THE HEARTBEAT OF CUBA
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
CHEVY! THE HEARTBEAT OF CUBA
Over half of the cars on Cuba’s roads in the 1950s were General Motors products, and most of those were Chevrolet's. This is evident to anyone visiting Cuba today who see more classic Chevrolets, especially 1949 to 1956 model Chevys, than any other American classic.
Chevy had been making the 216 cubic inch engine since 1929, and by 1949 it was an old design and probably should have been retired, but they ran forever, and still do, and General Motors stuck with them while Ford, Buick and Oldsmobile was putting V8s in lots of their cars. Chevys didn’t get a V8 until 1955!
Chevrolet’s Stovebolt inline six-cylinder engine got its name because of the valve cover screws on the early models which resembled those on ovens of the era. The top end of the engine was lubricated by attachments, like spoons, at the bottom of the connecting rods that dipped into the oil pan and splashed up. The 216 was built from 1929 through 1953, when the design was improved, and the engine enlarged internally. The “new” 235 was introduced in the 1953 Chevrolet sedans with Powerglide transmissions, while the 1953 manual transmission Chevys kept the old splash oiled 235 from pickup trucks. In 1954 all Chevrolets were built with the new 235 engines and the 216 was discontinued. The 1953 Corvette was the only other model car that Chevrolet built in 1953, and they were all built with the new 235 engines with mechanical lifters and three carburetors.
Most of the classic American cars that you will see in Cuba are Chevrolet, and the majority will be 1949 through 1955 Chevys. They were heavily imported from the US by Cuban dealerships as new cars, and by used car dealers who usually brought them to Cuba on the Key West to Havana ferry. All 1949 to 1954 Chevrolet’s were only available with inline-6 Stovebolts and some of these simple but everlasting engines are still powering these cars in Cuba, including my ’54 and ’49.
By Frank Gonzalez