Feature: Cars of antiquity in Cuba race for renaissance, awareness of regulations

by Raul Menchaca

HAVANA, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) — Cuba saw its first car on streets at the end of 1898. Noisy with a gasoline engine that barely allowed a speed of 10 kph, that car could not even compete against pack horses.

A second car arrived six months later. Much faster (and much dearer), the Rochet-Schneider, acquired in France by a pharmacist, was capable of racing up to 30 kph.

Public memory of these cars fades as time passes by. Only photographs in old Havana newspapers stay as little reminders. An antique car club, however, strives every year for a renaissance.

Sixty cars and ten motorcycles with decades of antiquity on Sunday toured streets in Havana as part of a regularity rally to raise public awareness of traffic regulations.

“Regularity rallies are held in many parts of the world,” Alberto Gutierrez, chairman of the club “A lo cubano” (Cuban Style), told Xinhua. “We wanted to bring that style of competition to our country.”

This November marks the club’s 14th race, a two-hour tour through main neighborhoods of the island’s capital to reward regularity and punish traffic infractions.

“People like it a lot and it has many fans, people who like competition,” said Gutierrez, also director of the competition.

At the head of the race was a 1936 French Citroen, though American brands dominated, like Chevrolet, Buick, Ford, Studebaker and Cadillac, with models from the 1950s.

The rally was aimed to highlight the interaction between the city and cars as well as motorcycles that speed through it, injecting a breath of fresh air and a particular color to the metropolis, said Gutierrez.

For many owners, who affiliated themselves to the club, an antique car also means a source of livelihood since cars are used for transport, generally along tourist routes.

Owners of autos manufactured at least 35 years ago gather at Cuban Style, which was founded in October 2003 in the parking lot of a famed cabaret “Tropicana” and now turns into the group’s unofficial headquarters.

More than 100 cars and motorcycles belong to the club, the only one of its kind on the island and a testament to the perseverance of the owners who keep wheels rolling down streets and avenues.

Cars of antiquity with proper care become true gems of engineering. A yearly homage to them seems not to stop. It is a battle against the passing of time.

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