Cubans, Start Your Engines!


Drag racing, which used to be common before, has returned to Cuba. As Jim Motavalli explains, “On the line are the ’57 Chevys and Fords that time forgot.” Now this is the subject of an unfinished film by film director Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, who speaks about the challenges of completing it. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

Cuba is finally letting people buy new cars, though the prices of even economy vehicles are so outrageous that only the elite can afford them. For now, most people are sticking to their pre-revolutionary American iron, which is why ’57 Chevys are a very common sight on the streets of Havana. Under the hood might be the engine from a Russian truck, but hey, it’s still got the fins and chrome (most of the time, anyway). But did you know that they hold drag races in Cuba? I thought that was counter-revolutionary. [. . .]

Actually, Cuban racing is on again, off again, depending on the authorities’ moods. When the Pope came to Cuba in 2012, the imminent racing day was canceled because they needed every safety barricade in the country. A year went by.

This situation presented a challenge for film director Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt. He was in Cuba for another project, and heard about the upcoming race. He stuck around, but the postponements kept coming. Perlmutt gathered a ton of footage, and got so involved he was bringing spare parts through customs, but eventually spent all his money. You can probably guess that the official race is eventually held, because they wouldn’t have a movie otherwise, but let’s leave much of the mystery in place.


[. . .] What’s next, then? A Kickstarter campaign! The movie, Havana Motor Club, is in post-production, but the filmmakers are trying to raise $52,250 for last-minute music, sound design and licensing, and have come up with half of it — $25,050 — so far.

Perlmutt says his film pits two racers, Rey (’56 Chevy) and Carlos (’58 Thunderbird, among other cars), against each other, and the drama is not only who will win, but whether the race will be held at all. Frustrated Cubans, he said, get their ya-yas out with illegal street racing, which can turn disastrous with all the pedestrians, bicyclists and stray animals using Cuban streets. “The more they ban and prohibit it, the more popular it gets on the streets,” Perlmutt said. “It’s a macho thing, a rebel activity that allows people to gamble.”

Perlmutt’s previous film was “Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel” (2012), and before that he was an editor on “Valentino: The Last Emporer.” “Yes, two fashion films, so Havana is my masculine film,” he said. [. . .]

See trailer here:

For full article and fantastic photos, see


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