Why Cuba Has So Many Classic American Cars

Photo-credit-Patti-Londre-www.WorthTheWhisk.com-American-Cars-in-Cuba-Collage.jpgWe just returned from the island of Rum, Cigars, Great Music and Beautiful Women – Cuba. There, we got the feeling that time had somehow stopped. And it was there that we witnessed thousands of Cubans going about their daily lives, transported via late-50’s American automobiles.

IMG_9115This collage, above, was a JOY to shoot and dream about on our trip. Just as cool, at lunch one day in Havana, Tom Miller joined our group (photo: standing, Larry sitting). He’s the author of “Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba.”  This New York Times article he penned is a fabulous read. That ought to clear some things up.

IMG_7392America’s dominance of Cuba ended when I was a tween. Today, wherever you turn in Havana, you see rolling relics of days gone by. Cubans don’t necessarily love classic cars, per Miller. They simply have not been able to get anything else for five decades. Bottom line, no choice. These cars were there, then the door slammed shut on American-sourced goods. Ever since, Cubans have kept those autos going, handed down from dads and granddads. With no Pep Boy stores for parts, the owners make due. They tinker with anything possible to keep the autos rolling. Because, without them, they have even less than the precious little they have.

The cars are what visitors love. We drove in five of them, if I recall correctly.  The oldest was a ‘53 Chevy with practically no interior left – good times! We made this trek via National Geographic Expeditions, and flew there out of Miami.  People, scenery, countryside, architecture, climate, everything in Cuba is eye candy to the camera, whatever stage of decay. I thought India was colorful… WELL!  And the drivers were so cool. Point a camera and they slow down until you get your shot. Then, a warm wave and carry on. No camera? WATCH OUT, they do not stop (easy to understand, given inertia).


Not a car show, merely a parking lot.


Stand still, the beauties stream by, day and night.


Even small neighborhoods have a nonstop flow of late-50 Chevrolets, Fords, Bel-Airs, Packards, Studebakers, even Edsels.


The colors, so… Cuban!


Me, on a Havana street, checking out the autos.


White wall tires. I remember my parents’ cars having them. We used Comet or Bon Ami cleanser to scrub them clean.


By this point, it was hard to remember it was 2012, so I started shooting in black and white, my first shot was after the sun went down (below). Quite Godfather-esque, wouldn’t you say?


They look stunning shot in Sepia, as well. Covers up many sins:


(Yes, I have posts planned on food, scenes, and the like. Stay tuned…)

National Geographic Cuba Expeditions… go here for more details.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Araav March 6, 2018 at 1:04 am

Thank you for your story. I myself was born in Cuba and for 27 years I was not there. According to the stories there is little changed, and it pleases.

2 Edgardo Valentino D. Olaes June 18, 2017 at 6:18 am

I have not yet traveled to Cuba, but what I learned from TV documentary and periodicals, is that they offered good and delicious food, have nice beaches, rum, cigars, and of course the Detroit cars of the ’50s like: Pontiac, Olds, Mercury Comet, Ford Fairlane, F Galaxie, Chevrolet Impala, Chevy II, Mustang;two birds): Thunderbird and Falcon; Kaiser, Nash, Hudson, Dodge Dart, Plymouth Barracuda, Studebaker, and more. Maybe some Cuban relatives in Florida are trading for its spare parts ordered from US mail catalogs or from Motown in Michigan, so as to stay these cars alive and running despite of the embargo effect.

3 Donald December 23, 2014 at 2:27 pm

love those old car,s can I go over there and buy a car and take it back to
Canada are they able to sell car,s to out sider,s and if they can are the car,s
high price.d happy christmas to all there

4 Andrew June 13, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Like a time machine set to the late 50’s. The glory days of Detroit motors are here again. So do you suppose most of these cars at the time were ferried from US and owned by Cubans or were simply left behind by Americans in the hurry of January of 1959?

5 jonathan October 6, 2013 at 11:45 am

viva cuba

6 Former Glory Events August 4, 2013 at 12:48 pm

I have been to Cuba many times (20+) and it is a great country and the people are awesome. My love of vintage and classic cars was my original draw however for my wife it was the beaches which are world class.

My wife not sharing similar interest form many years in classic cars though we owned some which she always eluded to as money pits (:) lol) soon understood the commitment and value of these cars and especially in Cuba where if they sere not there, she couldn’t get a taxi to the spa.

She has since learnt an accommodate my love for Cuba, the cars and the people that keep them still functional without adequate parts supply to this day.
Visit Cuba. You will love it!

7 Worth The Whisk June 24, 2012 at 9:11 am

Richard, the Cubans are masters at improvising. But my guess is, family members in the states help them with some of those supplies.

8 Richard Skola June 23, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Thanks to those who have photographed so many of these cars.. Some having been in service for eighty years.. Incredible.. I understand much modification, invention, and total transplants have made this possible… BUT, just how does one keep an engine running without something so necessary as oil, air, and fuel filters? Lack of these can kill any engine.

9 Worth The Whisk April 29, 2012 at 9:51 am

Sue, I saw that show, too. It was excellent. The food in Cuba was modest. They don’t have all the ingredients or resources we have here. And, in fact, nowhere did we see what Americans would call a Cuban Sandwich.

10 Sue April 29, 2012 at 8:30 am

I watched a show on the Travel Channel about Cuba and all the old cars. I was in awe. I would have loved to been there. Shows you anybody can make due without the modern conveniences we so have here in the U.S.
We sure have it easy here in America. Wonder how we would fare if all these conveniences were taken away as they were in other Countries?
Sounds like a trip of a lifetime. I’m sure the food was just as memorable.

11 Cathi January 11, 2012 at 6:20 am

Great blog! Love the cars. Barry would be in heaven. PS….I wore my vest for the first time…had to layer under it because of the cold but I love all the pockets. So nice not to mess with the purse on the flight. The Londres/Hofstetters need to plan a get away again.

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