Now that Cuba and the United States are slowly burying the hatchet, Americans can finally access and explore an island that has been cut off from them for decades. Cuba is rich with culture and history, but among the most distinct and visible factors unique to the island nation are its array of classic cars. Its long been known in the auto industry that to take a step back in automotive time one has only to journey to Havana. While that was once easier said than done, now anyone willing to lie about their reasons for traveling to Cuba can witness the amazing and timeless auto culture.
Cuba hosts what has been called a rolling car museum. Everywhere one looks, one can spot an old-school American brand vehicle ranging from Oldsmobile to Chevrolet, Buick, Ford and even Chrysler’s old Plymouth brand. Many of these vehicles are worth hundreds of thousands of US dollars and would be bought up quickly by wealthy American car enthusiasts. In Cuba, however, they’re everyday vehicles paid for with the average Cuban paycheck, which adds up to about $25 monthly.
While the classic cars in Cuba make for a picturesque sight, it’s important to note that these cars are so widely used as a result of a tragic four-decade-long grudge that the country’s late leader Fidel Castro held against the United States. Despite the island’s close proximity to Florida (Cuba is only about 90 miles away), Castro placed a ban on all foreign vehicle imports decades ago, making it impossible to buy a new, foreign-made vehicle and making it extremely difficult to buy new parts and fuel for even the old-school American cars that are distinct to Cuba.
This has led to the current situation: Cuban citizens driving vehicles from the 1950’s that are kept running with a variety of jerry-rigged, often hand-built parts. It’s actually a testament to the engineering ingenuity of the average Cuban citizen that all of these cars are still running.
Now that Raul Castro has abolished the law that mandated government permission for purchasing foreign-made cars (the first time the ban has been relaxed since its implementation after the 1959 Cuban revolution), consumers can purchase modern vehicles if they have the means.
That’s a pretty big if, as a current state monopoly on new car sales have led to massive mark-ups across all brands; take the Peugeot 508 for example. Peugeot lists its starting price at around $29,000, but if a Cuban citizen were interested in purchasing a model, it would cost him or her a whopping $262,000.
That means that lifting the ban on purchasing foreign vehicles isn’t likely to take all those 1950’s cars off the streets; only a minority of Cuban citizens benefit from the legislative change, much to the frustration of the standard Cuban citizen. As one citizen said,
“The prices are crazy. No Cuban who works for the state can buy at that price. They have zero chance of getting a car.”
The government has argued that profits from the high new car prices will be put towards public transport.
About the author anna