Vintage Snapshots: American Cars In Puerto Rico, 1950’s-1960’s

Here is a bunch of snapshots I had restrained myself from sharing, for fear of turning CC into my own Cars of the Tropics site. Regardless, the time has come. And I think the images will provide CC readers with a favorite pastime: car spotting.

In the first image, a bunch of American goods are parked on what I believe is the UPR (University of Puerto Rico) campus. Most are GM products, with some Fords and Chryslers adding variety. At least one Renault Dauphine is visible, and a few VWs.

With Puerto Rico being a US territory, it was only natural most vehicles would be American-made. In photos, the island provides an alternate reality to Cuba’s 1950s roadways. Of course, Cuba’s eventual fame was keeping old American cars on the roads until today. Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, were making enough dollars to purchase Detroit’s newest offerings. By the time I arrived on the island in the late ’80s, most cars in these images – if not all – were long gone.

Besides the cars, the island’s changing conditions are noticeable in the images. Roads and housing were still precarious through a good part of the ’50s, and American money would transform Puerto Rico’s lifestyle during the ’50s -’60s. An investment mostly due to Cold War politics.

The above street -with the Ford in the foreground- could be almost anywhere on the island. The architecture is small-town typical, and on my return in ’87, the first street we lived in Mayaguez didn’t look too different from this (though by then, looking cleaner and with better infrastructure).

Like the US, Puerto Rico had a small share of imports. So, A few oddities appear here and there. There was one exception: The Beetle, which was becoming as ever-present as it was on the mainland.

A Pontiac (a ’52?) appears on a secondary road in Santurce. Dirt roads were to disappear soon, for the most part.

Once again, the UPR. Modernity was arriving on the island, and that ’56 Chevy is another sign of it.

This shot was taken in Ponce’s downtown, a rather picturesque city in the South of the island. The late ’60s Opel stands out the most in the image, as well as a Willys Jeep.

Last, I’ve no idea what’s up with this split-window Cadillac. Some Caddy expert might illuminate us on that particular. Bulletproof perhaps?

In any case, take a look and enjoy. We may have another tour around the island some other day.