Hailing a 1955 Chevy in Istanbul is Going to Get Harder and Harder

It’s the end of an era in Istanbul, Turkey. The 1950s, that is.

The Association of Istanbul Drivers and Taxi Owners is trying to phase out the classic American cars used as taxis around the city and replace them with new, canary-yellow Fords.

The old taxis, called dolmuses, have been used for decades as inexpensive alternatives to regular yellow cabs for short jaunts around the city. Eight passengers typically jam into a dolmus — which means stuffed in Turkish — two in front, three in the back and three in a special middle seat inserted into the vehicles, which have been “stretched” 16 inches. The taxis won’t move until every seat is taken, unless a passenger volunteers to pay for any empty spot.

But the dolmus (pronounced dolemoosh) is no longer considered safe, according to Suleyman Ersal, head of the drivers association. “If we keep those cars, they’ll block traffic and pollute the air,” he says. “And they break down.”

Many of the old cars were imported from the U.S. by Turks and American expatriates. Most are 40 to 45 years old but at least one ’46 Dodge is still operating, Mr. Ersal says. So is a 1952 Cadillac said to have belonged to former Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, who was hanged following the 1960 coup.

So far, only about 150 of the 600 dolmuses, all of which operate in Istanbul, have been voluntarily replaced.

They’re tough brake shoes to fill. The association has tried for 20 years to find a suitable replacement for the dolmus, but the drivers found none acceptable. Finally, the local unit of Ford Motor came up with a workable seven-seat model.

Not all drivers are impressed. “Those new ones will last two years,” says Cevat Mat, 53 years old, giving a dismissive wave in the direction of a shiny new Ford parked across the street from his 1955 Chevy. He raps the right front panel of a colleague’s DeSoto, which responds with the dull ring of thick steel. “This one has been running since 1948,” he says.

“In time every single one will be a new model,” laments Seref Akinci, 53, who has been driving the DeSoto for 15 years. He admits it often breaks down, but says he likes all the attention it gets from tourists. “The secret is the technology Americans had during World War II,” he says. “Now even in America they can’t produce such cars.”

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