Cuban vintage cars evoke U.S. industry's better times

Wed Dec 10, 2008 11:21am EST
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By Patrick Markey

HAVANA (Reuters) - U.S. automakers are struggling to survive the financial crisis but in communist Cuba the cars that Chevrolet and Ford built decades ago are still cruising the streets and their owners have a message for the manufacturers: they don't make 'em like they used to.

Buicks and Plymouths made in the 1950s growl through Havana alongside Ladas and new Korean and French cars with Cubans creatively keeping the old vehicles running despite a four-decade-old U.S. embargo against the island.

Patched up with Russian spare parts and often motors salvaged from other cars, their owners say the sturdy classics could run for years more even as the industry that made them seeks billions of dollars from the U.S. government in a bailout.

"They are never going to have quality like this again. Modern cars are made to last three or four years, these were made for 50, 60," said Argelio Hernandez, tapping the bumper of his blue 1952 Ford taxi in Havana's old quarter.

"The companies are never going to build quality cars because they need the market."

With car sales falling the fastest in years, the White House and congressional Democrats are trying to push through a rescue package for automakers that were once a symbol of U.S. economic power.

The plan, which needs to be approved by the U.S. Congress, could provide $15 billion in short-term loans to help General Motors and Chrysler LLC stave off bankruptcy. Ford Motor Co. has called for an emergency credit line.