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Classic Car Corner - The Cars of Cuba

  • Written by Tom Berg, Windermere Woodinville

cuba_010In consideration of my many faithful readers I recently ventured forth to Cuba to check out their cars for this, my 12th column of the year. On my way through Miami, I had a free afternoon and went to Ted Vernon Specialty Autos Inc. which is featured on the Discovery channel show “South Beach Classics.”

I met Ted who is a wild and crazy wheeler-dealer who likes cars but could probably sell anything. He has about 300 old cars crammed into dark buildings or sitting out in the sun. Apparently you don’t wash cars on a car lot in Florida? His operation looks a lot better on TV. His prices were quite high and the condition of the cars not so much and he’s not actually in South Beach which is a very trendy, hip, cool part of Miami Beach but  in an industrial area quite a ways away from it.

Cuba is famous for their mid-century American cars.  They had a little revolution and after 1960 imported nothing from the U.S. (our decision, not necessarily theirs). They were apparently very fond of our cars up to that point and still are. It looks as though every car imported from America before 1960 is still there and running. I saw no hulks sitting around and no junk yards. Almost all of the cars are 4-doors, are not excessively dented or rusted and many have newer paint jobs. There was very little customizing but many had chrome or mag-type wheels.  Since there is a real scarcity of parts for these cars you almost have to be a mechanic to own one. It wasn’t uncommon to see one pulled over and someone working on it. I saw no tow trucks; I assume they either fixed their cars on site or towed them away with a horse. All the roads outside of Havana (including the one freeway) were full of hitchhikers and carts being pulled by horses. In the smaller towns there were very few cars, mostly horses, trucks and pedestrians.

cuba_012The cars of Cuba are mostly 1946-1959 of all makes (I even saw some Studebakers, an Edsel and some Willys Wagons but alas, no Corvettes or sports cars of any kind with very few pre-war cars.)  There weren’t many pickups,  but I saw some American  1- or 2-ton type trucks hauling produce or even people much like a bus. They stand ’em up, pack ’em  in like sardines and haul ’em around. I did see several model As that looked real good. Most of the vintage cars in Havana were being used as taxis and were either government owned or independent. This is how the enterprising (capitalistic) Cubans earn real income. Some of the really sharp convertibles were just parked in tourist areas and people were charged to have their pictures taken in them. A doctor earns about $40 per month and a cabbie with his own car could earn that in a day.

It’s not uncommon for a professional such as a doctor to drive a cab whenever he could. The government of Cuba provides housing, medical care, some basic food by rationing and as much education as one wants. Many of their graduate professionals have never worked in their field of training and Cuba even exports doctors to Venezuela in return for oil.

cuba_021One day we caught an independent cab from our hotel to old Havana. It was a 1957 English Ford (we called them Anglias).   It was small and rattled a lot but made the trip OK. The driver had a computer degree but had never worked a day in that field since there were no jobs.

The car had belonged to his grandfather then his father and now him. It has a gas engine and transmission from a Lada which is a Russian car that was often imported when the Russians were helping out the Cubans from 1960 to 1991 when they pulled out of Cuba.

Our return trip was in a 53 Chevy that looked A LOT better than it ran. The best American cars have been converted to diesel engines and can sell for the equivalent of $15,000 which is a lot in a country where the annual income might be $500. It’s only been in the last year that Cubans could even legally sell a car (or a home).

cuba_037In Old Havana I happened upon a car museum so I just had to go in and check it out for my esteemed readers. It was the equivalent of $1.50 to get in or $5 if I wanted to use my camera, so of course I paid the $5. It was dark and dusty inside, and had about 20 very mediocre cars in un-repaired condition. I quickly realized why I was the only one in there — took two bad pictures and was out in about three  minutes. My best picture turned out to be the one I took from outside looking in for free! Perhaps not my worst expenditure but close to it.

