TXT: TONY PRADA photo: Rolando pujol
Havana’s streets are feeling the thrill of modern European and Asian cars. But the old-time “almendrones” (the term used for old cars in Cuba), designed with free-hand drawings and pure pencil in the Detroit offices, are a source of automotive pride; they are the museum on wheels, the evocation of splendor on the road.
“Don’t slam the door. This isn’t a Lada,” grumbles the driver of an old ‘49 Ford Mercury. Indeed, the tough Soviet car is capable of enduring, like few, the harsh treatment and the rugged paving of Cuban streets, and yet it’s not a classic to anyone.
This, despite having arrived on the island three decades ago with its original brand name Zhiguli (Lada is the export name) with few suspecting that it was the Russian license for the legendary FIAT 124. By then, the Italian Alfa Romeo, the East German Trabant, the Argentinean Peugeot, the Czech Škoda and other light vehicles had already massively traversed past the Malecón, without leaving an impression, in an attempt to refresh the traditional car population, which had dwindled due to a lack of spare parts.
And that is how Lada became the car of Cubans; the same one shared by senior officials or a simple laborer, although, depending on the model, one could tell who was a doctor, a military man, or a performer.
+ information pág. 94-97 The H Book 2008 09