Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cuba’s ‘Chevy doctor’ breathes new life into classic cars from 1955



Cuba’s ‘Chevy doctor’ breathes new life into classic cars from 1955

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
In Cuba, American cars older than the average inhabitant are a common sight on city streets. AFP

Cuba’s ‘Chevy doctor’ breathes new life into classic cars from 1955

In Cuba, where American cars older than the average inhabitant are a common sight on city streets, Pablo Manso makes his living in a very particular niche: repairing Chevrolets from 1955, 1956 and 1957.

The self-taught technician plies his trade in a workshop he built 15 years ago at his home in Placetas, a small city in the rural center of the communist island.

He recreates Chevy parts with machines he built himself in a country where US sanctions have crippled imports of cars, parts and tools of the trade.

"Modern cars do not interest me," the 53-year-old Manso told AFP with a shrug.

It took him years to teach himself his craft, working day and night and learning through trial and error.

"I was tearing my hair out," he laughs.

His efforts have paid off, and today, Chevrolet owners from all over Cuba – even further afield – look to him to keep their motors running.

"People are commissioning pieces from many countries," Manso said proudly – citing orders from the United States, Canada, Italy and Spain.

In the first half of the 20th century, Cubans imported tens of thousands of American cars, then brand new.

But economic sanctions declared in 1962 against the government of Fidel Castro stopped the influx.

"We need tractors, not Cadillacs," Castro responded at the time.

Pampered cars

Today, it is estimated that some 60,000 American classic vehicles from the 1940s and 1950s are in circulation in Cuba.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Panel beater Pedro Manso checks a Chevrolet BelAir 55 car rebuild by him in his workshop in the town of Placetas, Villa Clara province, central Cuba, April 24, 2021. AFP

The cars are pampered by their owners, who rely on them for daily transport but also to convey tourists in a country where the cars have themselves become a key attraction.

Manso himself owns a red and white Chevrolet Bel Air from 1955, a shining museum piece with almost all its original parts except for the engine, which is from Toyota.

This has been the biggest adaptation to most surviving Chevys in Cuba, with the original engines not surviving the passage of time.

Manso says Chevrolet "made a leap towards modernity" in 1955, and that year, 1956 and 1957 were the "years of success" for the US automaker – hence his chosen specialty.

He recalls getting a visit once from the head of a Chevrolet workshop in Miami, accompanied by the manager of an auto parts factory in Taiwan who got "goose bumps – he could not believe these rustic machines could produce such quality parts."

Manso has taken on a 32-year-old apprentice, Lemaydi Madrigal.

Shaping a piece of metal for a part, she told AFP she knew "almost nothing about cars" at first.

"What I like most (to make) are the floors of the luggage compartments: they are big, they are complicated but I like them!" she said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Restrictions re-imposed in capital as Covid cases surge

    Amid the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has shown no sign of subsiding with 750 infections and 10 deaths reported on June 2 alone, the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has decided to re-impose the suspension of all occupations and business activities deemed as posing high risk of

  • Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway 51% complete

    The construction of the nearly $2 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway is 51.35 per cent complete and is expected to be finished in 2023, according to Ministry of Public Works and Transport secretary of state Vasim Sorya. Invested in by Cambodian PPSHV Expressway Co Ltd, the first expressway in

  • First 7-Eleven store to open mid-June, ambassador says

    Thai retail conglomerate CP All Pcl will open Cambodia’s first 7-Eleven convenience store in mid-June, Cambodian ambassador to Thailand Ouk Sorphorn told The Post on June 1. The Bangkok-listed 7-Eleven franchise operator, the retail arm of Charoen Pokphand Group Co Ltd, granted CP All (Cambodia)

  • With herd immunity likely in 2022, is Cambodia ready to reopen for tourism?

    The government aims to inoculate 80 per cent of the target population by June next year, giving it a head start among regional peers to reboot the sector but first, it has to do a few things to up its game A sign on a glass

  • US embassy guard gets Covid despite two doses of Pfizer jab

    The Covid-19 tracking commission on June 4 said a security guard at the US embassy in Phnom Penh had contracted the novel coronavirus, despite having received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot two weeks ago. Embassy spokesperson Chad Roedemeier confirmed the SARS-CoV-2 infection to The

  • US wants 'full access' to Ream Naval Base

    On June 11, the US embassy's Defense Attaché Colonel Marcus M Ferrara visited Ream Nava Base in coordination with Cambodian officials following the recent approval of Prime minister Hun Sen to allay the concerns on Chinese military presence at the base as raised by US Deputy