Cuba & Costa Rica Blog
About this blog
Written by Cuba and Costa Rica expert Christopher P. Baker, this blog will update readers on life in these two diverse and exciting countries.
- Last blog post on Costa Rica and Cuba
- First-ever group motorcycle tours of Cuba successful
- Cuba’s Mariel port readying for Panama Canal expansion
- Musings on wildlife encounters on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula
- Cuba’s Steam Trains puffing their last gasp
- My top five thrilling activities in Costa Rica
- Cuba’s fun February festivals include Harleys, Books, Cigars
- Five top volcano viewing experiences in Costa Rica
- New road along Costa Rica / Nicaraguan border mired
- Cuba’s Hotel Campoamor at Cojímar to be restored?
- Cuban revolutionary Celia Sánchez honored in new book
- Christmas challenge for Costa Rica’s sexually abused girls
- Costa Rica opens Chinatown in downtown San José
- David Soul films Hemingway’s car restoration in Cuba
- National Geographic Expeditions receives license for Cuba tours
Has Hemingway’s Chrysler been found in Cuba?
Of all the many mysteries swirling around Cuba, one of the 64 million dollar questions is: “What happened to Hemingway’s Chrysler?”
Exactly fifty years after the Nobel-prize-winning author departed Cuba, it looks like his much-sought-after vehicle may have finally been found.
Ernest Hemingway first set out from Key West to wrestle marlin in the wide streaming currents off the Cuban coast in April 1932. Not long thereafter he could be seen driving around Havana in his brand new 1941 V-12 Lincoln Continental convertible, en route for his daily sugarless double daiquiri with his friends.
As I explain in my coffee-table book, Cuba Classics: A Celebration of Vintage American Automobiles, in 1949 Hemingway traded in his streamlined Lincoln with push-button doors instead of handles and bought a royal blue 1947 Buick Roadmaster convertible, with blood-red leather lining and seats. He drove it from Miami to Idaho, and the following spring shipped it to Cuba on the ferry from Key West.
In 1955 he replaced it with a sleek Chrysler New Yorker DeLuxe convertible that cost him $3,924 new.
Cuba Classics: A Celebration of Vintage American Automobiles includes the only known photograph of Hemingway in his Chrysler in Cuba, courtesy the J.F. Kennedy Library. He’s shown peering out the driver’s seat window while outside his home, Finca Vigía, now maintained as the Museo de Ernest Hemingway just the way the great writer left it.
After the Revolution, Finca Vigía was seized by the Castro government, though the author had willed all his property to this fourth wife, Mary Welsh . Somehow the Chrysler escaped and apparently passed into the hands of Augustin Nuñez Gutiérrez, Hemingway’s driver who later became a Cuban policeman, according to writer Joann Bondi. The Cuban government understood full well the value of Gutiérrez’s possession and offered him a new Russian Lada (basically a Fiat 124 built in Russia under license). Instead he demanded a house. Supposedly, he grew frustrated with the increasingly depressing difficulties of life in Cuba (not least the bureaucracy surrounding the trade) and, after hiding the car, hopped on a raft for Miami (apparently he died in the attempt).
Popular legend says the car’s whereabouts are still a mystery and that the Chrysler still awaits discovery as some incredibly fortunate collector’s dream.
Well, after a fifty year hiatus, the Cuban government appears to have acquired the long sought after car rumored to have been Hemingway's.
Bill Greffin, a former board member of The Ernest Hemingway Foundation, in Oak Park, Illinois, last week sent me a photo of the car, with news that the Cuban government had acquired the car and moved it to the museum.
A decade ago, Bill contacted DaimlerChrysler to check on the provenance of the missing car. The company was happy to assist and even entertained the idea of restoring the documented car (if it could be found) and returning it to Cuba. More recently, having received the vehicle numbers, he shared them with Chrysler's archivist. While no direct link exists to Hemingway, the car in question was produced in the correct two-tone red color code and assigned from the factory to "Comiac Havana," presumably the Imperial Automobile Company, the sole Chrysler dealer.
Chrysler archivists haven’t been able to find a direct link between the car and Hemingway, as his name doesn't appear on any of their production records, Bill later informed me. “But neither do the records eliminate it from being Hemingway's -- the two-tone color code and delivery destination are consistent with what we assume about the car,” he stated.
A positive identification of this car as Hemingway's seems critical to what might hopefully develop into a Cuban-American effort to properly restore the vehicle and reinstall it at its Cuban home. (A precedent was set when the Finca Vigía Foundation brought Cuban and U.S. conservationists together to restore Finca Vigía and save its moldy archives for future generations.)
The hunt is on for paperwork (importer records, sales receipts, titles, registrations, licensing, service or maintenance records) with a firm ID match to the car at Finca Vigía.
The biennial 13th International Hemingway Colloquium will be held at Finca Vigía this June. A perfect venue for a possible official announcement, which I await with eager anticipation.
In December 2009, I toured Havana’s Depósito del Automóvil (Car Museum) with director Eduardo Mesejo Maestre, plus Richard Messer (director of the Petersen Automotive Museum) and Bill Warner (founder of the Amelia Island Concourse de Elegance). I recall Eduardo telling us over mojitos that he had seen Hemingway’s Chrysler: “It is hidden, but it is still in the country and still restorable.”
Next week I leave for Havana to escort a photography tour for Santa Fe Workshops. Perfect timing! I’ll meet with Eduardo and with officials at Finca Vigía to document and photograph the car and restoration effort.
Besides proving provenance, I’m eager to learn where on earth the government found it, and how. What are the government’s plans? And what tales does this much-battered car have to tell?
So many questions!
Hopefully this amazing piece of automobile lore and machinery can contribute, in its own small way, to the normalization of Cuban-American relations as a cultural bridge between nations.
Stay tuned for an update, with photos (hopefully), when I return.
I welcome hearing from anyone who had documents or other information that can shed light on this fascinating vehicle and its even more fascinating owner.
Meanwhile, you can read my illustrated story about Cuba's classic American autos in this month's issue of Cuba Absolutely.
Learn more about Christopher P. Baker
For further information about travel in Cuba, buy Moon Cuba
For further information on Havana, buy Moon Spotlight Havana.
Buy an autographed hardback copy of Mi Moto Fidel: Motorcycling Through Castro's Cuba direct from the author.
Looking for the perfect coffee-table book gift item? Buy an autographed hardback copy of Cuba Classics: A Celebration of Vintage American Automobiles direct from the author.
Disclosure: I occasionally accept free or discounted travel when it coincides with my editorial goals. However, my opinion is never for sale. The opinions you see in Cuba & Costa Rica Journal are my unbiased reflection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker