VIDEO: A Caribbean Classic
Hylton's classic piece of historyFriday, June 25, 2021
BY BRIAN BONITTO
ANDRE Hylton has made his name in automotive circles as well as representational politics. The former People's National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament for St Andrew Eastern is an avid classic car collector.
His collection includes a 1953 Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire, 1958 Rover 95, and a 1949 Daimler db36. However, none is more special than his 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Presidential Limousine, which marries his two passions. The vehicle is currently at his Andre's Auto business place, located at Osborne Road in Kingston. It is in the process of being restored.
“It is part of Jamaica's history,” said Hylton, charter president of the Jamaica Classic Car Club. He is principal of 40-year-old Andre's Auto, which specialises in parts, fleet management, repairs, and auto sales.
“The Cadillac is a car that was donated to the Michael Manley Government in the 1970s... Now, when the car was donated it was at the time when Fidel Castro was to visit Jamaica (and you know during the Cold War there was the heightened tensions in Jamaica with the work of the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] and there was always attempts on Castro's life, so security was a major concern),” Hylton told the Jamaica Observer's weekly Auto magazine. “The Panamanian Government donated the 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Presidential Limousine, which was fully armoured, to the Michael Manley Government of the time and, of course, I believe the only person to have rode in that car officially in Jamaica is Fidel Castro when he came here.”
Castro, former president of Cuba, paid a six-day official visit to Jamaica in 1977. He was a close ally of Manley, who governed under a democratic socialist agenda.
Manley, at 72, died on March 6, 1997 while Castro passed away at 90 years old in 2016.
According to Hylton, the car was equivalent of the “Beast” used to transport the American president.
He said the tyres had an inner attachment that, if damaged by gunfire, could still rotate at 60 to 70 miles per hour. Steel casings covered the engine and radiator in the event of gunfire, while the back seat had gun racks for security personnel. The door glass and the windshield were an inch thick.
“It's a well-armoured car and to armour a car would have cost about $100,000 in those days, so it's a very expensive undertaking. But, it's a part of our history and [of an] interesting period in our history in Jamaica – the 70s – when you had the East and West and the clashes that took place, and the security threats at the time that Fidel Castro coming to Jamaica. We wanted to ensure that he was properly secured,” Hylton disclosed.
Ironically, Hylton said he acquired the car from Prime Minister Edward Seaga during his Administration in the 1980s but cannot remember how much he paid for it. Seaga was Manley's bitter rival in the 1970s.
“When the Jamaica Labour Party Government won in the 1980s, I wrote to the then prime minister, the Most Honourable Edward Seaga, and asked him to sell me the car as a collector. He was very gracious to approve that sale of car to me as a person who wanted to collect a piece of Jamaica's history. I believe we have to preserve our history so that persons who come after us can appreciate it,” he said.
The collector credits Olivia “Babsy” Grange — minister of gender, culture, entertainment, and sport — who supported his bid to have the vehicle.
Hylton said during its heyday he rented the vehicle for weddings and special occasions. It was also used for Shabba Ranks's grand entry at the National Arena in Kingston for Sting 1990.
“He arrived at the stadium in fine style being driven in the limousine... You never had limousine in Jamaica at that time; that was probably the only limousine of that type... It had a well decked out chauffeur, escorted by two outriders,” he recalled.
Hylton estimates that it will cost $1 million to restore the vehicle to its former splendour.
“We have started sourcing the parts and workmen. It's very difficult in Jamaica, as we're not [as] experienced as persons in the First World countries in car restoration, so I would say by the end of the year we should get started as a project,” he added.
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