Saturday, 21 May 2022

"Never before has Pontiac so greatly enhanced its reputation for smart appearance, trouble-free operation and fine performance. Truly the Finest of the Famous 'Silver Streaks,' the 1946 Pontiac has been greatly improved inside and out. Whether you choose the 1946 Pontiac as a Six or an Eight, you can be sure of more quality than Pontiac has ever offered in any previous model."

Marketing departments often looked up to the sky when musing about car names: Willys’ “Aero,” Oldsmobile’s “Rocket”, Buick’s “Skylark”, Hudson’s “Super Jet” or Ford’s “Thunderbird” most certainly come to mind. This Pontiac “Torpedo” has a naval connotation, though — and quite a martial one at that. We don’t know if the buyers were supposed to associate this name with “speed” or rather with “explosive” back in the day, but neither would truly befit the character of this car.

Notwithstanding, that name had a long lasting impact on Cuban automotive terminology, as torpedo has become a general moniker for all kinds of streamlined fastback designs here.

More than seven decades on the road show their toll on this Pontiac Torpedo from Havana. When new, the horizontal bars of its sagged front grille still ran straight. Nonetheless, the amount of ornate embellishment is quite staggering, just as it was back in the day, when this flamboyant styling was meant to distinguish the fancier Pontiac design from its lowlier Chevrolet sibling, on which it was largely based.

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

“Todo lo que un auto deportivo debe ser.”

“Everything what a sports car needs to be.” — the Argentinian ad certainly exaggerates a little: the Ford Taunus Coupe, despite its sporty appearance, was pretty standard fare.

Our pictured Coupe was born in Argentina, where 2,484 copies were assembled in 1975. When new, it looked a little different. Ingenious Cuban craftsmen “modernized” it with a little help from Russia. The clandestine redesign actually contains parts of at least four different cars. Up front, the lights of a Russian Moskvich 2141 Aleko and a grille insert of unknown origin make the car appear newer than it actually is. The taillights of a GAZ-24 Volga fit perfectly in the Taunus rear end. Plastic bumpers complete the stylish overhaul. 

On the bonnet you can notice remnants of the characteristic “Knudsen nose” that adorned the original design. Semon E. Knudsen came to Ford in 1968 after a long career at General Motors, where he was best known for grandiosely changing the image of Pontiac from “stuffy” to “performance brand”. His tenure at Ford, however, wasn’t that successful — after just 19 months both sides parted ways, with a telling farewell comment by Henry Ford II: “It didn’t work out.”

But until then, Knudsen had the opportunity to impose his American touch on the German Ford Taunus and its British sister model Cortina that were jointly developed at Ford’s European branches during that time.

When the Taunus was launched in 1970, many customers happily bought into the trendy muscle car aesthetics. Experts, however, weren’t impressed. The Ford Taunus even received the “Silver Lemon” award by Germany’s leading automobile club, ADAC, for its mediocre build quality and susceptibility to breakdowns. Yet, after the teething problems were cured, the Taunus became a successful mainstay in the German Ford lineup.

Ford Argentina could choose between the American Ford Maverick and the European Ford Taunus to be produced in its Pacheco plant. The decision went in favor of the Taunus because it had the right size and was available as a 4-door sedan as well. On top of that, Ford Europe planned a redesign for 1974, hence the expensive body molds and tooling from Europe were available for shipping to Argentina.

The engines, however, to be produced in Argentina and based on American designs, required an extensive chassis adaptation to cope with their heavier weight. The production of the 4-door sedan began in 1974. A year later, after the production of the German Taunus fastback coupe had terminated, the stamping tools were shipped to Argentina and the production of the Coupe commenced in January 1975. The Taunus should remain in Argentinian production until 1985, with 293,000 units produced overall.

Sunday, 10 April 2022

“King of the road in value, Buick’s Two-Door Sedan, Model 48, brings you the cream of Buick’s big car features — power, roominess, performance, and new ‘Low-Sweep’ styling. Smart roof moldings, flowing across the rear deck, and completely new front end styling create a smart fore and aft distinctiveness.”

A 1957 Buick always looks the part, even if it’s the base model, pictured here. This was the cheapest Buick you could buy in 1957, but there’s very little left to be desired. Only door frames and fixed side windows betray this was a budget Buick, as abundant chrome trim and rakish proportions are similar to the higher versions.

Starting at $2.596, the Special wasn’t cheap, but very attractively priced for being a Buick. And the list of available options was looooong, so if you really fancied, you could spec the base model to pretty high levels of luxury.

Even the engine choice was in favour of budget buyers: they got the same “Nailhead” V-8 block with 364 cu-inch (5,965L) displacement, shared with the higher Roadmaster, Super and Century models. And with an output of 250hp, the budget Buick wasn’t exactly underpowered, either, compared to the 300hp of the top level engines, which were achieved by a higher compression ratio and 4-barrel carburetors.

We think the Buick designers under studio chief Ned Nickles nailed it with the design of the 1957 models. It truly is the evolutionary culmination of the glamorous Buick look of yore, by combining loads of chrome and the traditional styling cues with a nimbler appearance than ever before. Most notably, the clever application of the signature “Sweep-Spear” side trim visually alters the proportions and makes the cars longer and lower looking than they actually are.

Yet, what is a highlight of GM styling prowess in retrospect, didn’t seem to meet the contemporary taste back then. For many, it lacked the freshness of the more progressive looking competition. For the first time since decades GM Design wasn’t considered the styling leader anymore. The baton now was passed on to Chrysler and Virgil Exner’s stunning “Forward Look” designs.

On top of that image problem, an economic recession began to emerge in the latter 1957, and the customer’s favour swiftly swayed towards more economic and reasonable cars. Thus, as gorgeous as the 1957 Buicks looked, they sold poorly, compared to their predecessors. The complete change of direction with the redesign for 1958 didn’t help either, as sales plummeted further, to only a third of the 1955 peak volume.

Saturday, 26 March 2022

“For driving in town, it’s the best car in the country.”

Successors of popular cars don’t have it easy, especially when they replace an automotive icon. In the late 1960s, Fiat began working on a successor for the famous Fiat 500 Nuova Cinquecento, the car that had mobilized Italy and made Fiat great again in postwar times.

The newcomer should carry over the rear-mounted engine and wheelbase of the Fiat 500, and become just a little longer to better accommodate four people. Fiat designer Sergio Sartorelli came up with the winning proposal that looked very modern to the contemporary beholder. It certainly lacked the cute appeal of the outgoing Cinquecento but hey, angular and boxy styling meant “newness” in these days.

Yet, the Fiat 126 should never even come close to the popularity of its predecessor in Italy and Western Europe. Meanwhile, the burgeoning wealth and aspirations of European car buyers had superseded the concept of tiny cars and spartan mobility. But behind the Iron Curtain a thankful clientele was eagerly waiting to enjoy the delights of affordable mass motorization. In October 1971, Poland signed a contract to license-build the Fiat 126 in a brand-new factory in Bielsko-Biała. The name of the factory, “Fabryka Samochodów Małolitrażowych” (FSM) was appropriately chosen: it translates to “factory of small-engined cars”. Mass production was conveniently scheduled to begin on July 22nd, 1973, at the National Day of the Rebirth of Poland, which the communists celebrated between 1952 and 1989. 

Soon, the “Maluch” (“toddler”) became a mainstay of private motorization in Poland and other socialist countries. Cuba imported the Polski Fiat in large numbers, and today an estimated 10,000 Polski Fiat 126p still roam Cuban roads. Here, it is affectionately called “Polaquito,” little Polish guy. And little it is: with an overall length of 120 inches (3,05m) the Polski Fiat fits comfortably between the wheels of the average almendrones in Cuba. Yet, it seats four and it is frugal.

A ride in the tiny box is an experience, to say the least. It feels like a go-cart on ballons. The car bounces over the uneven road, and the short wheelbase in combination with a single leaf spring up front make the nose constantly swing up and down. The air-cooled engine bellows asthmatically, suffering in the tropical climate, especially as only full throttle mobilizes all the 24 horses that locomote the Fiat. Hence, most Cuban choferes drive their Fiat with open engine bays, attempting to keep the temperatures in check.

