Wednesday, July 29, 2015



"Traditionnelle et moderne. Fiable et confortable."

With just six words the Belgian Avtoexport leaflet cut right to the chase. The Volga it promoted was clearly one of the finer cars that were driving behind the Iron Curtain. While earlier Volga models had been heavily inspired by the products from Detroit, the designers developed an unique and recognizable design for the GAZ-24. Presented in late 1967 and mass-produced since 1970, the well-proportioned and spacious car soon became a Russian equivalent to the average GM or Ford fleet cars: the GAZ-24 served as a typical government vehicle or taxi in the whole of Eastern Europe, and rarely got into private hands. Did we mention the KGB yet? They, of course, got their own pimped version, called "Device 2424". This car looked like your average Volga, but under its bonnet sat a powerful V-8 engine instead of the standard four-cylinder. 

Small improvements from time to time kept the Volga on top of its game. Our pictured car is from the second generation, produced between 1977 and 1985. This revision comprised small indicator lights at the front fenders, yellow fog lights and bumper guards. Demand usually exceeded the production capacities by far, and thus, the eastern designs had a lifespan that was unthought of in the western world. Annual facelifts? Not necessary, comrade.

Thursday, July 23, 2015



"Ford trucking costs less and Ford trucks last longer!"

There's some truth in that slogan, although we'd bet that the copywriters of this 1952 ad would never have imagined that a Ford truck would need to last more than six decades in daily use. Pickups and light trucks such as this 1952 Ford F-5 perfectly suit the automotive needs of rural Cuba, and therefore you still see a lot of them today. Contrary to privately owned cars, privately owned trucks were always considered important to the socialist community, and the bureaucratic strings were held a little bit less tight. The truck owners usually do good extra business with smaller jobs on the side, and the officials usually pretend to be blind on one eye. That symbiosis enables a more or less working system of haulers for smaller transport needs, parallel to the bigger state owned transport companies.

Our pictured Ford, of course, doesn't run on its gas-guzzling original engine anymore. "We've installed a Perkins Diesel engine, for much better economy", told us the proud owner. Regular maintenance is a breeze as the entire front clip is easily removable. Ford used to apply a similar looking design to all of its trucks, from the ½ ton pickup F-1 to the heavy-duty three ton F-8. They only differed in the cabin size, which makes it difficult to tell at a glance which version of F-trucks it is. While its owner doesn't care for these fine details, he sure does care for the truck's 1½ tons load capacity — for him the Ford is merely a tool.

Friday, July 17, 2015



"Here's a car so wonderfully compact it's a delight to handle, drive and park — even in congested traffic — yet with ample room for six passengers. Here is a car with Instant Action Engine featuring Super Induction — a car so powerful it leads the lowest price field for performance, yet so economical it's thrifty like a Scot on gas, oil, tires and upkeep."

Above its shoulder line, the Hudson Jet looks handsomely styled and has an almost European flavor to it. But here's the catch: because this shoulder sits pretty high, there's a long distance to cover until road level, resulting in a massive, slab-sided body that makes the narrow Hudson look unnecessarily stodgy. The Willys, in comparison, shows that it wasn't impossible to create a proportionally attractive compact car.

Obviously not so at Hudson, where the design team under Frank Spring had initially proposed much more daring ideas. Yet, biased by the opinion of Hudson's biggest dealer, Jim Moran, Hudson president A. E. Barit insisted on design changes that should make the final design look much like a contemporary Ford.

Accordingly, the motor press didn't rave over the styling when the Hudson Jet was presented in late 1952, but was rather impressed by its mechanical soundness and the peppy performance. Mind you, technically the Hudson wasn't a bad car at all. The standard engine already offered 104 hp — considerably more than a comparable Willys, Rambler or Henry J. An optional aluminum head and "Twin H-Power" gave you an additional 10 hp power boost, enough to out-accelerate any 1953 Ford or Chevrolet

Because the Jet offered comprehensive standard equipment, its price tag was well in the territory of the base models of Detroit's "Big Three". Unsurprisingly, only few customers choose the ugly duckling over the more comfortable full size cars from Chevrolet, Ford or Plymouth. When Hudson merged with Nash to form American Motors in 1954, one of the casualties was the slow-selling Jet. Hudson stopped the production of the Jet as soon as the tooling costs were amortized and soldiered on with badge engineered Nash models until the brand was given up in favor of the more successful Rambler in 1957.

Sunday, July 12, 2015



"The day you come into possession of your new Pontiac will mark the beginning of a wonderful friendship — for there is no more faithful or satisfying car to be had anywhere in the world. First of all, it is such a big and beautiful and distinctive car that you will be proud to have it as a companion wherever you go. It performs so well, and is so easy and safe to handle, that it will make a big contribution to the pleasure of every journey. And, finally, it is so completely dependable and trouble-free that you will learn very soon to trust it implicitly — as you would any other good and capable friend.

The statements we are making here apply, with special emphasis, to the wonderful Pontiacs we are building today. But they also apply, with equal force, to the Pontiacs that will be built in the future — for Pontiac is always a good car. For goodness — in all that the term implies — is a constant Pontiac virtue. Regardless of when you get it, your Pontiac will be beautiful, safe, dependable — and a great comparative value. You can never do better than a Pontiac!"


The advertisement hyperbole makes one almost forget the fact that the 1948 Pontiac Torpedo was merely a better appointed Chevrolet. Admittedly, the liberally applied chrome trim and the signature "Silver Streaks", running from bonnet to boot, make the Pontiac look way more dashing than its economic sibling. These "Silver Streaks" echoed the trendy Streamline Art-Deco lines of the 1930s, and were first devised by GM designer Frank Hershey for the 1935 Pontiac. Sticking to that design element should make the Pontiacs easily recognizable. There was one problem, though: because these chrome stripes would appear old-fashioned in the postwar years, Pontiac began turning into a stuffy old man's brand — sound but uninspired. Fortunately not for long. Under new management, the focus shifted to power, the "Silver Streaks" got axed in 1957, and the brand rose like a phoenix from the ashes. 

