Posted by Mitch Mitchell on Sep 16, 2009
When most Americans think about Cuba, we think about this little, backward Communist country that hasn’t kept pace with the rest of the world. We think about them as having an antiquated government, yet as passionate people about many things such as baseball and soccer.
What we don’t think about are cars; at least not most of us. Cuba is not a rich country. They also don’t have a lot of other countries that will trade with them for many goods. Maybe that will change, but it hasn’t changed yet.
Anyway, what some people who have visited Cuba know about, and are now starting to educate the rest of about, are what’s known as Cuban Cars. In general, Cuban Cars are old cars, mainly American, British and Russian cars, that the Cubans use in their every day life.
They have to use these cars because the people of Cuba don’t have money to buy new cars, and even if they did, there are few new cars to be had in Cuba. A few years ago, the country even went so far as to confiscate newer cars from some citizens who were able to purchase them, saying they had to make due with all the other cars that were available.
That’s because in Cuba, what the government giveth, they can take away. Owners have to have a special permit from the country to own any cars newer than 1959, but they can rescind that permission at any time, and for any reason.
With car aficionados, Cuba is known as the world’s greatest open-air car museum. You don’t have to wait for special showings to see these cars in Cuba. As a matter of fact, if you’re able to visit Cuba, the cab you take from the airport to the hotel will probably be one of these old, vintage cars.
The amazing thing is that it shows how tough these cars really were when compared to today’s cars. It’s estimated that the majority of cars on Cuba have probably come close to reaching 1,000,000 miles; yes, with six zeroes! Cuban mechanics have been able to keep these cars running, as well as many people on the island who have learned how to maintain their own cars.
The problem for some of us is that, unless we visit the island ourselves, we’re past the time period where it’s easy to identify the make, brand, and year these cars were made. And Cubans don’t go out of their way to help us identify these cars online, so we sometimes have to make due with just looking at them. This car, for instance, is an Austin, but year and make; who knows?
However, sometimes we get lucky and find out what an older model car might be. For instance, although it’s infamous in car lore as a total bomb, how many people have actually ever seen this car, a 1957 Edsel, let alone one still running? This one is actually labeled as a 1952 Edsel on the site, but Edsel didn’t put out their first car until 1957.
People are of two different thoughts whenever they visit Cuba. Some people who aren’t used to old cars think they’re shoddy and scary, and indeed, though the cars are somewhat maintained, and the body might look chipped and rusted out, it will give you the impression that you’re taking your life into your hands every time you’re in one. One has to understand that there are different degrees of competence in maintaining these old cars, and also let’s not forget how hard it has to be to get parts for these cars.
Still, it has to be pretty amazing for visitors to Cuba to see some of the cars that are there. I’m betting almost no one in America today has ever seen one of these cars, which is called a Ladas, which was Russian made. Almost reminds you of some Ford’s from the 60’s, doesn’t it?
And talk about your blasts from the past, how many people from today ever heard of a car called the Hudson, let alone the Jet, which was only produced in 1953 and 1954? The Jet was known as the car that ultimately led to the demise of the Hudson Car Company, which merged with another probably unknown name today, the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, and became American Motors in 1954.
Of course, not all the cars left in Cuba are from the 1950’s, although those are the majority. This car, for instance, is a 1946 Plymouth. Notice how big it is; there are few cars today that would survive a crash against a monster like this.
Even though this car isn’t as tricked out as many others, you can tell the pride the owner has taken with this car, with its shiny gold finish. Oh yeah, something else to know about Cuba is that car theft is minimal; too easy to identify the cars since they’ve been seen for so long. So a car like this can just sit out on a public street without being bothered; imagine that in most places around the world.
Lucky for Cubans, and the rest of us, just seeing some of the car styles from our history is enough for us. As relations towards Cuba begin to thaw, hopefully more of us from around the world will be allowed to travel to Cuba, see these cars, and possibly help their economy by either buying these cars, or paying to go see some of them exhibited in shows around the country. What style, and what a ray to remember the history of many of our cars from the past.