Wednesday, 16 March 2022

„Pleasure? . . . Full measure! Price? . . . Pleasant surprise!”

This 1952 Chevy Styleline, posing at Havana’s Playa Miramar, still sports full embellishment including fender skirts and wheel covers. Quite surprisingly, Chevrolets of this generation in well-preserved condition are a regular sight on Cuban roads, which speaks for their inherent qualities. 

Launched in late 1948, the striking design of Chevrolet’s first all-new postwar lineup made the predecessors instantly look outdated. More than that, these Chevrolets were universally considered being among the best looking GM products. Not surprisingly so, as design supremo Harley Earl frequently transferred design themes of the prestigious brands to the mainstay division of GM. Thus, the 1949 Chevrolet looked like a previous year’s Cadillac in a smaller package. And precisely these „Hollywood looks for a budget price“ made the Chevrolet everybody’s darling. The styling was kept almost unchanged for four years without becoming démodé. Annual trim changes were enough to keep the cars “fresh”.

Along with great styling, Chevrolet excelled with a sound construction and the superb quality of the Fisher built bodies. This engineering and manufacturing excellence allowed Chevrolet to capitalize longer on the same bodies: while the visible sheet metal of the next generation appeared all-new, the underpinnings remained almost unchanged for two more years, until the next milestone would be launched with the Tri-Five Chevrolets for 1955.

Monday, 7 March 2022

“The car with the extras — at no extra cost . . .”

This vintage Škoda Octavia certainly looks a little quirky today, but in the latter 1950s, its design was deemed handsome and in tune with the contemporary tastes, especially when dressed up as the fancier Felicia convertible version.

Škoda’s eighth postwar model — hence the name Octavia, derived from the latin „octo“ — was built between 1959 and 1964. It was based on the design of the largely identical looking 1955-1959 Škoda 440. The main difference was the change from leaf springs to coil springs on the independent front axles, which was apparently enough reason for the name change.

However, the updated suspension drastically improved the ride over its predecessor, which probably helped to sell the car to many a westerner, too. The Octavia was doomed to remain scarce in its home country, and instead became one of the most successful socialist exports of the early 1960s, being shipped to more than 80 countries.

60 out of the 15,000 Octavias exported in 1959 even went to the Batista-governed Cuba. After Fidel Castro and his rebels had ousted dictator Batista and transformed the island into a socialist country, many more arrived, as an economic aid for the new ideological „brothers“. In fact, all Octavia we saw in Cuba are post-facelift versions. This facelift from 1961 introduced a slightly more angular grille opening and little fiberglass tail fins that accommodate taller taillights, as pictured here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

“Plenty of room, plenty of visibility, and plenty of all-around big-car comfort are built into the luxurious new Fisher Body of this Futuramic 4-Door Sedan. There’s greater smoothness in the ‘no-shift, no-clutch’ action of GM Hydra-Matic Drive, and greater safety in the swift, sure acceleration of that Hydra-Matic feature, Whirlaway!”

Those flashy graphics might look, well, „extreme“ on such a vintage car, but then, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The enthusiastic owner really likes them. And because he cares a lot for good appearance, the rest of his Oldsmobile fortunately is in pretty good shape, too. He told us it once had a six-cylinder engine, which indicates it’s a “76”, the budget offering in Oldsmobile’s 1949 lineup. With an output of 105hp, this dated flathead six cylinder block with 257.1 cubic inches (4,2L) displacement offered adequate performance back in the day. 

Yet, times were a-changing: 1949 also marked the introduction of the all-new “Rocket” V-8 powerplant in Oldsmobile’s lineup, and the six-cylinder engine was phased out already by the end of the next model year. Along with the new V-8 engines, Oldsmobile completely revamped the prewar-based design of the predecessors and introduced all-new “Futuramic” styling for the full lineup.