In Cuba, torpedo has become a general moniker for vintage fastback body styles. Yet, the Pontiac Torpedo was not limited to the fastback look. It simply was the designation of Pontiac's entry level model which shared GM's corporate A-body with Chevrolet. Only one out of four Pontiac buyers opted for the Torpedo in 1948. The vast majority choose the pricier Streamliner series, which ran on a 3-inch (7,62 cm) longer wheelbase and used GM's bigger B-body, just like the junior Buick, Cadillac and Oldsmobile lines.

Friday, July 3, 2015



"The Morris Minor has road-proved its way to popularity in nearly every country of the world. Everything of first-rate importance in modern automobile design has been incorporated in this car. With family budgets under daily review it is small wonder that the Minor is so much sought after everywhere. There is room for the family and luggage in a Minor — the world's biggest small car buy!"

Don’t be fooled by the radiant red of this Morris Minor from Havana: this ain't a sports car. Who expected less than lethargic performance from this tiny car was in for a great disappointment. Zero to 62 miles (100 km/h) took about a minute. If you got there at all, that was, because the Morris could reach its 63 miles (101 km/h) top speed only in still air conditions. Even tinier cars could outrun the Morris. So, why bother buying one? Rather than speed, it was comfort that attracted many Morris customers.

Its tall roof made the Minor look a bit cartoonish, but all passengers could sit upright and comfortably. And compared to other English cars of the same vintage, it didn't look so bad, after all. Another strong point of the Minor was its cushiony ride. Cornering and road holding qualities were considered very good for a car of that era. Unsurprisingly so, as the Minor had an unconventional torsion-bar suspension, just like the Porsche and Volkswagen Beetle models. A rack-and-pinion steering made the handling pin-sharp. And the car had a monocoque body instead of the prevailing body-on-frame design. Responsible for all  this engineering extravaganza was Sir Alec Issigonis, who later should become famous as the father of the Mini. Issigonis always took great pride in the fact that the Minor's little "development team" — him and two draftsmen that interpreted his freehand sketches — could pull off such an innovative and successful design.

For postwar standards, the Minor was a well-constructed, spacious car that didn't cost too much — exactly what England's war-ridden middle class needed for their first steps into motoring. Presented in 1948, the little Morris should become a constant seller for two and a half decades, with almost 1,620,000 examples built. Across the Atlantic Ocean, though, the Morris Minor had rather minor success.

Split windshield and rectangular grille opening with parking lights that are confined within the grille frame suggest that this car was built between 1952 and October 1954. Later, the parking lights moved out into the front fenders while the grille opening got a softer shape.

Thursday, June 25, 2015



"For work or play — on any occasion — Chevrolet's got the handiest, dandiest wagons of them all!"

Pictured here, two marvels of their time. Even in "practical disguise", the 1957 Chevrolet in the foreground is one of the iconic designs of the 1950s. The three-year lifecycle of the famous Tri-Five Chevys was in its final year in 1957, and Chevrolet's design team under Clare MacKichan pulled out all the stops to make a striking design look even more spectacular. A new wide front grille with integrated bumper, space-age inspired trim details, and large anodized aluminum panels covering the „High-Fashion“ rear fenders of the Bel Air brought previously unseen glamour to GM's budget car line.

In the background is the emblematic FOCSA building, at 121 meters height still the tallest building in Cuba, which dominates the skyline of Havana. Being the world's second largest concrete building upon its completion in 1956, it was a national sensation, and it is today acclaimed as one of the seven wonders of Cuban civil engineering. The apartment building offered all the amenities of a contemporary urban lifestyle on its 39 floors: a four-level garage with 500 spaces, an in-house supermarket and its own rooftop restaurant sure made life in the 373 sea-view apartments very comfortable. It comes to no surprise that the Castro government reserved many of these apartments in post-revolutionary times for its most honorable foreign guests, predominantly Russian advisors and „specialists".

Wednesday, June 17, 2015



"SIX FEET FOUR AND ROOM FOR MORE."

The automotive landscape of Cuba looks quite deserted when you look for Italian cars prior to 1960. This Fiat 1100 is one of a few on Cuban roads. Launched in 1953, the "Nuova Millecento" looks more like a toy beside the big American cruisers, but in postwar Europe it was a rather sporty and comfortable car.

Unlike other European cars of that time, the Fiat 1100 lineup saw a myriad of small changes and versions between 1953 and 1960, sometimes even two per year. We recon that this Fiat, which belongs today to the local "TVC Centrovision Yayabo", is a 1100-103 H "Lusso" from 1959: only this bi-colored version had the distinctive chrome-decor that once divided the two colors on sides and roof.

Thursday, June 11, 2015



"Step up to the Mighty Chrysler. Walk around it — let your fingers follow its clean and lustrous lines. Here, you sense, is a car that almost demands to be driven. Ease behind the wheel. Lounge and feel the deep pile carpeting underfoot. Survey the eye-catching world about you. Could any throne be more commanding?

Alert the engine and feel, ever so faintly, this Mighty Chrysler bridle for action. Push a button and head for the open road. Never have you dominated motion, space and time so completely! As you glide over rough spots and straighten the tightest curves, you give a silent salute to Chrysler's Torsion-Aire Ride. Let Chrysler prove its power. Touch the accelerator and surge ahead."


