During the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s Iran and the U.S.A. were chummy bedfellows but in the fickle world of politics, international relationships can turn sour very quickly. Iran’s pre-revolution links with the U.S.A. are, for me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the country’s recent history.
Throughout my lifetime the media has been telling us that the Islamic Iranian government has held fairly staunch anti western sentiments since the revolution of 1979. A claim backed up by Anti U.S. paintings in central Tehran where the side of a building is painted with a downwards facing ‘Stars and Stripes’ made of dropping bombs and skulls, the words “DOWN WITH THE U.S.A.” emblazoned across it in 2m tall letters.
From a western perspective what is interesting about post-revolutionary Iran are the remnants of America’s influence that have been absorbed into everyday Iranian popular culture.
On the surface there doesn’t seem to be any internal conflict between the acceptance of western symbols of consumerism and the Islamic government’s defiant standpoint on outside influence, this was after all one of the many reasons the revolution happened.
The irony is somewhat lost that cans of Coke and Pepsi are being sipped on every street corner by Levi wearing Muslims who are happy to embrace the west. Now the process of the removal of the sanctions has begun I suspect it won’t be long before Tehran sees its first McDonalds, unless the Islamic Republic stand strong!
For me though nothing says ‘The American Dream’ like a hulking great big lump of American steel, sculpted into a 1950’s futuristic vision of what a car should look like, with aerodynamic chrome tipped fins and bullet shaped chrome bumpers; a car so huge it should probably have two licence plates! In 1959 President Eisenhower drove through the streets of Tehran to cheering crowds in just this, a silver coloured Cadillac Eldorado gifted to the Shah.
Prior to 1979 Buicks, Chevys, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, Plymouths and Jeeps were a common sight in Iran. Due to it’s relatively warm climate many of these vehicles have survived in pretty good condition. For some the American cars are just a car, they just happen to still own one because it still works after all these years. For others Iran’s vintage and classic car scene is hugely popular, especially with owners of American muscle cars (Camaros, Pontiacs, Monte Carlos, Mustangs and Chargers) with many groups organising gatherings and ‘spins’.
We’ve spotted many fine original examples as well as a few stunning restored vehicles (unfortunately we've seen very few parked up to photograph). The popularity and appeal of restoration doesn’t come easy though, restoring American vehicles and keeping them running is costly. Searching for parts outside of Iran is near impossible due to internet restrictions. If you manage to find the appropriate parts it is impossible to purchase anything online as all bank dealings with Iran are sanctioned.
The classic cars are not just beautiful, powerful, well built, luxury machines, but symbols of a different time, the embodiment of freedom with bench front seats, conducive for drive-in cuddles. The vehicles themselves, full of romanticism and nostalgia represent a era in Iran that many people would probably like to see return!