Cuban Classics – Vintage cars

Things done well and with a care, exempt themselves from fear”- William Shakespeare

When you think of Havana, one of the first things that comes to mind is a beautiful vintage convertible car, right? But why are there so many on the island? Below are ten facts about cars is Cuba from 1950s to date.

1/ There were around 150 thousand cars registered in Cuba at the end of the 1950s, of those it is estimated that more than 70 thousand are still running, mainly around Havana.

A driver awaits tourists in Central Havana

2/ On coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castrol banned the import of new cars and introduced laws prohibiting Cubans from buying cars. Only the government could import new cars and these were sold only to bureaucrats, doctors and others with government connections or proof of foreign exchange income.

3/ In 1962 Cuba became isolated from the world when the U.S. enacted an embargo blocking companies from trading with the island.  With no access to new cars or parts, the Cuban population had to make do with what parts and vehicles they already had, mainly 1940s and 50s era classics.

4/ In the years following the blockade, the classic American cars were repaired with spare parts from newer cars that arrived mainly from the USSR and other Socialist countries.  These included Ladas, Moskvitchs, Volgas, Polish & Argentinian Fiats. Few cars from other countries such as Volks Wagon Beatles and Italian Alfa Romeos were also allowed into the country in the 1970s. The majority of these, despite being newer, did not last as long as the American cars.

One of the old Russian Ladas

5/ In the 1970s, Castro’s government gave out Ladas for exemplary work. By the 1980s, one in three cars in Cuba was a Lada, including most police cars and taxicabs. Cubans often custom made “Lada limousine” taxis by welding two cars together.

Lada used as a Taxi

6/ In the 1980s the Polish Fiat known throughout the island as the “Polaquito,” became popular and were especially a favourite among the underground racing scene because of its ability to be modified with an array of eclectic parts.

7/ In 2011, the Cuban government legalised the purchase and sale of used post-1959 cars and in December 2013, Cubans were allowed to buy new cars from state-run dealerships without a special permit.

8/ Foreign cars can now be bought and sold, and Cubans no longer require a permit to acquire a new car. However, the state runs all car dealerships, which exclusively sell Peugeots, and the cars are sold at over five times their market value.  With a new Peugeot retailing at $250,000, only a very few people can afford them as the majority are employed by the state earning on average $20 a month.

One of the newly imported cars being used as a taxi

9/ The vintage cars remain the workhorses of the island, being used for personal use, as taxis and for public transport. Cars with original engines and well looked after interiors and exteriors are used almost solely for tourists. A classic convertible car tour in Havana starts from $30 for a seat and $99 for a full car.

A driver cleans his classic convertible

10/ Although the vintage cars can fetch life changing amounts of money for some of their owners, they cannot sell them to collectors because Cuban law bans the removal of these cars from the island.  Will this change too?  Watch this space.

It’s not often you see a car this colour on the road