Living Well 60+ January-February 2014 - Page 13

JAN/FEB 2014 13 See Classics Up Close in Kentucky In the United States, many people think a 10-year-old car is old. That’s usually the age when we start thinking about trading it in and getting a new car. Don Battles, 64, of Kirksville, said, “Classic cars represent an era when we were young. They bring back moments in our lives when the world was young, safe and happy.” A-near perfect 1953 Buick sits near a portion of the old City Wall in Havana. The former Presidential Palace is in background. Classic Cars of Cuba Vintage cars still ramble on island nation’s roads by Sandra W. Plant, Staff Writer Visiting Cuba is like going to a classic car show. The streets and highways are filled with vintage cars that bring back fond memories to those who loved the cars that took us on first dates or circled the drive-in restaurants back in the 1950s and early 1960s. With its wide streets and everyone on the go, Cuba’s capital city of Havana is filled with beautiful Detroit-made cars that date back 55 years or more. It is not uncommon to see a sleek 1953 Buick Roadmaster used as a taxi to transport delighted tourists. Outside the former Presidential Palace in Havana, the taxis that line the plaza waiting for a fare are an amazing array of American cars of the past. They would be worth a fortune if they could be shipped to the United States. But a U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, in place since the Cuban revolution of 1959, has stopped two-way trade. Nevertheless, these cars are a magnet for tourists, especially senior citizens who can’t seem to snap enough photos. Very few of the classic cars are factory original, but they are still beautiful on the outside. Vintage cars such as 1955 Fords or 1957 Chevrolets are not limited to Havana. They are also seen in cities such Cienfuegos or Trinidad de Cuba. You might even see a Studebaker or an Edsel that has been preserved in time. The newer cars in Cuba are largely from China or Russia. A few Japanese cars are now appearing on Cuban roadways; they have reached Cuba through countries friendly to the Castro regime. So how do they keep those 55- or 60-year-old cars running? Yadi Salinas, a guide with the Cuban tour- ist agency, said proudly, “In Cuba we call our mechanics magicians. They make parts from empty cans, wire, anything they can get their hands on.” Some of those “magicians” use rundown cars for parts or lift complete engines from newer cars. For instance, a classic car might have a Russian-made diesel engine. If you want to be dazzled by the array of classic cars in Cuba, U.S. citizens can travel to the island nation for educational purposes through a university or on a people-to-people tour offered by several licensed non-profit groups. The Roads Scholars program, popular among U.S. seniors, offers Cuban trips. Another licensed group is the Grand Circle Foundation. For more information, visit its Web site at www.grandcirclefoundation.org. Battles recalls days in his youth when new cars would arrive by train for dealers in Richmond. He and his friends would hurry to the station to see the new models as soon as they rolled into town. He has owned a series of classic Chevrolets, starting with a 1949 Chevrolet pickup truck. What does he consider to be the best of the now-classic cars? His favorites are the 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air, which he calls “the most perfect of the Chevrolet Tri-Five series.” This series includes models manufactured in 1955, 1956 and 1957. A newer favorite is the 1970 Chevelle SS, which Battles considers the “ultimate muscle car.” For those who want to see classic cars without going to Cuba, you can visit the many car shows in the Central Kentucky area. For locations, dates and times, visit the Web site Kentuckycarshows.com. Battles and his wife, Billie, have a special interest in the annual classic car show held at the Kirksville Community Center, 664 Kirksville Road, near Richmond. The 2014 event is set for Saturday, April 19, beginning at 9 a.m. For more information, contact Mike Estes at (859) 328-4339 or Battles at (859) 358-3905. Or email kirksvillecommunitycenter@ gmail.com.