeured  to one place or another in my parents’ second-hand,  1954 Nash (which happily I still see today on Superman re-reruns)  would play the game of “Name the make and year of that car” as the traffic drove by: ’49 Chevy stick shift; ‘53 Buick, with dynaflow automatic transmission that almost growled (we called it super-slush it was so slow) ; ’55  two-tone Ford with the long  chrome check-mark,  on fenders and door dividing the colors (white and turquoise was sweet);

Or a ‘56 Oldsmobile, hydramatic  transmission (much faster than dynaflow) ; ’57 Plymouth, with the fantastic swept wings on the back which look like shark fins today and pushbutton automatic transmission; and, most fantastic of all---even today --- was the ‘59 Cadillac with gigantic swept wings and a wrap around windshield back and front. 

If you owned that Cadillac  it meant you were “rich”, driving what was sort of an American royal carriage back in 1959.  It also had  two chrome “Mae West” front bumpers that really bumped.  Today they would be politically incorrect.


The 1958 Oldsmobile---a bomb even when it was new --- was the most chromed up car of all time : It  seemed it had a musical score sheet  minus a G-cleff sign in chrome on its fender and doors, making it look it so heavy  it could barely move.   

Does anyone know what I’m talking about?  Go to Cuba and you will see.

That’s why I suggest that we baby boomers well into our nostalgia-years  create a  new living, moving, chugging, sputtering, clunking museum called the Cuban Automotive Preservation Society (CAPS).  It would be a kind of  Car Disneyworld of Cuba, complete with dents and smog.  Like Disneyworld, you would have to pay an entry fee, and then, like Uber,  you could order by cell phone a driver with the car of your choice:  a ’49 Nash stick-shift, or a ’56 Desoto, with pushbutton drive; or a ’59 Cadillac convertible with its machete–like fins. Of course Ralph Naders seat belts would have to be added for safety.  even if they are an anachronism.

Take a vacation to Cuba and ride real dinosaurs from my childhood. Walt Disney: Where are you when we need you?


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