In line with the GM habit of sharing the car body structure between its various divisions as a cost-saving measure, the 1949 Oldsmobile 76 was based on the corporate A-body, and thus virtually identical to a Chevrolet from windshield to rear bumper. Only the extended front end with a 4.5 inches (11,4 cm) longer wheelbase distinguished the pricier Oldsmobile from its budget sibling, perhaps in order to visually justify the higher price tag, since the 6-cylinder engine had plenty of room in the shorter Chevrolet, too.

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

„Like nothing you’ve ever driven before!“

There’s a spot at Havana’s Playa del Este that has become a regular meeting point for a bunch of interesting people. As eclectic as their background stories is the mix of cars they bring along. This Saab 93, for instance, belongs to an Italian signore, who has become a longstanding resident on the island. We won’t challenge his reasons for living here, but he definitely has the style and personality that doesn’t pass unnoticed among the female population.

As does his little red Saab. If you think it looks quite tuned-up, you are right. Especially the flared wheel arches make the car look pretty sporty, and let the vintage design appear surprisingly modern.

Under the bonnet lurks a Lada engine, because it’s easy to maintain in Cuba, and with 77 hp, it’s much more powerful than Saab’s original 33hp 3-cylinder two-stroke engine. The interior is adapted from a modern Seat, as are wheels and side mirrors. Add some bellowing side pipes, and ready is a nice, sporty runabout. And with the stylish foreigner at the wheel, it becomes quite the local „chick magnet”, too.

Sunday, 6 February 2022

“This year, more than ever, the luxurious styling of the new Plymouth complements its superlative performance. Take Plymouth’s rakish new lines, for instance. At the front end, hooded headlights thrust eagerly forward. Body lines are crisp and clean. And the distinctive rear fins mark this car as the fashion leader of its class.”

As usual, the 1950s catalog poetry sounds amazing and seems convincing. Not so much, though, when you compare the “new” Plymouth with the previous model year: it’s the same design, aside from the high “airfoil” tail fins that were added to the rear fenders. Only few would notice another “improvement”: the push-button door handles of the 1955 models made way for novel pull-type openers.

The front end remained unchanged, save for a new grid pattern insert in the center of the grille. This stylistic restraint was remarkable in a time when the competition introduced massive yearly redesigns to make their cars appear “all-new”. 

But all in all, there was no need for dramatic change, as the 1956 Plymouth still looked “fresh”, profiting from the tremendous impact that Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” design had made in the year before. And behind the scenes, an even more striking next generation of “Forward Look” models was already prepared for launch.

Saturday, 29 January 2022


It’s safe to say that Plymouth wasn’t considered being sexy in the early 1950s: the stodgy Keller Boxes and their sensible successors sure were rational rather than emotional choices. Which certainly didn’t help selling them in a time when flamboyant car styling and overstated extravagance became the number one selling point for most customers. 

That changed in October 1954 when Chrysler’s chief designer Virgil Exner introduced the new “Forward Look” models for 1955, flabbergasting customers and experts alike. Suddenly, all Chrysler brands sported well-proportioned, elegant and, above all, striking looking cars. Even Dodge and Plymouth, the lowest Mopar divisions, now had models that were on par with their best competitors — and even better looking.  

Plymouth more than corrected a perceived disadvantage it had with the „too compact“ looking 1953-1954 models: suddenly the Plymouth was five inches (12,7 cm) longer than the Ford, and outsized Chevrolet by eight inches (20,3 cm). That enlargement shows, even in our battered example from Sancti Spiritus. Especially the low cabin, clean lines and a long looking front end, due to the canted headlight covers, make the all-new Chevrolet and Ford (themselves being doubtlessly great designs) suddenly look a little stubby...

Sunday, 23 January 2022

“No doubt about it, the Townsman is designed to add more pleasure, more comfort and more convenience to every mile you drive.”

Even the most utilitarian version of Chevrolet’s 1953-1954 styling looks cool and surprisingly elegant, despite the bulbous cabin. The fancy Bel Air two-tone brightwork helps by visually stretching the proportions a little. 

The “all-new” design was essentially a big facelift of the previous generation — all body panels were new, while the underpinnings remained — but provided even more cargo space and headroom, which the rear passengers of our pictured car certainly appreciate. 

