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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Sun Jun 28, 2015, 10:33 PM

1. On the streets of Cuba

On the streets of Cuba

Painstakingly maintained cars are a 'living museum' of pre-1959 design

By Bradford Wernle RSS feed
Published June 28, 2015 - 12:01 am ET

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba — I climb into the back seat of a fire-engine red 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air taxi owned by Argelio Pena Mendoza here in Cuba’s second largest city. Mendoza turns the key, and the ancient inline six-cylinder engine wheezes and rumbles to life in a haze of exhaust smoke. He shoves the car’s three-on-the-tree shift lever into first, and we’re off.

Only Mendoza knows the secret of how the door handles work, so he lets me and my friend Tom in and out of the 58-year-old car as we tour Santiago’s highlights, including San Juan Hill, where Teddy Roose-velt’s Rough Riders won their biggest victory of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Mendoza, a 60-ish man, pulls into a gas station. I wait for him to flip open the little chrome door on the left rear fin behind which the 1957 Chevy’s gas cap is famously concealed. But Mendoza’s car has no gas tank. Instead, he hoists the hood and pumps gasoline into a pair of 1-gallon plastic bottles under the hood in front of the radiator. These bottles are connected to the fuel pump by plastic lines. Mendoza opens the trunk to show me a hole in the floor through which I can see the road below.

“Maybe someday I will find a gas tank,” he says with a shrug. For now, he must make do, as do so many Cubans, whose mechanical resourcefulness never ceases to amaze me.


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