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January 26, 2012 - Image 41

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-01-26

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

COMMUNITY

JEWFRO

Cuban Motor Crisis

By Ben Falik

the early hours of 1959, Fidel Castro
and Che Guevera overthrew the Cuban
_government. In 1960, the U.S. imposed
an embargo on Cuba, expanding it in
1962. Months later, escalation brought
the world within days of nuclear war. And
then, for a long time, nothing happened.
Until December 1999, when the Bloom-
field Hills Andover High School Barons set
foot on Cuban soil for a bilateral soccer
tournament to determine, once and for
all, the supremacy of communism or
capitalism. I was on the tarmac in Havana
— projectile vomiting promptly after we
deplaned — and, 12 years later, the trip still
seems like a dream. Or a Dream Cruise.
What stands out most — more than
the old ladies and small children smok-
ing cigars — are the cars. Not even Elian
Gonzalez, who was marooned in Miami in
an international custody battle at the very
same time we were 90 miles offshore in
his homeland, could take my eyes off the
fins and fenders.
For more than 50 years, it was illegal
in Cuba to buy and sell cars built before
1959.Idoubt that it was Fidel's goal
to create a living, revving, exhausting
autorama that captured a golden age
both in Detroit and on the road. But that's
exactly what he got.
"Aha, here's the new Packard we've been
hearing so much about," Mr. Burns says
after he and Homer Simpson wash ashore
in cartoon Cuba. Against this real-life tropi-
cal backdrop, vintage vehicles fill streets
alongside bicycles, children and chickens.
Unlike stately stateside Studebakers —
the ones that receive as much doting and as
little exposure as American newborn babies
— Cuban cruisers are beasts of burden. Sun-
soaked beauty takes a backseat to sheer
endurance, as wily mecanicos cannibalize
parts from Soviet-era Ladas and Volgas,
work miracles with duct tape and concoct
brake fluid from oil, shampoo and soap.
But last September, Raul Castro —
Cuba's Frank Stallone — approved a gov-
ernment decree for the import, purchase
and sale of automobiles. As the DeSotos
and Nashes fade into the horizon like Field
of Dreams players, one has to wonder
who loves their cars more — Detroiters
or Havanans? General Motors pioneered
planned obsolescence. CEO Alfred P. Sloan
said in 1941,"Today the appearance of a
motorcar is a most important factor in the
selling end of the business — perhaps the
most important factor — because every-
one knows the car will run.";Claro!
In Cuba, you can have your clutch and
practically eat it, too, with islanders idling
in ironic Imperials, the likes of which
would make Sloan blow a gasket and
Mel Farr relinquish his superstardom. In
Detroit, we worship our old cars, but is
there any higher honor than, decades on,
getting people where they need to go?
Clunkiness is next to godliness.
Another Detroit auto show has come
and gone and, with it, everything from
dazzling concepts to Barry Sanders, appar-
ently. We can press on with the peace of
mind that the zEl torneo de fUtbol? We got
trounced. But our conquering comrades
were kind. Maybe now we can return the
favor. Viva la Ford Fiesta!

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February 2012 9

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