Chevrolet’s copywriters summed it up accordingly:

“Going places is more fun than ever — when you go in Chevrolet’s new Bel Air Townsman. This roomy 4-door carries 8 passengers comfortably. Or minus the easily removed rear seats, it hauls up to half a ton of cargo. The Townsman is rugged and husky, packed with Chevrolet’s high-compression power — the highest compression power in any leading low-priced car. As you know, higher compression means more power and more miles out of every gallon of gas. Performance is finer, economy is greater! 

And it’s every inch a Chevrolet Bel Air with its distinctive styling and its handsome, color-matched interiors of long-wearing vinyl.”

Sunday, 16 January 2022

„Fury fits right in with your ideas of fresh mid-size styling. Long, beautiful lines and wide expanses of glass, and standard upper-level ventilation. Tasteful accents of bright trim moldings. It’s the kind of car you’d be proud to bring home.”

This Plymouth Fury from Cienfuegos is another of those cars that don’t quite fit into the typical automotive landscape of Cuba. The great proportions, long bonnet and Coke-bottle hips make the Plymouth look large, but it was based on Chrysler’s corporate B-body and deemed a mid-size car back then. 

Presented in 1971 as the Plymouth Satellite, this generation was produced until 1978, withstanding various facelifts and a name change. For 1975, the Satellite designation was abandoned and the Fury nameplate, once synonymous for Plymouth’s best performance cars, now tickled down from a full-size model into the sensible mid-size segment.

Plymouths of that vintage are probably best remembered as typical “cop cars” in the U.S., being immortalized in that role by many Hollywood movies and TV-shows. Back then, the Fury was one of the cheapest mid-size Mopars available, which made it an ideal fleet car for any federal accountant. Hence it was a staple of many police departments and government agencies. Patrolmen loved it, too, because it was spacious and — with the right engine — a zesty ride. 

Under its long bonnet, the Fury could accommodate almost every engine available in the Mopar portfolio, from the 225cc (3,7L) six cylinder up to the mighty 400cc (6,6L) V-8. A vaunted 440cc (7,2L) E86 440-4bbl powerplant with 255hp was reserved for police cars, and transformed the Plymouth into a veritable missile on wheels: back then, a top speed of 133 mph (214 km/h) was quite impressive. However, that 440 option was dropped already in 1978, when Chrysler quietly abandoned the big-block engines due to tightening emission regulations.

We wouldn’t be surprised if our pictured Fury has spent its former life in an official yankee fleet before being shipped to the communist island. If it ever had a big-block engine, it sure isn’t installed anymore, as running such a monster under the precarious fuel supply situation in Cuba would be a prohibitive labour.

Monday, 10 January 2022

First of all, a Happy New Year 2022 to all our readers! Thanks for your continuous support and interest.

After a long hiatus — other things became more pressing that updating this blog — we decided to continue telling the stories and history of Cuba’s cars. Because theres’s so much more to the Cuban automotive landscape than we’ve covered so far. The unprecedented mixture of old and new, as evident in this picture, makes the island a truly unique place for any car aficionado. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks.

As usual, your comments are much appreciated and a welcome stimulation for continuing our work.

Tuesday, 16 February 2021


“You get a better, longer lasting return on the dollars you invest in a Chevrolet Advance-Design truck. You get quality, powerful performance, handling ease at their best — and at the lowest list price in the entire truck field. See your Chevrolet dealer. He’s got the right truck for you.”

Trucks aren’t the focus of this blog, but we think this Chevrolet COE, model 5703, is quite interesting, not only because of its unconventional look, but also in its historic context.

During the postwar years, all American car makers sold warmed-up prewar designs. The demand for new cars was huge anyway, and developing an all-new design was a vanity rather than a necessity. GM, back then the undisputed trendsetter in car styling, quite surprisingly choose commercial vehicles to herald its all-new postwar design direction: the “Advance-Design” series of trucks entered production already in May 1947, one full year ahead of the new passenger cars. It’s debatable why GM rushed out the trucks first. One theory suggests that truck production never stopped during wartime, and thus, the body dies were probably worn out by 1946. And reproducing new dies of the old design, or creating entirely new sets would be a similar investment.

