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How do Cubans keep those 50-year-old cars so beautiful?

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I have often wondered, when I see a street scene in Havana, how they've managed to keep those '50s vintage cars operating all these years. Of course, we are conditioned to replace a car because of a full ashtray or if a bird defecates on the hood. But still, wouldn't 50-plus-year-old cars be increasingly expensive to maintain? I would think the majority of those cars would be not only mechanically challenged, but very unsound structurally. And how do they obtain replacement parts? -- John

TOM: They go to Pepe Boys: Fidel, Raul and Hugo. Actually, they just get very creative, John.

RAY: The structural stuff is pretty easy. That's mostly welding, which is old technology.

TOM: Yeah, and I doubt they have annual safety inspections, like we do. So, the definition of "structurally sound" may be "the seat doesn't fall through the floor onto the street while I'm driving."

RAY: But structural things, like floors and frames, are pretty easy to fix.

TOM: And for all the mechanical stuff, they have machine shops. Remember, there were no electronics in cars in those days. There were no electronic ignitions, no emissions systems, no computers. So almost everything is some form of bent, lathed or poured metal. Their machine shops can do that.

RAY: And I suspect they've gotten very good at rebuilding engines and transmissions. Remember, they've been rebuilding the same engines and transmissions for 50 years (literally, the same engines and transmissions!).

TOM: I suspect they make the simpler repairs themselves, like we used to fix exhaust pipes with empty cans of frozen orange juice concentrate.

RAY: Probably the hardest thing to make is something like spark plugs, which require special tooling. But even if they don't make those on the island, they have trading partners that make cars.

TOM: Yes, the global "rum for spark plug" trade is very hot these days.
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