U.S. car collectors eager about Cuba trade deal, though most classics stripped of value
U.S. car collectors eager about Cuba trade deal, though most classics
stripped of value
By Francisco Alvarado Published July 31, 2015 Fox News Latino
MIAMI – Jose Felipe’s left foot gently taps the accelerator of his 1956
Ford Fairline, its V8 engine growling like a Florida Panther lurking
through a swampy thicket. Sporting a showroom pristine white-and-salmon
color paint job, the four-door sedan slowly backs out of the carport
behind the Cuban American handyman’s townhouse in Hialeah, Fla.
The Fairline was fully restored when he purchased it for $11,000 in 2008
from a seller in New York City he found online, Felipe relates. “I had
the exact same car in Cuba,” Felipe says. “I sold it for $10,000 Cuban
pesos 20 years ago because I was leaving for Miami and not coming back.”
The Ford Felipe left behind is among tens of thousands of American
vintage automobiles that have trekked Cuba’s roads since before Fidel
Castro came into power in 1959. Yet, Felipe – who also owns a 1956
Mercury Montclair that cost him $25,000 to buy and restore – dismisses
the idea that one day he can go back home to reclaim his original
Fairline even as the U.S. and Cuba governments thaw more than five
decades of icy relations to reestablish diplomatic ties.
“It hurt when I sold my first Fairline,” Felipe says. “But as a
collector, I wouldn’t go to Cuba to find a car. Que va!”
Despite Cuba’s bountiful inventory of classic rides, auto collectors
doubt the 1950s era Buicks, Chevys, DeSotos, Fords, Oldmobiles, and
Plymouths that remain on the island are worth the hassle of restoration
and dealing with the country’s communist government.
Ted Vernon, owner of South Beach Classics, a vintage car dealership
based in Miami, said there are thousands of clunkers, many stripped of
original parts, for every hidden gem in Cuba.
“Most of the cars have been bastardized,” Vernon says. “The motors have
been changed. The electrical systems have been changed. You pop the hood
and you could find parts from a Toyota in there.”
As a result of the 56-year-old U.S. trade embargo with Cuba, vintage
cars are the only American-made mode of transportation on the island.
Anything on wheels post 1959 originates from the old Soviet Union and
former communist bloc satellite countries in Eastern Europe. American
cars in Cuba have gone through more than half-a-century of wear-and-tear
with owners unable to replace original parts as a result of the U.S.
government forbidding trade with Cuba.
Cuba’s new car market is also tightly regulated and a brand new car can
cost more than $200,000. For many years, vehicles prior to the
revolution could be bought and sold freely, leaving many on the road.
Mechanics and car enthusiasts in Cuba were forced to come up with
inventive solutions to keep their vintage cars running, says Roland
Perez, president of Yesteryears Classic Car Club in Miami. For instance,
the original engines on many American cars in Cuba have been replaced
with diesel motors because of the cheaper fuel costs.
A mustachioed 56-year-old painting contractor who owns a restored 1957
Chevrolet Bel Air, Perez says Cubans have also made new windshields by
recycling old shattered ones and brake pads using asbestos-based
materials. “You have to hand it to them,” Perez said. “Under 56 years of
communist rule, they’ve had to use real ingenuity to modify the cars.”
The cleverness of Cuban mechanics and car specialists is the subject of
the first U.S. reality show to be filmed in the country. Producers of
Discovery’s “Cuban Chrome” were granted unprecedented access to film
members of A Lo Cubano Car Club fixing up their antique autos. In one
episode, car club members resort to using a boat motor for a 1934 Model
A hot rod.
Nevertheless, the modified cars are a turn off for any true collector,
“There would be interest in a car that has a solid body and doesn’t show
any signs of rust,” he said. “But those are very rare.”
Perez also doesn’t believe the Cuban government will make it easier for
its citizens to acquire true replacement parts for their American cars
despite the normalizing of relations with the U.S. And he expects the
Cuban government, which has banned the export of cars since 2010, to
make it even more difficult for collectors to take cars out of the country.
“The problem is the Cuban regime wants everything for themselves,” Perez
says. “You have to pay the price the government sets, which will be a
ludicrous figure. I’ve tried to broker deals to get cars out through
Mexico or South American countries, but was unable to do so.”
Still, some collectors see a future market for the classic cars in Cuba.
“It will be a long time before everything smooths out,” says Bryan
Kinsley, vice-president of Yesteryears Classic Car Club. “But it will be
a lucrative business for the person who has contacts here and in Cuba.”
Francisco Alvarado is a freelance journalist in South Florida.
Source: U.S. car collectors eager about Cuba trade deal, though most
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