Strangely enough it’s pretty well-documented who designed the new Cadillac or Chevrolet models, but there’s no mention of the designers of GM commercial vehicles. We guess it simply wasn’t a prestigious job, and these trucks were styled alongside the passenger cars in the GM styling studios, as there was no dedicated commercial design studio either.

Whatever the case, the nameless GM designers applied all modern treats to these new trucks. At the time, their styling and detailing were thoroughly modern. There was a proper onslaught of variations and sizes, too, from pickup truck to lorry, meeting every conceivable demand. Chevrolet’s copywriters counted “109 models on 8 wheelbases” for the 1948 lineup.

Our pictured COE (read: „Cab Over Engine”) was the fruit of creatively dealing with the legislation: as the overall length for trucks was limited, the cab of the standard truck simply was lifted atop the engine to gain a few more inches of cargo space. Reconnecting the front grille to the higher cowl line required a very bulbous bonnet, and voila, ready was one very peculiar looking truck design.

The „Advance-Design“ COE was built virtually unchanged between 1947 and 1955, but little details narrow down the year in which our pictured truck was produced. The two-piece door glass with separate ventilation pane was introduced in 1951, and push-button door handles came in 1952. The “Chevrolet” bonnet emblems disappeared in 1953, and for 1954, the windshield became an one-piece curved glass. Hence, our pictured truck was produced in 1952. And despite its vintage, it’s still going strong in daily service as a particular (read: privately owned) transport. Because the state-owned bus network is notoriously unreliable, trucks like these remain being the indispensable people hauler in Cuba’s rural areas.

Friday, 22 January 2021

“Nothing without wings climbs like a ‘56 Chevrolet!” 

It was a feast for eyes and ears when this Chevy pulled up at the “Servicentro 5a y 112” in Havana’s rather posh Miramar district. The striking combo of Nassau Blue and India Ivory paint, and the deep exhaust note made it stand out from the ordinary mix of cars that refill here. 

Cuban motorists love and cherish their Chevrolets, but rarely have we seen one in better shape than this 1956 Two-Ten. Little details like the special number plate sequence tell that the owner must be resourceful or well connected within Cuba’s upper crust. Keeping a car in such a good condition requires proper funds, and probably support from relatives in Florida, too. 

Presented with much fanfare for 1955, the striking design of the all-new generation looked unlike any Chevrolet seen before. Surprisingly, initial dealer response and sales numbers didn’t match the high expectations of Chevrolet’s brass. The managers attributed this to Harley Earl’s late call for a Ferrari-inspired egg-crate grille. In fact, photos of earlier design models show a full-width front grille that rather looked like an evolution of the 1954 Chevy. Apparently, Harley Earl got inspired when touring Europe in the fall of 1953, and was adamant to apply the atypical rectangular grille design very late in the development process. 

Startled by the slow initial sales of the 1955 lineup, Chevrolet general manager Thomas H. Keating insisted on a crash course for a new full-width front grille, to be applied as an exceptional mid-year replacement. But the public pretty soon embraced the new Chevrolets, and the sales numbers soared. Consequently, the mid-year update was dropped and the revised grille design waited for the 1956 models.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

"Just because Biscayne is our lowest priced, bet you thought it might look a little bit frumpy. Well, look again and ask yourself how we can do it for this kind of money. Or, for that matter, why no one else does it for this kind of money."

In matte blue color, this Chevy Biscayne from Santa Clara might get lost in the shuffle elsewhere, but on the Cuban car market this car holds immense value, just because it is less vintage than any regular cacharro.

When new in 1969, the Chevrolet was good looking, but didn't stand out in any other way. It was plainly a very average car. The shift towards sportiness and flamboyant styling that had characterized GM's budget brand in the 1950s, was long forgotten, and replaced by stuffy characteristics such as reliability, low upkeep and a cushiony ride. Somehow, the roomy, comfortable Chevy was the period equivalent of today's Toyota Camry. Well, in case you’re wondering: we'd still rather take the Chevy...