In conclusion, I would recommend this trip to anyone who likes to travel, even if cars are not your thing. The history of our neighbor 90 miles to the south, the beauty of the country and the friendliness of its people were all unforgettable.

If you would like to chat about Cuba, cars or even real estate, please call me or just stop by my office at Windermere Real Estate.  Buenos dias.

Classic Car Corner - Dragsters

  • Written by Tom Berg, Windermere Woodinville

DRAGSTER--MIKE_PECKDRAGSTERS:   Because I write this article monthly I am fortunate to receive calls from my dedicated readers — usually about cars, sometimes about real estate. Mike, a local here in Woodinville, called  me about his passion — DRAGSTERS — and asked me if I would be interested in checking his out.  Of course I was, so I visited him at his home and shop east of Woodinville and was really impressed.  His “main ride” is a classic dragster, so my question was “what defines a classic dragster?”  The answer was simple:  The driver sits in back of the engine right on top of the differential, instead of in front of the engine as in today’s dragsters.  Mike spent 7 years on and off building this beauty and has raced it up and down the west coast most of the last 4 years.  He raced about 10 times this year and won 6 in a row.  That’s quite an accomplishment considering the reflexes required and the stress put on all the mechanical components.

This monster will do a quarter of a mile in 6 seconds at over 200 miles an hour.  It’s actually doing about 160 at the eighth mile which is only 660 feet!  For power, Mike has an aluminum block, blown 496-cubic- inch big block chevy that burns methonal, will turn 8000 revolutions per minute, develops 1600-1800 horsepower and shifts with a button on the steering wheel — no radiator, no tachometer, no starter and a parachute to slow it down.

Mike’s wife’s car (it’s pink) is a  dragster with a 548-cubic- inch big block Chevy that burns 114 octane gas. It is a modern dragster with the driver sitting in front of the engine and has a radiator and a carburetor and takes all of 8 seconds to go a quarter of a mile.  This is his version of a family car since his wife and kids have all raced it.  Mike’s been racing cars and working on them all his life and in fact owns a repair shop in Redmond, so when he’s not working on cars at his business, he’s working on cars at home.

I just saw him two weeks ago and he already has his dragster in pieces prepping it for next year’s campaign.

With all his tools, fuel supply and 2 race cars and a family,  Mike needs a way to get to races as far as away Bakersfield, Calif., and he does it in style.  He’s got a huge Mercedes deisel RV that pulls an equally huge trailer full of everything he needs for racing.  I was really impressed by what it takes to travel to races up and down the Pacific Coast.

Since I have a bunch of old cars and trucks I was really envious of  Mike’s shop right next to his house. It’s big, well lighted, heated and holds both race cars, the 40-foot RV, the 34-foot trailer — all the tools one would need and still has room to work on his projects.  My car storage areas sure seem inadequate now.

These race cars are obviously Mike’s passion and he has devoted all of his time to pursuing that passion, and it’s fun to meet someone who is as focused on enjoying what he does as much as Mike.

Update:  Earlier this year I wrote about my friend Lance the Ford collector.  He finally brought himself to selling one of his 66 Fords and bought a 58 Edsel in Saskatchewan.  He drove it back over 2000 miles without a major incident.  He did discover the fuel gage wasn’t quite right when he ran out of gas, but just to make it back with a 54-year-old car was quite an achievement.  I once bought a truck in Portland sight unseen and it took me two days to get home!  Congratulations, Lance.

Classic Car Corner - October 22, 2012

  • Written by Tom Berg, Windermere Woodinville

lances_wagonI recently went to the Snohomish car show which is effectively the last car show of the year in this area.

Luckily the weather was great.

The show was scheduled to start at 10 so I showed up at 9 (I’m no early riser).

I drove right past the barricades on the west end of town and found a decent spot on one of the side streets.

I then walked down to what was apparently the real entrance to the show on the other end of town and saw that cars were lined up for blocks and they were turning people away!

Since I was already parked I signed up and was number 672!

