We bought another Chevy in Havana, this one’s a 1949 Styleline Deluxe in running condition. The body work is in great shape for the age and use. The engine is the original 216, and the previous owner swapped out the rear axle and transmission and replaced them with Russian units. And as is common practice in Cuba, the carburetor is from a Russian GAZ. The car starts and drives, has most of its original chrome trim, original seats, and dash, and runs ok. A serial number check revealed that the car was assembled at the Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan. Who would have thought in 1949 as this car rolled off the assembly line in the U.S. Midwest, that 67 years later it would still be driving around Havana, Cuba?
The car starts relatively well, the engine sounds ok, leaks oil from most gaskets, but with no major problems. However, the engine, 4 speed transmission, and rear end do not work well together, and the engine sounds like it’s redlining as soon as you put it in gear. First gear does not work, the previous owner says it’s geared too low, and that he just takes off in second. However, it pops out of second and reverse, so there is obviously something wrong with the transmission. The rear end is supposed to be from a Volga car, but may have the ring and pinion from a UAZ military jeep. Whatever the cause, the car just doesn’t run right, and this will be the first thing fixed. The radiator is huge, and is from some kind of Russian military truck. Overheating has not been an issue at all, which may be due to the extra-large radiator.
Some of the original gauges work, including oil pressure and voltage, and there’s and aftermarket temperature gauge that works. The headlights and driving lights work, and the windshield wiper works. The passenger wiper is completely missing, and the driver’s wiper works with the original motor! These old Chevrolets had wiper motors that were powered by the engine vacuum. The Volga rear axle has 14” rims, so the car has the original Chevrolet 15” rims on the front, and 14” Russian rims on the back. The original split windshield has been replaced by a single piece windshield, both rear windows are cracked, and both front windows are plexiglass.
This will be my daily driver for the immediate future, until the ’54 is finished. The plans are to restore this car as well, and try to get it close to its original appearance. I already have a Saginaw 4 speed in Havana which will be a good replacement for the Russian Volga 4 speed. The rear axle will be replaced by a 1955 or later Chevrolet axle with 3.7 rear, or an original 1949-1954 axle, which have 4.11 gears. An aftermarket vintage air conditioning system is a must, and since leaded fuel is still sold at the pump in Cuba the engine will be rebuilt to close to factory specs. Unlike our ’54 Chevy, this car will be driven every day, with repairs and upgrades done as time allows. Please watch for future posts to see how this American classic is returned to its original glory!