I just returned from a trip to Cuba where jaw dropping old cars are numerous at every stop light. This is the first of many Cuban Street Parked features we’ll be running; be sure to come back and see what Cuban treasure we have next (hint: old American cars with Scuderia Ferrari stickers). I didn’t need to venture far to find this 1956 Ford Fairlane Convertible as it was parked in the dropoff/pickup loop of my hotel in Havana. This was the first old American car in Cuba I got a close look at and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.
The Fairlane was the top of the line for Ford in the mid 50s and was available in a variety of body styles. The highest end Fairlanes were called “Crown Victoria” and featured options ranging from a tinted plastic roof panel over the front seats to air conditioning to a rarely ordered “Lifeguard” safety package that included such comforting features as a breakaway rearview mirror, seatbelts, and a steering wheel with crash bendable spokes (ouch). The Lifeguard package was the brainchild of Robert McNamara, one of Henry Ford’s “Whiz Kids”. Mr. McNamara would go on to become President of Ford Motor Company and then Secretary of Defense for most of the 1960s (I wonder if he ever regretted giving up developing safe Fords in favor of waging the Vietnam war).
This car is in nice shape for a Cuban classic, it has all of its chrome and badges. The interior is typical of these cars, and features an updated radio and custom modifications of questionable taste to the North American show and cruise crowd. Our feature car has had its dash and interior trim repainted in a snazzy metallic orange. It also has what looks like transmission hump mounted extra ventilation, a heater perhaps? I doubt it is air conditioning since the wing windows are opened wide, to blow fresh air into the cockpit.
Check out the aftermarket headlights. These aren’t the old school sealed beam lamps one would typically find on a car like this. I was surprised to see a number of old cars like this with colorful LED light features. At night, staid looking old cars become flashy cruising machines with illuminated wheel arches, thumping stereos, and young men slowly trolling for attractive young women.
The paint looks pretty nice on this car, making me wonder if it is original. The lack of a 1956 style two tone color selection makes me think this car has probably been repainted at some time in its life.
The 1956 Fairlane came standard with with a 3.7 liter (223 cubic inch) inline 6 and offered optional V8s of 4.8 and 5.1 liters (292 and 312 cubic inches). The biggest engine made 225 horsepower, which was probably enough to have some fun accelerating away from stoplights.
The rocket exhaust style tail lights and subdued fins give this car a more forward looking, jet age style compared to the 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air’s more youthfully styled car (GM softened the Ferrari style grill of the 1955 and made the 1956 a really elegant car that has aged well, and is in my opinion superior to the “Pauly Walnuts” styled 1957).
An interesting feature of this car is the “LTD Crown Victoria” badging that has come from one of this car’s 1980s era descendants. How do you suppose that badge made its way to Cuba? Did someone carry it in their luggage as they entered Cuba through Canada or Central America? I’m sure there’s a story here.
Note: I went to Cuba using my USA passport on a cultural exchange visa obtained through the Treasury department. Stay tuned for more Cuban Street Parked features. It was like living in a time warp while being there.
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