I found out that cars started lining up for the show at 4:30 that morning.

One of my friends arrived at 6:30 and just managed to get the last spot on the main street.  Almost 700 vintage vehicles were parked in downtown Snohomish.

If it had been raining they would have been lucky to get half that many.

I took my hopped-up 65 Mustang since it was for sale but since I spent the whole day looking at other peoples’ cars instead of hanging around mine,  I found no buyers.

Not too many of the cars were for sale and there were at least 25 other Mustangs on display.

The Mustang Club has its own spot and had a dozen or so of their Mustangs, every one of them in pristine condition.   The quality and variety of cars on display was amazing.  There must have been at least a million dollars worth of paint jobs on display.

I usually can’t pick a favorite but there was a custom 1938 Graham Sharknose that was just about unbelievable.

I didn’t pay much attention to the awards ceremony but I did notice that the 1928 “Fannie Fortress”  hot rod that I had recently traded for the Mustang was there and won second place in its class and of course my Mustang won nothing.

I also went to the annual October car swap meet at the Monroe fairgrounds and took my hot rod Mustang to show in the car sales area.

Luckily the weather was great again. I didn’t hang around my car and got no offers.

Instead I had my usual two scones without butter and wandered the grounds looking at an amazing assortment of car parts many of which I wondered who would want them or how they would actually know if it was the right part.

In a pile of 50 carburetors how would one know which was the right one?

Apparently many of the attendees do.

I did find a rear bumper for my 47 Studebaker pickup and when I went to pick it up later realized it was really heavy so I rounded up a Boy Scout with a cart to haul it back to my car, and as I got there I realized that there was no way I could haul it home in the Mustang!


I had suggested to Lance that he bring his 1966 Ford Galaxie hardtop to the show to find a buyer (he has the 66 wagon and 66 convertible so it was time to move this one out to make room for his new Edsel) so I called him to see if I could set it under his car and he agreed and in fact hauled it back to his house so I was able to pick it up with my truck later in the week.

It worked well for him since he did find a buyer for his Galaxie hardtop.


Reminder:

Don’t pull out in front of an old car.

Even if their brakes work as well as the day they were made, they don’t stop nearly as fast as today’s cars.

Kid & Driver - 2012 Honda Accord 4DR EX-L V6 Nav

  • Written by Jackson Unruh & Julie Boselly

2012 Honda Accord 4DR EX-L V6 Nav

Honda_Accord_gs

KID

The Honda Accord is a great mid-size family friendly sedan. The ride is smooth and comfortable, with tons of head and leg room. I personally like the rear folding seats to increase luggage space in the trunk, but sadly it’s not the 60/40 split so you can add passengers even with the big luggage. There is also a handy little door to access the trunk with. The car we had was sporty with a big V6 and 271hp under the hood. The reliability is amazing, my mom has one that is from 2004 and it is running fine. There is a lot of similarity in the interior from the 2004 version in the 2012. The controls are easy to use and well in reach, and the navigation is really helpful with directions. The Honda Accord is one of the best rated sedans in the U.S. and I can see why.

DRIVER

It’s my car, only newer and comes with an “L” for luxury and more. I drive a 2004 Honda Accord in my real life so I am already a fan. Unfortunately mine doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles that are a bit more standard eight years later. Rearview camera, built-in USB, MP3 and Bluetooth connections are so much nicer than the after-market add-ons I’ve tried.

Honda has a big advertising campaign currently for the ninth-generation Accord remodel for 2013. I was definitely pleased with this 2012 Accord though. Starting at about $28,000, the EX-L model can fall out of an acceptable price range for some shoppers. Definitely compare and consider other models in the Accord family.