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

„Any way you look at it, there’s an unmistakable stamp of distinction about the new Pontiac. It’s a beauty from the front and it’s a beauty from the rear — it has a personality all its own. Whether you see the ‚Silver Streak’ in city traffic — notice it ahead of you on the highway — or look at its smart silhouette as it’s parked at the curb — you know immediately that it’s a Pontiac, and that a Pontiac is always something very special among automobiles.“

Since its inception in 1926, Pontiac was essentially an upscale Chevrolet, positioned to bridge the gap between the budget make and GM’s more prestigious brands on Alfred P. Sloan’s fine-tuned hierarchy ladder that promised “A Car For Every Purse And Purpose”. At that it fared pretty well, especially if you consider that apart from bespoke engines the Pontiac shared most of its components with Chevrolet.

Pontiac customers had an easy choice in 1952: the Chieftain was the only trim line offered after the Streamliner fastback models were dropped in 1951. You only had to select your preferred bodystyle and color, and decide between six- or eight cylinder engine options.

All 1952 Pontiac and Chevrolet models were based on the corporate GM “A-body”. But to justify its lusher appearance and higher price tag, the Pontiac was stretched by 5.6 inches (14,2 cm) and had a 5-inch (12,7 cm) longer wheelbase than its plebeian counterpart. The additional length didn’t offer much benefit at all, though, except for bragging rights: between windshield and rear wheels, Pontiac and Chevrolet were identical, sharing the same cabin and interior space. The extra bulk was merely added to trunk and bonnet.

However, the gleaming opulence of the Pontiac was popular with the customers and looked attractive, as you can still witness on the pictured convertible from Havana. Despite the bonnie looks, this car is a workhorse, used as a sightseeing ride from dawn till dusk, so the tourists can enjoy “authentic” time travel into the 1950s in exchange for much needed hard currency.

Friday, 20 November 2020

“Call it what you will — sound thinking, great engineering, or just plain consideration for your comfort — we think you’ll find that the new ‘53 Plymouth offers you more of it than any other car in the lowest-priced field. But you be the judge! You have a standing invitation from your Plymouth dealer to look, ride, drive, compare. Then we believe you’ll agree: there’s more quality in it — you get more value of it!” 

The 1953 Plymouth is perhaps the most underrated car of the 1950s, shunned by the consumers (and later by the historians) as a design inferior to its competition. In fact, in a time when fancy „longer and lower“ styling was de rigeur, and upsizing was the name of the game, the new Plymouth bucked the industry trend by actually becoming smaller and looking remarkably dowdy. 

Plymouth consolidated its lineup for 1953 down to two trim levels, sharing the same 114-inch (2,90 m) wheelbase. While the entry-level „Cambridge“ benefitted from the new dimensions, the top-level „Cranbrook“ now became 4,75 inches (12 cm) shorter than in the previous years — and lost a whopping 4.5 inches (11 cm) of wheelbase, too. Nonetheless, the cabin became roomier than before because the engine moved forward. Thus, rationally, Chrysler engineers had designed a smarter car with an improved package, shorter overhangs and a roomier cabin, and incidentally anticipated proportions that should become common-sense much later

But the fact of the matter is that most car buying decisions are made on an emotional level. And in 1953, downsizing was completely out of sync with the contemporary taste that favored longer, lower and glitzier designs, and generally wanted a certain visual “bang for the buck”. 

A comparison with the main contenders shows this predicament. While the Plymouth’s 114-inch wheelbase was a mere inch (2,5 cm) shorter than the Chevrolet and Ford (both placed on a 115-inch wheelbase), the competitors were much longer overall, and made the Plymouth seem like a smaller car: the 1953 Chevrolet was six inches (15 cm) longer and the Ford added a whopping nine inches (23 cm) to the Plymouth’s overall length. Hence, the Plymouth rather became a car of choice for the ones that wanted value for money and didn’t care for the looks. Which was already a minority in those times. Incidentally, you rarely see a Plymouth of that generation in Cuba. We reckon that they weren’t exactly compatible with the Latin show-off culture, either. 

