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Detroit´s finest still rolling

Detroit´s finest still rolling

In the early 1950s Detroit dominated the world as the unchallenged leader of the world car industry. Long before the notion of French and Japanese white knights riding to the rescue, Detroit designers were producing innovative and beautiful cars. Cuba was often used as a testing ground for new designs, models and styles and many of the cars and trucks first brought to the island in the early 1950s are not only still here but still in working use.

Can you imagine the state that your current car will be in 2061, much less whether it will still be driveable? It is estimated that there are at least 50,000 museum pieces still rolling around Cuba?s streets, often in use as taxis. Set against the beautiful and crumbling facades of Old Havana, the effect of these chrome-bedecked classics is to transport the onlooker back to the 1950s and gives one the sensation of having walked onto a film set.

For car enthusiasts, the best background against which to photograph these machines, other than the classic Malec?n shot, is the Capitolio Building, which was point zero for measuring distances by road from Havana.

Throughout the course of the 1950?s, tail fins of Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and Dodge grew and grew as if infused with a desire to sit resplendent on a jet fighter rather than drive to the nearest convenience store. By 1958-9, they had collapsed altogether into huge eyebrows in what now seems like canny stylistic preparation for the swinging 60s.

A marketing mistake that could perhaps have foretold some of today?s woes was the Ford Edsel which, while conceived in the 1954 boom, was only launched in 1957 by which time America was in the midst of a recession. The Edsel was designed as a new mid-price brand, which would enable Ford better to compete with General Motors. Unfortunately for Ford the public did not want, or was not ready for, another relatively expensive car, especially one of dubious style and substance. Sales only just breached 100,000 (the annual target) in the entire life of the car before the line was dropped with Ford suffering a serious US$ 250 million loss on the project.

The unique radiator design, (called the ?horse-collar? at the time) is pure Freud on steroids, perhaps appropriately so since there are a number of these beauties now in use as wedding cars in Havana.

Whilst Chevrolets outsold other models, including the enormous Cadillac, in pre-Revolutionary Cuba the latter have actually lasted better and are probably more common today. In the 1950?s, Cuba was in fact the top world export market for Cadillacs, with one of the highest ownership ratios per head anywhere in the world. Given the general Mafia involvement in the island and corrupt nature of Batista?s political apparatus, this is perhaps unsurprising.

In the early 1990s, in the midst of the special period, some of these cars were taken out of Cuba and have reportedly been sold, once restored, for astronomical prices. Due to regulatory changes, the export of these cars is now impossible, and the cars themselves seem determined never to give up roaring majestically through Havana?s streets.

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