Per Honda.com here is what you get in the EX-L model versus the standard EX on the 2013s:

•    Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

•    Forward Collision Warning

•    Lane Departure Warning

•    LED Brake Lights

•    HondaLink™ featuring Aha™ Compatibility

•    Multi-Angle Rearview Camera with Guidelines

•    HomeLink® Remote System

•    Driver’s Seat with 10-Way Power Adjustment,

Including Power Lumbar Support and T

wo-Position Memory

•    Front Passenger’s Seat with 4-Way Power Adjustment

•    Leather-Trimmed Interior

•    Heated Front Seats

•    Audio Touch Screen

•    XM® Radio

Trunk space in the Accord was fantastic. I’ve been driving extra kids around lately and one comes with a cello some days. All the backpacks plus the musical instrument fit quite well.

If you would like to see the changes of styles over the years, visit Honda’s site http://automobiles.honda.com/accord-sedan/heritage.aspx.

Kirkland Concours

  • Written by Tom Berg

kirkland_concoursI recently attended the KIRKLAND Concours de Elegance in of all places –TACOMA! This event has been held at Carrillon Point in Kirkland for the past nine years and now that we have a world class venue for such an event at the LeMay-Americas Car Museum in Tacoma, it has moved south but retained “Kirkland” in its name.

These concours events started in Europe in the 1800s as an event where the wealthy could show off their carriages and continue to this day as an event where the “one percenters” can show off their “investments.”

Unlike our local car shows where the car owners just show up, these vehicles were shown by invitation only. For some reason, they didn’t invite me to show any of my cars. Probably just as well since I doubt that I could ever even get my cars as clean as the ones that were showcased at this event. Many of these magnificent cars were locally owned but there were entrants from as far away as Pennsylvania (an Italian who keeps most of his cars in Rome brought 10 cars!). There were also some of our local vintage unlimited hydros such as the Slo-Mo IV and a nice assortment of vintage English motorcycles. The best of show winner was an extremely rare 1933 V-16 Marmon which is all the more interesting since it was a very expensive luxury car produced in the height of the depression. Of course Marmons and most of the other high end luxury cars went out of business in those years.

The cars shown ranged from early 1900’s horseless carriages to modern Lamborghinis, and they all looked brand new and to be fair, I must note that they all run, are mechanically sound and some of them even get driven now and then. Cleaning these cars after a drive would take longer than the drive! I was particularly amazed that anyone could design, let alone manufacture, such amazing vehicles 50 to 100 years ago and that today’s restorers can bring them back to their former glory (for just a few hundred thousand dollars). Often replacement parts have to be made from scratch since there are no parts available for most of these cars.  It’s not uncommon to spend a year or more of historical research just to find out how the car looked originally.

Since I was there I took the opportunity to tour the LeMay-Americas Car Museum. I am a member and had yet to check it out. One could easily spend several hours there. There  must be several hundred cars of all sorts on display on three floors and the ramps between the floors along with information on each of the cars and educational displays.  Even if you’re not a car aficionado, just the historical perspective of vehicles in the growth of our country should be enough reason to visit this great car museum. The displays will change periodically so repeat visits will be necessary.

Next stop for me:  Monroe swap meet on October 6 where I’ll be hanging out with my 65 Mustang in the car sales area hoping for a buyer when I’m not checking out the vendors looking for something I think I really need.  There won’t be any “Concours” cars there but  I’ll  be in my element having fun.

And last but not least, I was pulling into Big Foot Bagels as I do most mornings and was happily driving my 48 Studebaker convertible when I spotted in the parking lot my former 1954 Plymouth Belvedere hardtop which was easily identified, being a very rare model and in baby blue with a black top. I reluctantly sold it several years ago and it’s been one of those cars that I wished I hadn’t parted with.  The owner was right there so we talked about what I had always called “Mr. Belvedere.”

It was in great shape when I sold it: 54,000 miles, straight body, mechanically sound, all stock with one repaint. The current owner just bought it and stated the seller had done some engine and clutch work and that he now had a few mechanical items to address.  He is a Chrysler guy as well as very mechanically capable so I’m pleased to know that “Mr. Belvedere” will be living locally and well cared for.  All’s well that ends well.