Regardless, 650,500 Plymouth found new homes in 1953. It was a new high for the company, but you need to put these numbers into perspective: in the same time, arch-rivals Chevrolet and Ford produced a whopping amount of 1,346,500 and 1,247,500 cars, respectively. And Plymouth’s surprising production record of 1953 was short-lived: already in 1954, sales nosedived by nearly 190,000 units, down to the level of 1952. Again, that wasn’t really the fault of the design, which remained unchanged, save for some minor trim changes, but rather the effect of a fierce “sales war” that Chevrolet and Ford had initiated and that left all other manufacturers in the dust. 

But there was light at the end of the tunnel: behind the curtains, a new generation of Plymouth cars was already waiting to be launched. These new “Forward Look” designs would finally sport proportions that matched their stylish aspirations.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

“The Ford Anglia means real ‘pleasure in motoring’. It is a pleasure to drive, a pleasure to ride in, a pleasure to own.” 

Everything is tiny on this Ford Anglia from Cienfuegos, and it’s apparently only “a pleasure to ride in” if you are of smaller stature. Once inside, you’d probably be happy that the skinny car can’t surpass a top speed of 57 mph (92 km/h) which is impressive, considering that its tiny 933cc (56.9 cu-in) engine only churns out 23 hp. 

The Anglia looked already dated when it was new. The 1949 makeover wore the same body as the previous generation from 1939. Only the front end received a streamlined redesign, but those “BMW-kidneys” arguably didn’t make the car look much better than the original design. Yet, marketing cars requires some “newness” every once in a while, to keep the customers interested. And regardless of its old-school look, the Anglia held one coveted selling point: it was one of the cheapest cars you could buy anywhere on the planet. Hence, 108,878 Ford Anglia found happy takers in the 4-year long production run. Even after introducing the all-new third Generation in 1953, Ford kept on selling the outgoing Anglia as a price-cutter until 1959, now rechristened as Ford Popular. 

What looks cartoonish today was a proper motor car in the United Kingdom of 1949. Back then, anything European certainly looked tiny from an American perspective. The huge lifestyle discrepancy on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean becomes evident when you compare the quirky British Ford with the modern design that Ford offered at the same time in the U.S..

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

“El Dodge 1500 es como una vuelta en la calesita”

“The Dodge 1500 is like a ride on the merry-go-round”, waxed Argentinian copywriters in 1971. Well, while the car sure wasn’t that exciting, its genesis certainly is: this Argentinian model, despite its American nameplate, actually originates from England, where it was launched as the Hillman Avenger in 1970. Hillman was an established car manufacturer in England, and since 1927 part of the Rootes Group that united various British makes under one big brand umbrella. We covered some of the irrational insanities of the postwar British car industry on previous occasions.

Designed under the lead of Rootes’ Styling Director Roydon Axe, the Avenger project began taking shape already in 1963, but faced long delays because other models of the Rootes portfolio had to be launched before. Meanwhile, Chrysler began to expand its business in Europe by buying shares of the ailing Rootes Group from 1964 on, and fully owned it by 1967. When the Hillman Avenger finally was presented in 1970, the motor press wrote favorably, praising its good road manners and the contemporary styling. With its Coke-bottle hips, the car definitely looked “American” even if it was pretty small. Thus, the Chrysler management saw fit to sell the Hillman Avenger as a compact Mopar worldwide. The Avenger blueprints were adapted for production in various countries, among them in Argentina, where it was produced and marketed by Chrysler-Fevre Argentina S.A.I.C. as Dodge 1500.

The Dodge was an instant hit with Argentinian buyers, and should soon get the reputation of being tough as nails, which resulted in a loyal fan base and a 20-year long production run. Its popularity didn’t even fade when Volkswagen took over Chrysler Argentina in 1980 and kept on selling the Dodge 1500, rebadged as “VW 1500” until 1990.

The simple technical layout and sturdiness made the Dodge 1500 an ideal choice for the Cuban officials when they selected the cars that would be part of the huge trade deal with Argentina, and in 1974, thousands of Dodge 1500 were imported to the island. Initially they were used as Taxis, but over the years many tickled down to the private car market. Here it seems to be the dream car of the younger crowd, because many Dodge 1500 we see in Cuba wear striking colors and wild decals.

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