Caitlin Moran

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


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 for their garage — 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