This view nicely shows why Chrysler's "Forward Look" design was so cutting-edge in the latter 1950s. The impressive front end really seems eager to eat up the road. With the annual facelift, the grille became even cleaner and wider looking than in its introductory year 1957. The subtle winglets at the outer tips of the bumper and massive tailfins — so dominant that Chryslers copywriters even invented the term "Directional Stabilizers" — create a purposeful, aerodynamic impression. Effective or not, if you have seen one of these Chryslers roaring down Cuba's autopista, you can sense that these cars were a different animal than your average chrome-monster of that year.

Best of all, that look wasn't just a promise, as these cars were truly serious driving machines, too. The advantages of Chrysler's "Torsion-Aire" torsion bar suspension — superior road holding and compact construction — gave an extra edge to the Chryslers: no one else could achieve such a low-slung silhouette with conventional suspension. Did we mention "Constant Control Power Steering" and "Torque Flite" transmission with "Push-Button Control" to bring the 310 horses of its 354 cubic-inch (5.787 ccm) "Spitfire" V-8 engine down to the tarmac, or the "Total Contact Brakes" to stop them?

Even without its original engine, the pictured Chrysler Saratoga is a regular award winner for its complete and authentic condition. Its owner, Reynaldo, is pretty proud of his car, and likes to display it whenever possible. The annual assembly of Havana's renown Escuderia de Autos Clásicos — A lo Cubano at the discotheque "Macumba" in Havana's La Lisa suburb is such a welcome opportunity. Here, period cars and people in period fashion nicely recreate the flavor of past times when these cars still were la última moda.

Saturday, June 6, 2015



Even if allegedly all people were equal in communist countries, the functionaries found subtle ways to let everyone know that they were more equal than the rest. Case in point: the car. Even if he had the money, an average communist couldn't possess a representative car, as they were allotted according to the political status. GAZ, Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, was the place to go when you had already climbed the ladder: who got into a "Chaika" clearly belonged to the very privileged few.

The design of the GAZ models had always been inspired by period American car styling. The GAZ-12 from 1950 looked like a blend of contemporary Cadillac and Buick up front, combined with the cabin of a Hudson. The GAZ-13 of the late 1950s seemed to be the offspring of a mid-1950s Packard. With the GAZ-14, presented in 1977 and produced until 1988, the designers finally had found an own, distinctive look. Underneath its skin, however, the "Chaika" was still based on the same old 1950s construction of its predecessor.

Our pictured "Chaika" was one of five in Fidel Castro's fleet. Since they finished their duty as representative cars, they serve as public taxis. The armor got removed and the engine replaced by a Mercedes Diesel. Easy to guess that this diet worked miracles to the economy and performance.

With a bit of luck you can catch a ride in one of these "Chaika" taxis in Havana. The interior of our pictured car features fancy rear shelf air conditioning, period all-Russian lettering on its dashboard controls, and psychedelic 1980s patterns and colors all-around. "Beach Towel" would be the right connotation. If this was the original trim, then Fidel Castro and his buddies sure had a big smile on their faces every time they drove in this car. Riding in this taxi, the average Cuban communist today can at least discover the amenities of a representative limo and feel just like the comandante en jefe and his chums.

Incidentally, the end of the GAZ-14 was caused by Michail Gorbatchev's perestroika policy which should ultimately end the Cold War and trigger the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1988, the central committee of Russia's communist party announced a decree over the omission of privileges. The use of representative cars was now forbidden for Russia's top brass, and GAZ lost its clients from one day to the next. After 11 years of production —pretty short for such a kind of car in Russia — the assembly line of the "Chaika", as well as most documentation, became obliterate. An attempt to revive the production in 1996 resulted fruitless: building such a dinosaur again simply wasn't rentable anymore.

Thursday, May 28, 2015



"Unmistakably, the striking modernity of this 'hard top' model makes it a car for those who strive to enjoy the finest things in contemporary life. Fleet, crisply designed lines from bumper to bumper hint of the power and smoothness that await the driver's command. There's a dash of high-spirited sportiness, too — the 'convertible' touch. Yet all the comfort of any Mercury closed car is there for passengers to enjoy. Every look, every line holds a promise of new driving pleasure, and — best of all — revolutionary new engine and chassis components make all of it come true."

The racy stickers make this Mercury look like a veritable competition machine. They are remainders of the "Copa Castrol", a rally that is organized by Havana's Escuderia de Autos Clásicos — A lo Cubano. The aforementioned oil company thankfully sponsors these events and helps keeping the classic cars rolling. Well, the Mercury's owner certainly wouldn't need such support: it is driven by Kevin Jones, an English musician and car enthusiast. Hence the Union Jack at the windshield and the tasteful restoration, that was awarded "Auto más original" at another occasion. A peek under the bonnet reveals the original Y-Block overhead-valve "V-161" V-8 engine, crowned with a massive Edelbrock air cleaner.

This modern engine was the big news at Mercury in 1954. It replaced the Flathead V-8 of previous years. Power jumped up 28 percent, from 125 to 161 horses. That engine and a new ball-joint front suspension made the Mercury become one of the sweetest driver's cars that year.

However, the Mercury had one flaw: it looked a bit tame. While the classic proportions and the tastefully restrained styling certainly appeal to today's tastes, they were a drawback back then when ostentatious trim and an ever "longer, lower, wider" look were en vogue. For 1954, a massive chrome-laden bumper should add eye-candy to the aging Mercury lineup. Yet, the company had an ace already waiting up its sleeves: the new generation of Mercurys for 1955 should feature a much more aggressive and flashy styling that could finally rival Detroit's boldest creations.

Friday, May 22, 2015



"Here's where your heart skips a beat!", declared Hudson's copywriters in 1949. The same could be said about this modern conversion. When pure necessity doesn't permit to scrap any valuable asset, then a "Step-Down" Hudson, cut in half, still makes a veritable pickup truck. 

The chrome bars connecting the inner bumper guards indicate that this was once a Commodore, Hudson's top-of-the-line series. The shine and most trim have vanished since a long time, but as the car now serves a purely practical purpose, this certainly doesn't bother its owner. And because only few Hudsons remain on Cuban roads today, we clearly prefer to see half a Hudson in such a condition than no Hudson at all.

