Cars in Cuba

by Eszter Hargittai on December 18, 2014

In light of changing relations between Cuba and the U.S., I thought I’d post photos of cars I took in Cuba when I was there just over two years ago. The scene was even more amazing than one might expect. Some of the US cars from the ‘50s were in fabulous condition, the result of lots of hard work, no doubt. Others were less glossy, but no less impressive (and certainly functional). Also, having grown up in Budapest in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I got a kick out of seeing Ladas on the street, and even the occasional Polski Fiat.

If cars are not your thing, I also have a collection of slogans and signs, the Museo de la Revolucion, as well as a group of building photos such as this:

And then there is the beach.

{ 18 comments }

1

MPAVictoria 12.18.14 at 2:17 pm

Truly awesome. :-)

2

Eli Rabett 12.18.14 at 3:53 pm

Do you have any idea of what those cars are worth in the US for collectors

3

Eszter Hargittai 12.18.14 at 4:07 pm

Eli Rabett – I have a feeling the more things open up between the two countries, the more interesting that aspect will get.

4

gianni 12.18.14 at 4:44 pm

I’m so excited that soon I will be able to visit Cuba.

5

Ze Kraggash 12.18.14 at 8:36 pm

Any Ikarus buses there?

6

nick s 12.18.14 at 8:50 pm

I have a feeling the more things open up between the two countries, the more interesting that aspect will get.

I have a feeling that there are vintage car dealers (or more dubious characters) in Florida that have container ships on permanent standby in the hope of snapping them up for a song. I hope that they have to pay through the arse, which would be an ironic demonstration of capitalism at work.

7

Kalatozov 12.18.14 at 9:53 pm

I visited Havana a few years ago too. The oddest sight for me on the roads was seeing these big yellow American school buses go by. While in the capital I went on a tour called “The Old Man and the City” which takes you to the estate Hemingway owned on the island and the various places he visited. The guide for the tour mentioned that the buses were a gift from president Jimmy Carter who’d initiated some kind of brief thaw in US-Cuban relations. He then suggested that Carter’s loss in the 1980 election was some kind of consequence of this gift. I wanted to ask him if he’d heard of the Iranian hostage crisis but decided not to.

8

Bernard Yomtov 12.19.14 at 2:10 am

The cars are amazing, no doubt.

Many, but not all have new engines, often diesel. The owners are well aware of the appeal of the cars, know a lot about year of manufacture, and so on. You can actually rent one and drive it around for a while.

9

y81 12.19.14 at 4:38 am

Poor people are so picturesque. I just wish we could keep them that way for ever and ever.

10

Jim Buck 12.19.14 at 9:06 am

I threw away my ragged suit and the Emperor’s clothes were put on me; now I tremble in the cold.

11

Meredith 12.20.14 at 6:47 am

Nice cars. (I remember them from the streets of my youth in NJ.) I value more the ingenuity of keeping them going (easier in some ways when you don’t have northern winters assaulting them, btw, but that’s a quibble). It’s not about cars. Or baseball. Well, maybe it is about baseball. I would love to see a Havana team in MLB! With apologies (but not) for the name, World Series! It’s our little world, of baseball. Of geography and history. Play ball!

12

harry b 12.20.14 at 2:09 pm

I wouldn’t wish the Castro regime, or the economic shambles of Cuba, on anyone, but the cars are fabulous.

13

harry b 12.20.14 at 2:30 pm

I wrote that before seeing y81’s snark. The US embargo has done a sterling job of keeping Cuba poor, and propping up the Castro regime (I know that the aim was just to maintain the regime, and the poverty was merely a side-effect). Here’s hoping for its erosion: still, I’d be up for some institution subsidizing those car owners!

14

Billikin 12.20.14 at 4:04 pm

Hey! Nice roads, too. :)

15

Bernard Yomtov 12.21.14 at 11:01 pm

Y81,

Poor people are so picturesque.

I think the comments are about the cars, which in fact demonstrate that their owners are resourceful and skilled, not “picturesque.”

Admiring the work of poor people is not the same as hoping that they stay poor.

16

mattski 12.21.14 at 11:29 pm

Meredith,

If Toronto can have a club, why not Havana? Great idea!

17

dsquared 12.21.14 at 11:31 pm

Of course, when Cuba is fully integrated into the American system, there will be no poor people there any more, just as there aren’t in Jamaica.

18

AB 12.21.14 at 11:32 pm

Until recently, it was illegal to privately own a car in Cuba unless you could prove it had been in the family since before the revolution. Apparatchiks, some professionals and favoured cultural figures had access to grace and favour Soviet/East German imports, but there was no private market.The government legalised private sale of new imported cars about a year ago, but duties are still so high that nobody can afford them. Sales are literally in the single figures.
That is why Cubans have spent extraordinary money and time and effort endlessly repairing and restoring and refitting those gas-guzzling 50s giants. There is a mechanic round every corner in Havana. Now those corvettes and oldsmobiles are worth a fortune second hand, more than you can earn on a government salary in a life time. Each one represents an heirloom; the work of generations.

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