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Museo del Automóvil. "El Garaje" - Havana, Cuba


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El Garaje - Colección de Automóviles...
The new Museo del Automóvil, El Garaje, opened in the center La Habana Vieja in November 2019. Debuting just in time to mark the Habana 500 Anniversary celebrations, the museum is housed in a building on Calle San Ignacio, just across from the historic Hotel Raquel.
Its main salon houses a fully-restored 1949 DeSoto Custom Convertible Coupe donated by Chicago collector Richard H. Driehaus (1942-2021), with large blueprints flanking the DeSoto. Descriptive, graphic panels note historic highlights of La Habana and Chicago, and connect the car's donation by the Chicago philanthropist to Dr. Eusebio Leal Spengler (1942-2020), the former Historian of the City of Havana noted for initiating and leading the city's restoration efforts.
Adjacent to the DeSoto Salon is a large two story structure that houses all manner of modes of transport, including cars, trucks and motorcycles - filled with vehicles that document the rich motoring history of Cuba.
Notable cars include a 1905 Cadillac Model F, the oldest in the collection, a 1924 Dodge hearse by the Williams Carriage, Hearse & Auto Company of St. Louis, a 1926 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Tourer by Letourneur et Marchand, a 1931 Ford Victoria and a 1931 Cadillac V-16 Style 4275-C Imperial Landaulet with division window, one of two produced. Owned by the former president of Cuba, Alfredo Zayas, at some point in the V-16's life the open landaulet top was enclosed and the rear quarter reconfigured. 
Closed to the public during the pandemic, El Garaje's staff have been busy refurbishing and adding vehicles stored in an offsite warehouse, and much has changed since I was there in November and December of 2019. Once travel health restrictions are lifted, expect to see their Daimler limousine, a couple of Packards, a 4x4 Citroën Mehari and the numerous cars that once plied the streets of La Habana. In the meantime, visit El Garaje's Facebook page at:
Edited by TG57Roadmaster (see edit history)
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Havana was a mega city for luxury car dealerships pre WWII , the magazine El Automovil de Cuba was issued in the 1930s and possibly before. Great ads there , information and addresses for Packard, Lincoln and Studebaker locations especially. One of my Professors in college in the late 1960s-early 1970s was a former President of Cuba, Mauel Urrutia Lleo. He went by his first and middle names here. He lived in Flushing , Queens, NY at that time . I had him for Spanish language class.

I used to stay around after the class was over and he had no next class for some time and we talked about the pre Castro era ( he was a judge in Havana) and I was especially interested to hear his remembrances about the cars in use there ( he was born in 1901) . He was overjoyed to share what he knew and amazed someone of my vintage at the time knew what a Cunningham car was ( there was an active dealer for them in Cuba) as well as other makes of cars he said no one ever heard of but I knew and was obviously familiar with.

Thanks Tom for the great photographs, and stirring up some memories .


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You're welcome, Walt. Your "El Automóvil de Cuba" article (online, from the January 2015 Hemmings Classic Car) was an early inspiration for a book I'm working on about the pre-Embargo cars of Cuba. From its first publication in 1916 as the official magazine of the Cuban Automobile Chamber of Commerce,  El Automóvil de Cuba listed a selection of Havana dealerships each month, including Kissel, Marmon, Hispano-Suiza, McFarlan, Panhard et Levassor, Willys-Knight, Benz, Stutz and many more. In 1922, you could pick out or order your Cunningham at Darío Silva's showroom at Prado #4, just across the boulevard from the concesionario that sold Packard, Chandler and Cleveland cars.


My favorite ads are the ones created by Cuban agencies, like this Lincoln illustration with the Oriental Park horse track grandstand and Jockey Club from the April 1926 Social magazine, published by the noted Cuban caricaturist Conrado Massaguer. That Lincoln Sport Phaeton by Brunn was $4,670.73 net to the dealer and after shipping, markups and tariffs cost the customer a whopping $6,455.00.


By that time, the Ford Sucursal de la Habana was located in a multi-story building (with black roof and tower) on Calle 23 in Vedado, across from the massive, block-long Dodge building (at far left, bottom)- both offered sales, service and CKD cars were assembled there, too.




It's a fascinating history, with dealers moving to new locations following the urban sprall, changing the marques they represented and,

unlike other cities, many of the dealership buildings and showrooms are still standing, though repurposed since 1960.

I'm glad it brings back fond memories of those after-class discussions with your professor -

you're the only one I know who learned Español from a former president of Cuba!




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Tom, you are spot on regarding the illustrations used in the advertisements by the Cuban dealers. Havana was a play land for the American upper class - just a short distance from Florida. The country had main rail lines for transportation of people and especially goods , like sugar cane. The Cuban - American Sugar Company in the pre Castro days had a huge factory and cane fields in Cuba. They employed hundreds of people, perhaps were one of the top businesses in that land.  For those of you here reading this of a certain vintage you may recall the name Jack Frost Sugar on the shelves of the grocery store your parents and grand parents shopped in. That was their brand name.

The treasurer of that company since the WWI era lived on long island in Flushing, NY. He had a son who went to Harvard with JFK as a classmate, they were in the same graduating class and this long island guy LOVED old ( ie pre WWII era) cars and collected a huge number of them. His father thought he was wasting his $ and time doing this. As the fellow ( later my boss) told me " Dad thought I should do something more culturally acceptable".  That collector later started a car museum on the east end of long island - his name was Henry Austin Clark Jr.

I have to many stories, perhaps it is time to step back a bit.

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