Friday, May 8, 2015



"WONDERFUL things seem to happen to people when they take over a 1955 Buick ROADMASTER like the one show here. There's a special lift just to see it waiting at he curb — swift-lined, stunningly styled, fairly breathing success. There's a heart-warming glow that seems to come just from slipping behind the wheel and taking the tasteful luxury of the fabrics, the colors, the finish. Even the little things seem to be a source of happy pride — like the ingenious new Wide-Speed Wiper that sweeps around the corners of the great panoramic windshield, or doubletimes in rapid stroke when faster cleaning is needed. But when you turn the key, start the engine and let the wheels start to roll — that's when ROADMASTER really quickens your pulse, really raises your pride."

"Looking cool" certainly is an well-practiced routine for these young habaneros, even if they'd presumably prefer a flashier place than sharing the front bench of this big almendrón.

Not even the deep-treaded truck tires can mar the imposing presence of Buick's flagship for 1955. At first glance, all Buicks of that year looked virtually similar, but in direct comparison you can clearly notice their proportional differences: besides being longer, the Roadmaster was a whopping four inches (10 centimeters) wider than an "entry-level" Buick Special, resulting in a much better stance. 

The Roadmaster used GM's corporate C-body, as did Cadillac. Both share the same roof with its massive windshield frame, while the smaller B-body Buicks sported a more fragile chrome frame around the windshield, just like the 1955 Oldsmobile 88. Details like these illustrate that GM products, despite being very divergently styled and marketed to appeal to very different customer groups, were actually not that different at all.

Thursday, April 30, 2015



"Here is the newest version of an automotive classic. You'll recognize it in the beauty of line . . . in the many new things in the Thunderbird for '56. The spare is mounted outside for a smarter silhouette . . . there's more space for your luggage . . . and you'll enjoy new cowl and window ventilation. You who have special appreciation for advanced design and custom craftsmanship, you who get keen enjoyment from a car that responds to your touch with the sureness of a thoroughbred, should really be driving a Thunderbird. It is for people such as you that this distinguished personal car was designed."

It was one of our "holy grails". And just as we abandoned hope to ever see one in person, a first generation Thunderbird crossed our way. The Cuban automotive landscape never ceases to hold a pleasant surprise.

The Thunderbird, introduced in 1955, was Ford's answer to the Corvette, which you could buy already since 1953. It's difficult to talk about one car without mentioning the other, as the Thunderbird only exists because of the Corvette — and vice versa. Only because of the Thunderbird's success, Chevrolet saw a market for the Corvette and continued building what back then was a disappointment, but today has become an American icon.

Ford Chief Stylist Frank Hershey got aware of the Corvette from an old buddy over at GM in 1952. The notice that Chevrolet readied the sports car for production got things rolling, and designers of Hershey's studio promptly began sketching for a Corvette competitor. To lay out the primary package of the future Thunderbird, the designers literally took measure from one of the most famous sports cars of that time by acquiring a new Jaguar XK120. Details like seat position, steering wheel angle and wheelbase became identical to the English sports car because the designers considered its package to be perfect. 

A lucky coincidence for the project's progress, Henry Ford II got interested in European sports cars when visiting the Paris Motor Show. According to George Walker's account in Time Magazine in 1957, Henry Ford II asked Walker, who advised at that time Ford Design as an external consultant, why the company wouldn't have something like that. Gambling high, Walker responded: "But we do. We are already working on it". After the conversation, Walker immediately wired Dearborn to prepare a model, and upon their return from Europe, Hershey's studio had a clay model ready for presentation, and the Thunderbird became an official project.

While the Corvette had a head-start, the Thunderbird more than made up for it on the long run. Incidentally, both companies had planned for an output of 10,000 cars in 1955. Yet the Corvette, despite looking so sporty, was a lame duck at the dealer's: in its third year Chevrolet produced only 700 cars, due to a large inventory of unsold 1954 Corvettes (3,640 had been built in that year). The Thunderbird, however, took flight already in its first year, when 16,155 Thunderbirds found new homes. Although that number went slightly down to 15,631 Thunderbirds next year, it was still considerably more than the 3,467 Corvettes produced in 1956.

This success was due to the decision of Ford's designers and product planners to go a little more fancy and less austere than the Corvette. The result became what Ford would call the "Personal Car": a performant automobile that blurred the line between sporty appearance and luxurious comfort. Even more so with the second generation that offered seating for four. What made sports car purists cry certainly put a smile on the faces of Ford's accountants as the new Thunderbird outsold its predecessor by a big margin.

Fender skirts and the Continental Kit that came standard with the 1956 models make our pictured Thunderbird a nice looking example of Fords first foray into sports cars. Its engine, however, is not the original "Thunderbird V-8" 292 cubic inch (4.8 L) powerplant. Implanted instead is a smaller 256 cu in (4.2 L) V-8 engine which powered Mercurys since 1954. Coupled with a smooth-shifting automatic transmission it is a comfortable ride, and the car still nicely growls through its four exhaust pipes whenever its chofer presses the pedal a notch too much.

Thursday, April 2, 2015



"Name what you expect of a new car today and common sense gets you to thinking Buick as the year's richest harvest of car pride and pleasure and performance. Take in the sleek lines of those sweep-back fenders, that gleaming grille, the broad breadth of the bonnet — and you know that here is styling sure to stay fresh and new for seasons to come. But get into the fields of stamina and soundness to measure the yield of this handsome traveler's building — there's where the canny buyers find Buick a bumper crop on wheels."

Here it's a pristine looking example of Buick's most popular car for 1947, even if its owner went a bit over the top when detailing his pride. Notice the fancy rearview mirrors — and no less than 10 "VentiPorts"! These famous Buick trademarks would only appear two years later on all production Buicks.

