- Automobile History
The History of Hemingway's 1955 Chrysler New Yorker in Cuba
Ernest Hemingway killed himself in 1961 after a bad depression episode. Exactly why someone kills themselves is something they always take to the grave and all other reasons are mere conjecture. Perhaps, like many, getting older was just too difficult for him to accept. Being famous and rich made no difference. But looking into a mirror and seeing youth vanish over time is the hardest thing to accept or not.
The last car he owned was a $4000 1955 Chrysler New Yorker convertible. Four thousand bucks was a lot of money in 1955. Hemingway lived in Cuba for 22 years from the 1930s to 50's, then he moved. The story of the car ends after Hemingway left Cuba and restarts when it was found in 2009. Hemingway’s doctor (1961-1973), from 1961-73, Dr. José Luis Herrera Sotalongo, Hemingway's doctor, owned the car. Then, from 1973-78, his son, José Herrera Bella. After that, many others owned it until the final owner, Leopoldo Nuñez Gutiérrez, in whose garage the vehicle was found.
After Castro seized control of Cuba, the government seized Hemingway's home and made it a museum and tourist attraction. Immediately after Hemingway had left Cuba, the car was given to his driver, Augustin Nuñez Gutiérrez. He would later become a policeman and the government wanted the car and offered a trade for a new Fiat 124. This was refused and the driver demanded a house. The government gave him a house but the trade was very long a convoluted and during this time, Gutierrez, was becoming very unhappy with Cuban life under Castro. Like many others, he fled Cuba after hiding the car on a raft to Miami. He would never make it. His death remains unknown.
Hemingway's car was originally a two-tone Navajo Orange with Desert Sand color scheme. However, this was no longer visible when it was found beneath a shoddy white on top of red paint job. The original interior trim of Navajo Orange leather with beige leather inserts was lost forever, eaten away by mildew. The Ivory vinyl convertible top was long gone. The chassis was rotten away from rust, with holes in the frame. Even the 250-HP V8 engine looked bad and outside of the car. Yet, it was Hemingway's car!
The cost of restoring it required $100,000, and Cuban officials sought this amount in 2011. It was estimated that restoration would take three months, but a more realistic estimate is a year because finding or making parts has proven very difficult. Hemingway had owned six cars while in Cuba, and much of the money will be used to restore each them. It was completed by 2013.