The American Cubano

America may soon look a lot like Cuba, with lots of ancient cars on the road, kept on the road by determined owners who want nothing to do with the advanced driver assistance technology of new cars or electric cars.

This is better than it sounds.

The Cubans had to make-do with actually ancient cars from the 1950s and before, which were the new cars in Cuba before Fidel Castro. No more new cars were imported for regular folks and they had to make do with what they had.

Credit: Joe Ross

We Americanos have the advantage of much newer and modern cars to keep on driving. Cars, arguably the apotheosis of car design, was reached by the mid-late 1990s and fully expressed by the early-mid 2000s. By this time, any car you bought was a car that had a largely maintenance-free 15-to-20 year service life on the low end and a body that would last twice as long as any car made before then, due to vastly better put-together processes at the time of its manufacture.

The cars of the ’40s and ’50s, the Cubanos had to make-do with, were cars designed to last maybe six or seven years before needing a mechanical overhaul, and the only reason their bodies have lasted as long as they have is because there’s no snow (and no road salt) in Cuba.

Our cars could last almost indefinitely and without us having to drive cars with the ’40s and ’50s-era capabilities and amenities—while avoiding new cars with modern tech.

I made myself a cup of coffee and sat down in the garage to consider my ’02 Nissan Frontier. This truck has a modern, fuel-injected engine that only needs to be tuned-up once every 100,000 miles or so and in between, asks for occasional oil and filter changes, and not much else. It has power steering, air conditioning, and a modern aftermarket stereo I installed (more here) that’s as good as many factory-installed new car stereos without the new car.

I do not need much else and thus do not want much else. So, how much would it cost me to keep this truck as an everyday driver for another 15-plus years?

It’s probably not much since it’s only got 140,000 miles on it, which is equivalent to 30,000 miles (or less) on a ’50s or ’60s-era car.

Credit: Jirapat Chroenkeskij

It will likely run without needing a mechanical rehab for another 100,000 miles—and maybe longer before it needs anything major. If I needed a new engine, for example, the cost for it would be a fraction of a new truck’s cost. I looked it up, and the cost for a rebuilt crate engine from JEGS is about $2,800 (see here).

Then it could be good to go for another 20 years-plus and for a lot less than the cost of a new Frontier, which comes standard with all the tech I don’t want and have no interest in paying for, either.

The engine has some electronic controls, but they are comparatively simple because the engine has a throttle body injection system. There are aftermarket replacements for them, if need be, and the cost for that is about $2,000 all in.

The ’02’s manual transmission has no electronics at all, unlike the almost-universally standard automatics that come in the new trucks. A manual rebuild is straightforward, with the cost about $1,000 plus a new clutch once every 150,000 or so miles (my truck still has its original clutch). That brings us up to about $7,000 to redo most of the truck’s major drivetrain parts.

Add in another $3k to rebuild the suspension and brakes and replace accessories such as power steering pumps and the AC compressor, various bits and pieces.

Keep in mind that it probably won’t be necessary to replace most of these things for a long time to come and certainly not all at once. So I would not need to come up with the money all at once. But for the sake of discussion, I think a $10K outlay to bring the ’02 truck back to functionally new would work.

How about cosmetically?

My almost-20-year-old truck is still in remarkably nice shape; the paint still shines, and the bed isn’t rusty. It has some scrapes and few dings, but, on the whole, it is still what they call a solid “number 2” vehicle in the classic car trade. Not a show car by any stretch but not a beater, either.

Most 15 to 20-year-old late-model vehicles fall into this category because, unlike the ancient cars of the pre-modern era, their paintwork and bodywork last much longer, especially if taken care of reasonably well by washing and waxing it every so often.

Mine doesn’t need a paint job or bodywork to go another 10-plus years without looking like a beater.

But what if it did?

It would be pretty easy and not too pricey to bring this truck back up to cosmetically as-new, too.

Credit: KelvinJM

I asked a friend who runs a paint and body shop what it would cost to fix the dents and spray the body and maybe spray in a new bedliner. He told me it would be about $5,000 for a really nice paint job, comparable to the factory paint job.

So, for about $15,000, I could have, in effect, a brand-new ’02 Nissan Frontier for about half the cost of a brand-new Nissan Frontier without the brand-new truck’s “tech.”

My truck doesn’t “assist” me in any way. It doesn’t even beep at me if I fail to “buckle up” for “safety.” It is very old in that respect.

But that’s precisely why I have no interest in anything new.

If you feel the same, maybe consider the same. Be an Americano Cubano with the AC cranked and cruising at 70MPH all day long.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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