Our meeting was a little hurried, but the car was a little manic in its own right – it was a lot to make sense of the unending series of creases, dents, and rust holes that made up the sheetmetal. Having kind of sneaked up on me while I was taking my first pictures of the car, the owner lifted the hood to show me the engine bay. I certainly couldn’t make any sense of the mess of emissions-compliance technology that snaked and coiled beyond my comprehension.
So it was a bit of a wild-looking car, but also an utterly normal one – the owner of a sedentary 1973 Chevrolet Malibu around the corner told me that only those Puerto Ricans with government jobs had the kind of spending money to own an American car, what with the cost of gas being what it was. The owner of the 1978 Oldsmobile did not bear the clean look of an official or an officer, and it seems he had to make many adjustments to keep his car running. The hefty jug of water, the missing trim, the ratty paint, the disorderly interior – they are part of a coping system to keep this once-stylish coupe on the road.
The only “survivors” like these that tend to get any press are the 1950s American cars modified and MacGyver’d in Cuba through the present day. But the idea of a survivor is omnipresent – any car that has outlasted its worth, that is being kept in a somewhat driveable condition because of the kind of poverty the owner is in. The mangled Chevrolet Cavaliers and Hyundai Elantras and Honda CRXs that rattle along in America’s poor neighborhoods, missing bumpers, mismatched doors – they are little different from this 1978 Cutlass Supreme. I could sense some pride in this car that the owner and the car itself communicated to me without any common spoken language.