Under the watchful eye of Harley Earl, designers of General Motors' Styling Section were repeatedly setting new standards for American automotive styling over three decades between the 1930s and 1960s, and the postwar Buicks are a nice showcase of their virtues. Of all GM divisions, Harley Earl took especially great care in Buick styling, since he had a good relationship with Buick's general manager Harlow Curtice. Unsurprisingly the stunning 1938 Y-Job, the world's first concept car, was a Buick. You can notice the influence of the Y-Job in the low, horizontal front grille of our pictured Buick, as well as in the way the sculptural bonnet nicely flows into the front fenders. These unique "Airfoil" fenders run through to the rear wheel wells and should visually enhance the length of the car, true to Earl's mantra of ever "longer and lower" looking cars. Harley Earl proposed this styling detail first to Cadillac, but it was rejected for being to difficult to engineer and too costly to produce. Thus, the Cadillac featured shorter, bullet-shaped fenders, and Buick's Harlow Curtice happily opted for the "Airfoil" fenders to give his Buicks an unique look.

After all, the design of the 1947 Buick dates back as far as 1942: like most American manufacturers, Buick sold warmed-over versions of the prewar models through 1948. Cars of these last two model years look virtually identical and differ only in a subtle "Super" nameplate on their front fenders. Yet, while other postwar cars —even in GM's portfolio— increasingly began to look dated, the massive grace of the Buicks somehow didn't become outfashioned. Best of all, the Buick build quality matched the Buick look: these cars were built rock-solid and truly embodied the highly respectable progressive image that Buick stood for.

Thursday, March 26, 2015



"The serene lines of the Series 2 Victor as it stands at rest make an instant appeal to the eye. There's a rightness about Victor design that is unmistakable. But it is only when you take the wheel that you appreciate the all-round efficiency that this long, low, functional form confers. The Victor's smooth stability at speed; the confident way it sits the road; its straightline reaction to braking: these qualities are designed right into the Victor; they make it a happy car do drive — a car in which you can relax and really enjoy your driving."

The Vauxhall Victor was originally designed to win over European customers with glamorous American styling, and was later sent to the States to give GM's Pontiac dealers an "European car" to sell during the compact car boom of the late 1950s. 

But the British motor press condemned the Victor exactly for its American styling, while the Americans, certainly not used to "quality" cars, were underwhelmed by the Victor's build quality, and overall didn't really know what to do with a small car that did look no different and was almost as expensive as Detroit's mainstream products. Obviously, the Vauxhall Victor had a character too vague to be appreciated on either side of the Big Pond. Fortunately, British customers weren't that picky, and because the Victor offered a lot of car for a good price, it sold quite well in its home market.

Vauxhall certainly had noticed the Victor's personality problem, and after barely two years, the facelifted Victor Series 2, shown here, was introduced to correct some of the design flaws of its predecessor. The "Dagmar" bumper cones disappeared, while straighter rear doors sans Buick-inspired crease and a flatter bonnet made the car look less baroque and much more angular, bringing it well in tune with the general contemporary styling trends. Under the skin, however, everything remained the same, which made the Victor a pretty sluggish drive for the time's standards. But now the car was out of its teething troubles, and offered a sound and reliable construction.

Vauxhall's venture into the New World should be a short one: by 1962, when the new Victor was presented, GM had its own compact cars ready to sell in the U.S. and there was no more need for the imports from across the Atlantic.

Thursday, March 12, 2015



"The longing of untold Mercedes-Benz admirers for a car of low operating costs, high driving comfort, and interior spaciousness is ideally met by the thrifty Diesel-powered Mercedes-Benz 180 D. In this elegant all-purpose Sedan you will miss neither speed nor comfort, and only in refueling you become aware that the '180 D' is powered by a Diesel engine, for its unmatched miles-per-gallon economy reveals savings which actually help you to cut down traveling expenses."

Long before the oil crisis of 1973 made the Diesel engine an accepted option in passenger cars, Mercedes Benz already had explored the unthinkable. It was a strange mixture that Europe's biggest manufacturer of expensive fine cars presented with the 180 D in 1954: outside it was a representative modern middle class Mercedes, but underneath the bonnet worked an engine that would normally power trucks or tractors. This loud, vibrating and asthmatic engine was a far cry from the refinement of modern Diesel engines, but it offered very economic transportation. Unsurprisingly, Germany's taxi drivers instantly embraced the economic mixture, and soon many future Mercedes drivers should make their first contact with the amenities of these luxurious automobiles via a paid taxi ride.

The current owner bought our pictured car in 1970. "I have a second Mercedes that my son is driving. They look the same, but the other one has a Lada engine installed. It goes faster, but I prefer the Diesel Mercedes. It offers much more economía, and that is what counts today."

Judged by the number of cars still circulating on Cuban roads, Studebaker dealers on the island apparently have been pretty active to promote Mercedes models. Availability of the German cars in the whole of Northern America is mentioned in this 1957 advertisement: "Every Mercedes-Benz inherits a tradition of excellence unrivaled by any other motor car. It is a tradition extending back through 70 years of craftsmanship, knowledge and experience. Mercedes-Benz dealers are conveniently located in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Cuba. Write: Mercedes-Benz Sales and Service, Studebaker-Packard Corporation, South Bend 27, Indiana."

Wednesday, March 4, 2015



"Every so often a car is born so perfect in proportion that it is internationally acclaimed a classic. Such a car is the 59 Ford  . . .  awarded the Gold Medal for exceptional styling by the Comité Français de l'Elégance at the Brussels World's Fair!"

When new, it had a shiny chrome panel adorning its lower rear fender. This panel disappeared at some point in time, but otherwise our pictured Ford Fairlane 500 is in pretty good shape, considering that this car is more than half a century old.

