Classic Cars in Cuba
Posted by Rich Mancini
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Saying that Cuba travel is “all about the cars” may not be exactly accurate. After all, between the ever-present music, art and culture, the rich history, and the Cuban people themselves, there is so much to love about this enigmatic country next door that many Americans are just discovering for the first time on our People-to-People trips. But it might seem like it… because from your very first drive along Cuban roads, you can’t help but notice the vintage American automobiles of the 1940s and 50s that seem to be everywhere… and I do mean everywhere!
Even I – a classic car fan who had seen plenty of pictures of these “Yank tanks” or máquinas (machines), as the locals call them, before arriving in Havana on a development trip – was not prepared for the massive numbers and variety of these mid-century marvels, which only sheer ingenuity and a ton of patience on the part of their owners have kept running for more than 50 years.
Because neither new U.S.-built cars nor replacement parts have been available in Cuba due to the U.S. trade embargo that began in 1960, there are an estimated 60,000 or so pre-1960 American cars still on the road there. Some are restored classics, while others are clunkers that have been cobbled together with anything the owners could get their hands on, from homemade parts to Soviet-built diesel engines to parts reclaimed from a host of other makes and models. The spiffiest examples of classic cars in Cuba are often employed as taxicabs – like the mid-50s Ford Fairlane that my colleagues and I took a spin in – but most are used as daily transportation by the indomitable Cubanos, to whom “scrapping” a car is unheard of.
Old Fords, Chevys, Cadillacs, Plymouths, Chryslers, Dodges, DeSotos, Packards, Studebakers and Buicks are just some of the classic cars in Cuba that you will see… often literally around every corner. You name the make, and you’ll probably find one without trying too hard. In fact, I even spotted my personal favorite – a jet-age-inspired, 1950 “bullet-nosed” Studebaker Champion – barreling down a Havana street. From my first day in Cuba, I was like a kid in a candy store... where every day was a classic car show, and every evening like “cruise night” at a 50s-era drive-in. If you love vintage cars, grab your camera and go!