Source: Michael Coles/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg

Photos: Havana Motor Club Captures the Grit and Hope of Cuba’s Frankencar Culture

The documentary Havana Motor Club is rich with the grease and glory of American muscle cars in Cuba. Set in a country that's reimagining itself, the movie follows friends and rivals as they work to resurrect the  car-racing heritage that flourished in Cuba before Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Many of the cars involved are constructed halfway from scratch, and the film by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, which made its debut at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, documents how it feels to work for something you love without knowing for certain if you’ll succeed. See the highlights below.

  1. Drag Racing Reclaimed
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    Drag Racing Reclaimed

    Havana Motor Club is a sports documentary centering on a group of car enthusiasts who band together to try to bring drag racing back to Cuba after Fidel Castro’s government banned it in 1959 as dangerous and elitist.
    Source: Debora Moro/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg
  2. Scavenged Parts
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    Scavenged Parts

    Each member of the group builds his own car from imported and scavenged parts. They are all on a quest to dominate the street with something of their own creation—and to overcome the regime’s rejection of car culture as a vibrant part of Cuba’s heritage.
    Source: Zelmira Gainza/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg
  3. Real Risks
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    Real Risks

    The racers often drive their cars through the streets of Havana, searching for good strips of road that might prove amenable to testing new engines. They have to be careful as to where they circulate because the police will impound the cars and imprison the drivers if they catch them racing.
    Source: Michael Coles/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg
  4. Ready to Ride
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    Ready to Ride

    Racers such as Jote, Rey, and Tito argue frequently about which car is better, but the majority of the movie shows them traveling visiting each others’ garages, attending club meetings, and scoping out potential race tracks.
    Source: Zelmira Gainza/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg
  5. "The Exterminator"
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    "The Exterminator"

    Carlos builds and races cars for Saul, a Miami-based Cuban who owns two cars: a 1956 Chevrolet known as “The Exterminator” and a modern coupe everyone calls a Porsche but that is registered as a Mitsubishi and runs off a Chevy V8 engine.
    Source: Michael Coles/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg
  6. Modern Reforms
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    Modern Reforms

    The movie talks much about how recent reforms in Cuba that allow residents to own property and run small businesses have fed their desire to institute an officially recognized race.
    Source: Michael Coles/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg
  7. "Black Widow"
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    "Black Widow"

    Jote drives the car he named the “Black Widow.” The ’51 Ford with an enormous engine helps him escape from daily life as a mechanic. Halfway through the movie, he makes repeated attempts to escape Cuba altogether by making a raft to sail to Florida.
    Source: Zelmira Gainza/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg
  8. Race Day, Tomorrow
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    Race Day, Tomorrow

    The main tension in the story is whether there will ever be an officially recognized race because the inept official motor association in Cuba frequently cancels or delays scheduled ones—often for fabricated reasons.
    Source: Michael Coles/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg
  9. Muscle Car Soul
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    Muscle Car Soul

    The film is enriched by Cuban music, lavish colors, and beautifully shot American(ish) muscle cars. But it’s about much more than car racing. It shows how it feels to sacrifice and strive for something uncertain—and it shows that sometimes the endeavor is more about daily devotion than the ultimate goal.
    Source: Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt/Perlmutt Productions, Inc. via Bloomberg