In Cuba's sea of classic cars, the truly valuable are elusive

Fri Dec 26, 2014 3:07pm EST
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By Daniel Trotta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Luis Abel Bango spent seven years searching for his dream car, a 1957 Chevy Bel Air. He finally found it on Cuba's far western tip, buying it off the original owner for $7,000.

"I went everywhere looking for what I wanted. Out in the provinces, central Cuba. I had to go to the end of the island to find this one," Bango said.

The black-and-white four-door had been kept intact by the original owner, complete with all the chrome bits such as the rocket-like hood ornaments that give a '57 Chevy its style and make it a collectors' favorite.

"The whole package was nearly complete," said Bango, although he still needed take the car apart for a complete diagnosis and new paint job.

Around 60,000 vintage cars have run on Cuba's roads since before the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, but finding a collectible of value is a challenge.

For every hidden gem, there are thousands of beaten up clunkers, largely stripped of their original parts.

Cuba and the United States agreed last week to restore diplomatic ties that were cut off after the revolution, when the tail fin was still a recent innovation in automotive design.

Under the rapprochement, U.S. President Barack Obama plans to remove economic sanctions imposed against the communist-run island. In a land of chronic shortages made worse by those sanctions, Cubans kept the pre-revolution cars on the road, using makeshift parts and considerable ingenuity.   Continued...

A 1959 Chevrolet Impala car is parked in Havana December 23, 2014.     REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa