The first thing everyone notices immediately when they land in Havana are the vintage, pre-revolutionary American cars. 1950s Chevys, Fords and Oldsmobiles are everywhere. In fact, there is an estimated 60,000 vintage cars in Cuba. But seeing them everywhere in Havana felt like stepping into a scene of “Midnight in Paris”. It was surreal. It was like stepping back in time.
In its heyday before the Cuban revolution, Cuba was a huge importer of American cars. All this came to an end when the US embargo struck Cuba allowing nothing from American soil to be imported into the island, including spare parts to fix and maintain the cars.
Desperate to find parts to maintain their beloved vehicles, Cubans began refurbishing parts from the former Soviet Union and also used their creativity to care for their beloved cars, often sacred in the family. Some Cubans have made their own replacement parts or have even used common household items to keep their vintage cars running.
After the US embargo, Soviet Ladas, Korean, Japanese and Chinese-made cars became the new norm and can be found today throughout Cuba. Yet it is the vintage American cars that steals people’s hearts and brings Cuba her magical charm and allure like no place else on earth.
I must admit I was a little bit obsessed with the vintage cars. I loved them! A couple of times during my breaks I stood still on a busy street and snapped away, taking pictures of one old car after another, in hopes of capturing these idyllic creatures on film. Each and every car was unique and each car no matter what condition it was in, was well loved and driven with pride.
Here is my grand collection of pre-revolutionary cars that I saw on the move or along the side of the road while in Havana.
A reality in Cuba is that many taxi drivers are moonlighting professionals. Doctors, Engineers and other PhD’s who are fortunate enough to have an old car in the family and get a taxi license are either spending their off time working as a cabbie or even leaving their profession. Why? Because they can earn $25 in a day instead of $25 in a month as they would make as a doctor, lawyer or anything else in Cuba. That is communism.
Cars on the move
Cars around the Malecón
Broken Down Cars
What I found so ironic about the vintage cars is that some of the cars are in the same state of decay and deterioration as Cuba herself. Just like Havana with its deteriorating buildings, broken down sidewalks juxtaposed to her lovely restored mansions, old, rusty broken down cars are can be seen throughout Cuba slugging down the streets or pulled over on the side being repaired while completely refurbished beautifies pass them by. The irony of it all is so Cuba.