A Soviet heritage, Lada cars awaken a passion for Cubans

HAVANA (AP) — Unpleasant, wasteful, tough and rustic. All are explanations I’ve heard about old Russian Lada cars cruising on Cuban roads. It’s common to see the driver standing next to the raised hood of someone wondering what went wrong this time.

Still, despite the flaws, Ladas evokes passion. Cars are the most visible Soviet heritage on the island. Also, on land that is under-transported, Ladas is the owner’s status symbol. Even if you have to perform an engineering miracle, it can be expensive in some cases.

At the end of last year, several owners founded the Rada Cuba Club, and in less than four months, about 140 members gathered to participate in social activities such as blood donation, support in case of breakdown, and exchange of quick fix tricks. parts.

“Lada is always said to be a Cuban car,” the club’s 29-year-old craftsman Carlos Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

Rodriguez recently drove a white Lada 2106, manufactured in 1985, seven years before he was born, to about 50 owners gathered at a car wash in the Marianao district of Havana. They gave their cars a collective bath, talked about mechanics, joked and showed each other’s progress.

Then they rang a whistle together and headed for a park on the outskirts of the city. Some people decorate the box-shaped Lada with the addition of hammer and mallet graphics. Drivers also employ new parts to keep the car rolling, but others try to leave them as they did on the first day from the assembly line.

“Bodywork, all metal, fenders, door panels, running boards, everything is original. Nothing has changed,” said Alexander Aguirre, a 45-year-old state maintenance employee, proudly. .. Away from the blue 1976 Lada, which belongs to his father-in-law.

By the end of the 1950s, Cuba was one of the countries with the highest number of vehicles per inhabitant and is famous for its vintage look offered by the old Ford, Pontiac and Chevrolet, which are still on the streets. However, the Cuban Revolution and subsequent confrontation with the United States resulted in a shortage of spare parts and sanctions that completely cut off US car imports.

Several seats arrived from Spain, with occasional Alfa Romeo as used by former President Fidel Castro. However, the Cuban economy turned to the Soviet sphere, and the first Lada came in the late 1960s, said Willy Hiero Allen, a mechanic who publishes a specialized magazine called Excelencias del Motor.

Experts estimate that about 80,000 to 100,000 ladas have been imported, but authorities have never disclosed the actual number of arrivals in Cuba.

Lada was turned into taxis by thousands of people, but some went to government agencies and Communist leaders, prominent workers or personalities were entitled to buy them.

“My car belonged to Lieutenant Colonel, his wife, and a former Ministry of Economy official,” said Benito Albisa, a 33-year-old history professor who has been the vice president of the Lada Club and the owner of Lada since 1976. It was. “After using the car for 40 years, they didn’t have the (money) to keep it up, so they sold it to us.”

Maintenance is a trial version. Owners can obtain spare parts through “mule”, which carries goods to the island by hand, but in some cases it may be necessary to manually create the parts.

They say the effort to keep their ladder on the road is worth it.

“I’m proud to have him,” said Rodriguez, president of the Lada Club, about his white Lada. “I take care of him as if he were my son.”

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