The cars of Cuba are somewhat legendary in the United States, because the vehicles that roamed the roads there in the 1950s are the same ones being driven today. Since we’re not allowed to go there, very few of us have seen them in person, yet we know they exist.
Does that mean American collectors should start salivating over the prospect of virtually untouched classics if Cuba and the U.S. become friends again?
Probably not. The 1959 Cuban revolution essentially put an end to imports of American cars, so Cubans have had to make do for the last 55 years with what they had, or buy Soviet-era imports. That means no new parts, no new cars and lots of Chevrolets and Buicks running with Soviet-made engines.
With over a half-century of neglect and little real maintenance, it’s a miracle that somewhere around 60,000 of these classics are still being driven. If the U.S. and Cuba do rekindle their old flame, it won’t be the Americans who benefit:
It may be that should the embargo be lifted, the main beneficiaries wouldn’t be the American car auction houses but the Cuban people themselves, especially their car experts. After half a century having to repair old Detroit iron with scraps, imagine what they could do with parts and tools they didn’t have to scrounge.
Perhaps over time a market of restored classics would form, but in the foreseeable future we’d see the more basic need of reliable transportation being met on the island.
Another article expresses some worry about the future of Cuba’s cars. True, it’s possible that opening up the borders will result in more money coming into the tiny county, but even if sales of new American cars were allowed there, only a tiny fraction of the population would be able to afford them.
Even without the United States lifting its embargoes, the real threat to Cuban car culture is an influx of Chinese and Korean cars. For now prices on those new cars are keeping the masses from replacing their old cars, but over time that will begin to change.
Nevertheless, the car culture in Cuba will live on. At this point, there’s a good chance it could even take on a new life as a tourist attraction in itself. Nowhere else in the world has a country taken on such a unique and inventive car culture. Yes, it happened out of necessity, but I think it’ll hang on because of choice.
Would you travel to Cuba to see its cars?