By today's standards, the Fords for 1959 were not very harmoniously proportioned and thus look a bit odd, but in 1959 their styling was perceived as eye-pleasing and modern. The Comité Français de l'Elégance even awarded a gold medal at Brussels world fair for "proportions exceptionales et la ligne élégante". Arguably, there are better examples for automotive elegance, but back then the tastes were different ...

Evidently, the Ford designers under studio chief Joe Oros took a good dose of inspiration from the angular, cutting–edge Mercury styling when crafting the clay models for the 1959 Ford. Compared to other American cars of that year, the Ford looked reasonably restrained after all. The only part that screamed "excess" was its trunk, sporting dish-sized "Iris-Eye Safety Taillights". The boxy front end, in comparison, looked surprisingly tame and conservative but was in all its treatment a positive departure from the rather baroque 1950s detailing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015



"Take a good look at the new ALEXANDER TS. This is a car in which all desirable qualities are combined and which, in addition, can offer riding safety and economy in fuel consumption and maintenance hitherto completely unknown. The new ALEXANDER TS is the result of many years of experience in the design and mass-manufacture of 'light' cars. Is is not a scaled-down big car, but an independent design, aimed from the outset at achieving a maximum of performance, economy, passenger capacity and reliability. The ALEXANDER TS offers features deemed desirable in big luxury cars and, as you will soon find out, many more that will endear it to the heart of its owner."

What looks like an odd DIY-job, was once a hot seller in postwar Germany. The Lloyd Alexander was presented in 1957 as the successor of the similarly shaped Lloyd 600, which bowed in 1955 and immediately scored a respectable third place behind Volkswagen and Opel in the annual German production statistics.

The new Lloyd Alexander sported some significant improvements which made it more acceptable as a "real" car. Most notably, the trunk of the new Lloyd became accessible from the outside through a proper hatch, and a synchronized gearbox was installed. And you could now actually crank down the windows to get some fresh air in — presumably not an unimportant selling factor in the tropical climate of Cuba.

Despite its frugal look, the Lloyd Alexander was a well-equipped automobile at an inexpensive price. One of its technical singularities was the car's four-stroke engine: the pistons of its "parallel twin" two-cylinder motor moved synchronously up and down. In fact, this was merely a bigger motorcycle engine, as contemporary bikes featured similar technology. With a displacement of 36.37 cubic inch (596 ccm), the 19 hp motor accelerated the light Alexander in about a minute to 60 miles per hour (100 km/h). 

The little Lloyd received a facelift in 1958. Now called Alexander TS, it was instantly recognizable by its semi-elliptic front grille. Bigger improvements happened under the skin: front lights with asymmetric beam and window washers significantly improved safety, while a new rear axle and a stronger engine meant much better handling and an increased top speed of 68 mph (110 km/h). We certainly wouldn't like to go that fast in the little Lloyd, and the insurance companies perhaps thought the same. Soon, Lloyd limited the power to 23hp, and topped the speed at 66 mph (107 km/h) to get a better classification. That's still a remarkable performance for such a little car. The Germans rhymed accordingly: "Wer den Tod nicht scheut fährt Lloyd." ("He who is not afraid of the death drives a Lloyd.")

It might sound surprising, but the little Lloyd was quite popular across the Atlantic, too. Sales in the U.S. were reasonably good between 1955 and 1959, but took a header in 1960. Better compact cars were widely available now, which lead to the Lloyd's sudden fall. With it fell the Borgward Group, Lloyd's single proprietor, in 1961. Income from the U.S. exports was crucial for Borgward, and the crash of the import boom in 1960 contributed to the bankruptcy of Borgward. Who would have thought that such a small automobile could ever play such an important role ... 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015



"Here's beauty that keeps its promise! One glance at this excitingly new DeSoto and you can imagine yourself behind the wheel — in luxurious comfort — proudly in command of the road."

Here is a car from Canada that you couldn't buy in Canada. Assembled in Windsor, Ontario, just south of Detroit, our pictured DeSoto was solely built for Chrysler's export markets. 

Presumably, Cuban DeSoto owners traveling to mainland America were in for a surprise when they came across a DeSoto there. The American and Canadian models sported a wider "grin" up front and powerfully bulged rear fenders. In fact, they were utterly different cars, based on the bigger Chrysler platform. The DeSoto on sale in Cuba merely looked like a DeSoto: technically, it was a 1954 Plymouth Belvedere Club Coupe with a DeSoto front end bolted on. Commonly known as "Plodges", these cars combined the cheaper Plymouth body with a „branded" front end, so that Chrysler dealers abroad were able to sell upscale Dodges and DeSotos at competitive prices. 

With a wheelbase of 114 inches (2,89m) and an overall length of 193.5 inches (4,91m), the Plymouth-based export DeSotos were more than half a meter (21 inches) shorter than their American counterparts that stretched over a whopping 214.5 inches (5,45m) on a 125.5 inch (3,19m) wheelbase. Considering Chrysler's pricing policy and import taxes, Cuban customers had to pay more money for a smaller car. Not surprisingly, quite a few smart Cubans brought their DeSoto as a "used car" from the U.S. to the island. Key West was just a short ferry ride away.

Notwithstanding, even in DeSoto "disguise", the Plymouth based export model did look actually quite imposing, and much more elegant than your common Plymouth sedan. Only the proportions weren’t really stunning: the high cabin was a tribute to an already three-year old platform, descendant from the infamous "Keller boxes". In a time when customers longed for stylish “longer and lower" looking cars, this was a serious disadvantage. But help was on the way: already next year, Chrysler’s "Forward Look" models, styled under the lead of Virgil Exner, should catapult Chrysler styling to the top of the buyer's wish lists.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015



We just returned from another journey to Cuba. While it certainly was time well spent to escape the northern cold, we were – again – surprised by the evident absence of vintage cars on Cuba's roads. You wouldn't notice it much in Havana, but rural Cuba suffers from a serious lack of affordable combustible. Even more than before, the roads were pretty deserted. Sure, many cars sleep hidden behind garage doors until better economic conditions make them come back again. Yet we've come across a few nice vintage cars that will be featured here over the next weeks. For today, here's something much more modern.

