Cuban Cars: The Last Word
Story & photos by Deborah Loeb Bohren
While Cuba may be world-renowned for the three B’s — ballet, boxing and baseball — in addition to their legendary cigars, the first thing that comes to mind for most Americans are the classic American cars of their parents and grandparents.
Frozen in time since the U.S. embargo more than 50 years ago, the iconic Chevy’s, Ford’s and Buick’s that graced Havana’s streets during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s still roam the city today. With no access to new cars, or parts to repair the old, America’s classics still run due a combination of necessity and Cuban ingenuity. There might be a four-door Oldsmobile sedan resting on a four-wheel drive Ford truck chassis, a Japanese or German diesel engine under that Pontiac hood ornament or a Packard held together by homemade, jerry-rigged parts.
But whatever form they take today, they have been the predominant mode of transportation in Cuba for more than half a century. This may all be about to change as conventional wisdom says that as soon as the embargo is fully lifted, American collectors plan to bring them home, leaving behind in their stead more modern, mundane and less visually interesting replacements.
Whether polished to a shine that you can see yourself in or with paint peeling, these classic American cars tell a story of what was, what is, and what will be.