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Cuban Cars

Posted by 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.
 

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23 Comments »

Thanks for that Mitch – great photos and an interesting post.

The Austin is an A35 by the way.
.-= Mike CJ´s last blog ..Dropbox – I’m finally free of the desktop! =-.

September 16th, 2009 | 7:40 AM
Mitch:

Mike, I have no idea what that is either. lol I know nothing about cars except how they look. I couldn’t begin to tell you how to check the oil on my car now.

September 16th, 2009 | 10:02 AM
Tim Manni:

Hey Mitch,

This is an odd but extremely interesting post. Perhaps odd is the wrong word, but my first reaction is “how did this subject even come up?” Anyway, wow, now that you mentioned it, I have always noticed from movies and such that the cars from Cuba are really old, and frankly, some are quite odd looking — like that Austin A35 (thanks Mike). I just always thought movie and TV show directors did it for effect or something.

Your right, there is something to be said for the maintenance that goes into these cars and the original manufacturing that has allowed them to stay on the road.

This was really cool and extremely unique. Good stuff as always.

-Tim

September 16th, 2009 | 12:02 PM
Mitch:

Tim, you never know what I’m going to come up with. The new, personal me, remember. lol Glad you enjoyed it; the things I’m learning these days.

September 16th, 2009 | 12:39 PM

Man, these cars are classics, and the ones in the photos seem to be in pristine condition. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were worth more than a new car. I would love on of the old Cadillacs.
.-= Sire´s last blog ..Obama’s Health Care Plan Not At All Popular =-.

September 16th, 2009 | 7:00 PM
Mitch:

It was an interesting topic to research, once I learned something about it Sire. The amazing thing to me is that many of these cars aren’t seen as collectors items, but as essential transportation for the citizens.

September 16th, 2009 | 9:58 PM

I can understand that, but we can naturally see them as something entirely different. I’d even swap my Honda for that Caddy 🙂
.-= Sire´s last blog ..WassupBlog Alive And Kicking After Transfering To BlueHost =-.

September 18th, 2009 | 7:41 AM
Mitch:

More power to you. I wouldn’t ever want to own any of these old cars because I’d be worried about someone trying to either steal it or damage it.

September 18th, 2009 | 10:31 AM
John Dilbeck:

Good morning, Mitch.

Thanks for the pics of the old cars. I enjoyed seeing them.

When I was just a wee little tyke, way back in the middle of the 20th century, my Dad owned a Hudson Hornet and he loved that car. In fact, I’m not sure why he eventually sold it.

I knew how to maintain the older cars, but I don’t have a clue how to work on the newer ones. In lots of ways, I like the older cars from the 1940s and 1950s better.

But, then I’m an old dinosaur.

😉

Act on your dream!

JD

September 17th, 2009 | 8:44 AM
Mitch:

Hi John,

The first car I remember was my dad’s Ford Falcon, a beautiful red car that’s probably influenced my love for red cars. They were stylish back then, that’s for sure.

September 17th, 2009 | 9:53 AM

Traveling in Cuba, the cars there are among the strongest remainders that you are in a place stuck in a different time.

I’ve wondered the same thing you touched on at the end of your post–what will happen to all these old, classic cars when the politics of the island changes. Hopefully many will continue to be cared for.
.-= Spot´s last blog ..Our Favorite Hotel Room In Bangkok =-.

September 17th, 2009 | 7:51 PM
Mitch:

I hope so also, Spot. I still think there will be a new industry, and that those folks with these cars could be up for making lots of money later on.

September 17th, 2009 | 9:42 PM

Hi Mitch,

You almost did a vintage car show on your post :). Wonderful pics and very good write up.

Thanks,
Steven

September 18th, 2009 | 1:28 AM
Mitch:

Thanks Steven. I gave it my best shot; I only wish I knew more about cars to be able to talk about them more.

September 18th, 2009 | 1:35 AM

WoW, those Cuban vintage cars are awesome, Mitch! 🙂
.-= wilhb81´s last blog ..Business one-liners 66 =-.

September 18th, 2009 | 2:09 AM
Mitch:

Thanks Wil. They were fun to look through.

September 18th, 2009 | 10:30 AM

I had no idea it was like that on Cuba. It must be really interesting to see all those great old cars in real life and not just on pictures.
.-= Klaus @ TechPatio´s last blog ..Friday Flick Find: My Own Video – Shooting Cans In Slowmotion =-.

September 18th, 2009 | 10:35 AM
Mitch:

One of these days we’ll know, Klaus. What was funny to me was how the government went in and snatched new cars that a couple of corporations had purchased, saying new cars were only reserved for the government unless everyone else got special permission. I just can’t imagine it.

September 18th, 2009 | 10:44 AM
Karl Used UK Cars:

Great article on classic cuban cars, i enjoyed the read. Its my 1st time on this blog, and i will be visiting again, thankyou.

June 24th, 2010 | 7:09 AM

Thank you for the post. Very interesting.

September 11th, 2010 | 2:35 AM
Tony@auto parts:

I was not aware that there are a lot of classic vehicles to be found in Cuba. It is good that these vehicles are kept in good condition. I would love a have a good look under the hood and check the auto parts.

January 28th, 2011 | 6:35 AM
Mitch Mitchell:

Tony, maybe if they relax visitation to Cuba you could take a trek over for a quick look. I bet they’re fairly proud of what they’ve been able to do.

January 28th, 2011 | 10:55 AM

there are a lot of old cars in Havana that inside are just 100% russian, mostly Volga

September 22nd, 2011 | 5:56 PM