You are looking at the newest trend in Cuban transportation: the AVA 1000 „Aguila" enjoys a massive popularity and already has become an ubiquitous sight in Cuba's provincial cities. Imported from Panama, the „Eagle" is a sharp looking electric scooter. Five 12V gel-acid batteries produce 60 volt and 22 ampere hours combined, good enough for a day or two of normal city driving. A top speed of 60 km/h (37 mph) and an autonomy of up to 80 km (50 miles) leave nothing to be desired and make the „Aguila“ a strong contender to the automobile. Best of all, you don't need a driving license for this electrical "bike“. At least for once it seems that Cuba is in the vanguard of modern mobility.

Unison International S.A. which offers the AVA 1000 from the free trade zone of Colón in Panama, is a brand of the Chinese HuiZhou StarPower Co., LTD. Amazingly, these scooters are imported to Cuba in a large scale by private persons. Here, a new "Aguila" changes ownership for 1,800-2,000 convertible Pesos which roughly equals the same amount in US-American Greenbacks. Reportedly, it sells for around 700 Dollars in Panama. That's a respectable markup even considering the costs for transport, import and —possibly— bribing.

Monday, December 29, 2014



"Grace  . . .  Space  . . .  Pace — a special kind of motoring which no other car in the world can offer."

Jaguar's advertisers truly nailed it with that slogan! When presented to the public in 1955, the Jaguar Saloon —as the Brits used to call their Sedans— was no less than sensational. The recipe to put sports car performance in a rather compact sedan was tried before and after, but was never achieved in such a convincing way. The Americans sure were used to power, but definitely not to such a good handling of their cars. "Sports Car Illustrated" stated in April 1958: "The 3.4 sedan sums up luxury touring in a high-speed car that defies comparison. It certainly has no American counterpart."

With the 3.4 Litre Jaguar, introduced in 1957, Jaguar addressed the requests of its American dealers who asked for additional power in the successful 2.4 Litre Saloon. Its 210hp six cylinder engine was taken from the XK series —in 1949 the fasted sports car worldwide— and now delivered power in abundance. For 1950s standards, this wasn't just a fast car, reaching a top speed of 193 km/h (120 mph) easily, but it was a safe car, too, because it had novel disc-brakes as standard equipment, a co-invention of Jaguar and Dunlop, and to be found in almost every car today. Outside there were subtle updates to the Jaguar 2.4 Litre: a slightly wider front grille ensured better engine cooling and partially cut out wheel covers at rear meant better access to the wheels and a sportier look. 

Our pictured car from Havana is one of the 17,404 Jaguar 3.4 Litre that were built until 1959. According to its owner, it still has its original engine implanted, which means more than an adequately quick transportation even today. When this car was built in 1959, its successor was already waiting in the starting blocks: the similar looking, but massively improved Jaguar Mark 2 should seamlessly continue Jaguar's successful take on the concept of the sports sedan.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014



"When you buy the Ford, you buy enduring beauty. As you drive it from the showrooms for the first time you will have a feeling of pride in the glistening sheen of its body finish and the bright silvery luster of its exposed metal parts. With reasonable care you can maintain that good appearance for a long period. Months of constant service will put many of thousands of miles on the speedometer, yet you will not think of it as an old car, nor will your friends. And when the time comes to trade it in, you will find that the lasting beauty of its finish is a factor in re-sale value."

Could it get much better? There are some exceptional cars around in Cuba, yet this one outshines them all. We doubt that you'll find a better looking car of this vintage anywhere on the island. It's definitely not easy to keep a car in such an impeccable condition in Cuba, but a tech-savvy owner, enough financial backup and relatives in Miami sure help to accomplish the job. 

And the Ford's owner sure knows its business: a look under the bonnet reveals concourse quality even on engine and mechanicals. "You'll find spare parts of Ford's Model A aplenty in Cuba, but most are terribly worn out. Thus, it's better to get them sent from relatives in Miami. Bueno, such a Ford is easy to maintain anyway. To me, there is much beauty in its simple construction."

An utmost simple and durable construction had been the strong selling point of the legendary Ford Model T, built for almost two decades between 1908 and 1927. Henry Ford certainly would have kept on producing the "Tin Lizzie" to infinity, but the competition began to outrun Ford with stronger engines and technical features in the 1920s. On top of that, arch-rival Chevrolet came up with very stylish looking new models in the latter 1920s. Their design was developed under the lead of newly contracted west-coast boy Harley Earl, and soon the mechanically superior Fords would have a hard stand against the aesthetically greater Chevrolets. Ford needed to react, and came up with the Model A in late 1927. In many respects, the new car was a big improvement over the previous Model T, but most notably, it finally was a stylish Ford — for Ford conditions.

Henry Ford's son Edsel was largely responsible for the looks of the new Ford. While his father had a general disdain for styling, Edsel had developed a fine sense for aesthetics and took great interest in car styling, as later Fords and Mercury models would manifest. In characteristic high-handed manner, however, Henry Ford took all credits for the design of the new Fords as soon as he realized how successful they were ...

Sunday, December 21, 2014



"Have a hauling job  . . .  like a car full of kids to the beach or a ketch to slip? Or how about a date at the club in full formal attire? Call on the LeSabre Estate Wagon  . . .  it belongs everywhere and takes you there in grand new style."

