Cars: Classic Cuban Cars

Edgardo W.Olivera, Via Flickr

If you love vintage cars, Cuba its the place. The greatest on earth. one big car show, where autos from the 1940s and 1950s zip along the streets and byways. 

Take your pick: Pontiacs, Buicks Chevrolets, Fords, Dodges, Plymouths, even Studebakers. They run the gamut from mint condition to battered. Well-preserved cars have exteriors that shine with chrome and “ shocking” pink, purple, red, aquamarine paint jobs, while the worse-off autos are kept together with odd parts, scrap metal and sometime duct tape.  

American cars were imported for about 50 years until 1959. After the Cuban Revolution, the U.S. imposed the embargo and Castro banned the importation of American cars and spare parts. Thats why Cuba is the way it is today—essentially a living museum for classic cars. They are considered part of the Cuban Heritage. Cuban laws ban the cars from being removed from the island. There are about 60,000 vintage American cars still running in Cuba, half of them from the 50s, 25 percent from the 40s, and the rest from the 30s. The cars are often family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation.

Since the country lacks replacement parts and often the necessary tools for fixing the vehicles the locals have become extremely creative in their repairs; a great deal of reverse engineering has kept these old American autos on the road.  

Mechanics find ways to use imperfect parts and they are well paid for their ingenuity .Russian cars Ladas and Volgas – are stripped of useful components, hood ornaments are often made from scrap metal. The old American cars keep running with parts and pieces that were never intended for them. Its not uncommon to find a 1950s Buick with a Russian engine and most have been converted to diesel. 

Ask any owner to tell you about his car and he will gladly show you and tell you how he has managed to keep it on the road.

The majority of the owners have joined regulated Co-ops and have become taxis and tours’ providers. The rest of the population drive small Citroens, Nissans, Peugeot, Volkswagen. Luxury cars are very rare but for those who can afford the steep prices Audis, BMWs and Mercedes are available.

Tourists can take tours in classic cars in Havana and Veradero. In these places, there are usually rows of spotless beautiful looking cars lined up for visitors to choose from. Most of them are convertibles, which are perfect for cruising the city streets and taking pictures. 

Thats exactly what my husband and I did during our recent stay in Havana. If the embargo were lifted, the Cuban auto market would be flooded with replacement parts and repair manuals, the old cars could be fixed properly and be kept on the roads for decades to come. It would also boost sales for American automakers, sadly, under the current administration nothing is going to changefor the better.

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