Caitlin Moran
18 Comments

Why Does Cuba Have So Many Classic Cars?

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Green Plymouth in Cuba

Cuba is full of museum-worthy, old-school cars that will make any car enthusiast drool
Photo: Franck Vervial

If you want to take a step back into automotive time, then you need to go to Cuba. That’s a rule in the automotive industry. Havana itself is beautiful, with its brightly colored—if slightly dusty—buildings and milling streets, but there is nothing quite as beautiful as seeing a line of classic cars sitting at an intersection like it’s no big deal.


Gallery: See more photos of Cuba’s classic cars


Cuba's Car Culture - Tom Cotter

Check out Tom Cotter’s book on Cuban Cars

Cuba is literally a rolling car museum. Everywhere you look is an old-school American brand vehicle, ranging from Oldsmobile to Chevrolet, Buick to Ford with a nice sampling of Chrysler’s old Plymouth brand. There’s even a few Russian Volgas thrown in the mix. These are all vehicles that the majority of American car lovers would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on—and they are used as Cubans’ everyday vehicles.

This stuck-in-time feeling Cuba has generated is the result of a four-decade-long grudge the country’s late leader, Fidel Castro, held against the United States. Though the island floats only 90 miles away from Key West, Florida, Castro had placed a ban on foreign vehicle imports, making it nearly impossible to buy a brand-new, foreign-made vehicle. It also made it difficult to buy new parts and fuel for the old-school American cars Cuba is known for.

Photo Gallery of Classic Cars in Cuba

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As a result, not only do Cuban citizens drive vehicles straight out of the 1950s, but these vehicles are kept running through a hodgepodge of hand-built, improvised parts. If that’s not innovation, I’m not sure what is.

Right now, Cuba is on the brink of becoming like every other country in the world. Raúl Castro, Fidel’s brother, has abolished the need for permission to purchase a foreign-made car. This is the first time the ban has been relaxed since its implementation after the 1959 Cuban revolution. So now, Cuban consumers can purchase more modern vehicles—if they can pay the hefty price.

While this new law is terrific news for Cuban citizens, it’s difficult to fathom a Cuba without its classic cars. Do you think Cuba will stick to its old ways, driving only classic cars? Share your thoughts with us below.

Photo Sources: KroL Productions; Dani; Oliver Townend; Thomassin Mickael; Tony Hisgett; Ilker Ender; Alvaro Remesal Royo; Kathryn Allard
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  • Caitlin MoranEditor

    A born-and-raised Jersey girl, Caitlin Moran has somehow found herself settled in Edinburgh, Scotland. When she’s not spending her days trying to remember which side of the road to drive on, Caitlin enjoys getting down and nerdy with English. She continues to combine her love of writing with her love of cars for The News Wheel, while also learning more about the European car market—including the fact that the Seat brand is pronounced “se-at” not “seat” as you might think. See more articles by Caitlin.

  • Pickleman

    The effects will certainly be present for a long time, but surely in time they will start disappearing sadly. I’m sure car collectors all across USA already have their cuban plane tickets too

  • Eric Talgo

    Hopefully, they can sell their classic cars for the price of a new one. That would be great for the Cuban economy! Hold out for a good price, Cuba!

  • fff

    hi

  • noname

    “This stuck-in-time feeling Cuba has generated is the result of a four-decade-long grudge the country’s late leader, Fidel Castro, held against the United States”…
    well, its the US which tried to stick its head into other country’s business in the first place, Cuba fought very hard for its own good, the US wanted good only for itself and not for Cuba. when the US found out that Cuba was not gonna do what they wanted, they blocked Cuba totally. It is not that Castro banned importing cars. That is why Cuba had to suffer so much. they kept the cars because they had no choice, they used the money to things more important such as health, education and food for the people. Classical cars symbolises Cuban people’s struggle, and effort.

    • OBAMABLOWS

      no its called communism…it is not pretty, it is not nice, it is horrible….it is not our fault cuba is in the mess it is today….communism has never worked and it never will….blame Castro, not the USA. …Cubans have struggled because they have been led by dictators…why else would people swim shark infested waters (90 miles appox) for a better life if Cuba was so WONDERFUL?

      • Ron

        I bet it took a long time for you to come up with such a unique and well-thought-out username!

      • Bill Boyer

        finally some common sense in a sea of idiot thinking!!

    • Ahmed Ogundele

      Mr noname, you lied. If United States blocked them out, why can’t them buy from other countries, even from their mentor Russia. The truth is that communism is evil, and brings nothing but suffering, while promising the poor heaven on earth.

    • James H. Foster

      Cuba had communist leanings. That’s not very nice to do. As is the socialist subversion and non-invasion of America that’s been going on for close to 60 years here in the US. Germany is skating on thin ice! Watch out!

  • jd

    THIS COULD BE GOOD FOR THE AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY IN THE US TO START SELLING CARS IN CUBA.

    • James H. Foster

      No. It could be good for the US to sell Cuba steel/plastic and glass to build their OWN brand of cars and sell them in tandem with Mexican-made cars. The idea is to give them their own capitalist identity back. Before the Missile Crisis nonsense territoriality stunt. And this German non-invasion socialist silliness. Silly Germany, socialism’s for Euros apparently….

  • Seventizz .

    It’s a shame the world hasn’t followed this model to make cars more recyclable.

  • jakedanger

    Why didn’t they just buy Japanese cars instead?

    • Justin Hall

      Did you read the article? Please read the article.

  • mika levasseur

    yes they will! I mean why the fck would you want a new car? modern cars are fcking ugly, goofy looking and are very cheaply built. WHO in his right mind would want to replace history with something ugly?

  • 55 lover

    It would be great if shops could be set up in Cuba, manned by Cuban mechanics, assisted by Detroit trained pros, to revamp these beauties to their original factory condition. I’m sure machinery shops would be needed to remake obsolete parts, but give the Cubans the pleasure of keeping the profits in Cuba. They’ll make higher returns on the open market helping their economy, and the collectors will be drooling.

    • rick53

      I wouldn’t doubt that Cuba knows more about those cars then Detroit,keeping them running for 50 or 60 years by having to machine their own parts,and just good ol boy just make it happen with what you got.Pretty amazing.A Lot of those parts are out there being made after market,there are an awful lot of classic car clubs that do some amazing restores,picking up some old cars out in the weeds,and completely restoring them.Either way,a trip to Havana would be like going to one of the best classic car shows.Your right about the economy.These guys have cars that the collectors would drop a lot of cash for.Lets hope that communism will have a real death blow with Fidel gone,hopefully Raul Castro will change Cuba ,now that his brother is dead.Have a great day!

  • i am sum1

    This is a dream for people’s that are obsessed with the 50’s to 80’s. Cuba I’m getting my tickets!!