Although this catalog quote belongs to a slicker looking Buick station wagon, we think it fits perfectly to our pictured car, too. It almost looks like a hearse, but instead of hauling corpses, this Buick is a Taxi, built to transport as many passengers as possible on every trip. The Cuban craftsmen took a 1959 Buick as the donor car for their conversion and replaced everything atop its beltline. Even the panoramic windshield had to go. It sure ain't the most beautiful work of art, but it does the job: the roomy cabin means increased passenger capacity and thus more income for the Buick's owner.

Conversions of old Detroit Iron are common in Cuba. „Caristas“ have collected quite a few nice examples. Yet, recently we've seen "fresh" rebuilds pretty frequently. It's too early, though, to call it a revolving trend. And while it's sad to see proud automobiles so botched up, the real life conditions in Cuba don't permit any regret: here the car is an essential tool to make a living, no matter how bad it looks.

Saturday, December 13, 2014



"Fusca. As boas idéias são simples."

"Good ideas are simple" – this slogan certainly applies to any of the few automobiles that once, for various reasons, were produced in high numbers and became ubiquitous around the world. Among them, the Ford Model T, the Jeep and, of course, the Volkswagen Beetle.

The Beetle is the brainchild of Ferdinand Porsche, who was famous for challenging conventional design solutions throughout his career. An air cooled four-cylinder boxer engine, placed in the rear of the car? Torsion bars instead of a conventional suspension? An "aerodynamic" body on a car that could not even reach 100km/h (62 miles per hour)? A whole city founded and erected just for the production of a new automobile? In the 1930s, when the design of the Beetle was penned, this was absolute automotive extravaganza.

In part, the Beetle's unconventional layout was necessary because Porsche needed to achieve tough targets, set by its „financier", the German Nazi-regime. Their planned "KdF-Wagen" should become an affordable vehicle for the mass-motorization of Germany. Promoted by the "Kraft durch Freude“ ("strength though joy“) leisure organization, it was incidentally a clever way to collect more than 268 million Reichsmark from Germany's middle class: each week, the citizens should save 5 Reichsmark and buy stamps to collect in a savings book. When the book was filled with stamps worth 990 Reichsmark, they should exchange it for a brand new "KdF-Wagen". But World War II transformed these dreams –and Germany– into ashes. Needless to say that nobody saw his money again. The almost 700 civil "KdF-Wagen" produced until 1945 had been assigned to Nazi big shots.

After humble postwar beginnings, the VW Beetle production constantly picked up speed. Above all, the Beetle became famous for its utmost simple design that was at the verge of austerity. Less components meant less chances of failure. The Beetle's reliability, caused by its simple construction and the painstaking German quality control, paved the way for the car's ever increasing popularity. In the 1950s, Volkswagen began exporting the Beetle to the U.S. where it should become a smash hit. Volkswagen also opened factories in Brazil and eventually in Mexico to cope with the demand of the Latin American market.

Our pictured Beetle is a Brazilian VW Fusca (which means Beetle in Portuguese). To the casual observer, the shape of the Beetle remained virtually similar throughout the 65 years of its production, but there were constant improvements that make it possible to narrow down the time in which the car was produced. In 1977, the fuel cap of Brazilian Beetles moved out to the right front fender, and since 1979, the car received bigger tail lights. Thus, this VW is a child of the three years in between these two milestones. When and how it arrived in Cuba, however, we can't tell. Maybe one of our readers knows the answer..?

Saturday, December 6, 2014



"Here, in a far-advanced 1955 Commander of unmistakable distinction, Studebaker engineers and stylists have superbly combined sensational performance and outstanding beauty. It's a notably out-ahead automobile in every way — powered by an amazing new Commander V-8 'Bearcat' engine that introduces new Studebaker discoveries and techniques in the science of gasoline combustion. Just the least pressure of your foot on the gas pedal brings lightning response that is truly breath-taking. But this is economical high horsepower. It doesn't squander gasoline. This new Commander V-8 is sensationally thrifty to operate."

In 1955, American automobile production soared by 45 percent, making it a fantastic year for most car manufacturers. Studebaker, too, could capitalize on a tremendous production increase, although it meant just temporary recovery from a devastating previous year. Studebaker was one of the losers of the price war that erupted between Ford and GM in 1954. While this fierce competition didn't hurt the initiators, many "independents" severely lost market share because they couldn't keep up with the aggressive pricing of the "Big Three". Studebaker's production nosedived from 151,500 cars in 1953 to about 68,000 cars in 1954. Something had to be done to make the Studebakers more attractive.

The answer seemed obvious, and in the view of Studebaker's management, the lineup for 1955 certainly ticked all boxes: it sported a liberal amount of chrome trim and dashing two-tone color combinations. The sedans gained a trendy "Ultra Vista" wrap-around windshield. Their flashy design served notice that Studebaker intended to keep pace with the "Big Three" in styling matters.

Thus, the stylists had done their homework right. Yet, a tastefully restrained and elegant look had been the visual signature of past Studebakers, and now the cars appeared overdone and somewhat tacky. The designers weren't to blame. According to Bob Bourke, chief designer of Raymond Loewy's Studebaker studio, the front mask was supposed to be painted originally in body color, but after a veto from the sales department, it became a garish chrome affair. All the flashy chrome makeup couldn't betray from the fact, that the cars were based on an already three-year old body, while the competition had just launched their all-new models for 1955. 

Under these circumstances, Studebaker seemed to fare surprisingly well, as the annual production rose to 116,300 units in 1955. But it was a short alleviation: next year, the sales plunged again to just 63,100 cars, bringing more trouble to the ailing company. In the latter 1950s, Studebaker came into heavy water and began oscillating between ups and downs. Relief should appear one more time with the introduction of the Lark, Studebaker's new "compact car" that should keep the company afloat into the 1960s. Then, by 1966, it was finally "game over", and America’s oldest car brand conceded defeat.