19 April 2010

Barn Find: Lost Cars of Cuba

Although its just 90 miles away from Key West, Cuba might as well be on the dark side of the moon for most Americans. For years, car guys have been speculating about the hordes of automotive treasures hidden away on the communist island. We’re not talking about the ’58 Chryslers and ’55 Chevys that hide in plain sight on every side street in Havana, but the really rare stuff — the playthings of the former moneyed elite of Cuba .

Finally, there’s something more than rumor and innuendo. These photographs clearly show – albeit in rough and somewhat incomplete shape – a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing; a 300SL roadster (with Volkswagen Beetle tail lights); what appears to be an Abarth Zagato 750 Double Bubble; and el coche de misterio: some sort of apparently Vignale-bodied roadster with portholes and Borrani wire wheels.

At least some of the cars are rumored to be the former property of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, who counted infamous mobsters like Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano among his friends. Batista was a well-known fancier of expensive cars but since Cuba is an island, he didn’t have the chance to take anything with him when he fled to the Dominican Republic in January 1959 (other than a personal fortune of $300 million derived from bribes and payoffs from mobsters). Ironically, fellow infamous dictator and car admirer Rafael Trujillo declared Batista persona non-grata when he arrived in the Dominican Republic. Batista died in exile in Spain in 1973, obviously never having seen his cars again.

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