The floodgates have opened and change is happening in Cuba. Where once the streets were awash with car models dating pre 1959, the embargos have been lifted and foreign imports are piling into a market that hasn’t been tapped for decades.
Whilst some welcome the modernisation of the car industry, others lament the loss of these gorgeous, makeshift motors. For the Cubans, this is a fantastic opportunity. They have been sitting on (albeit slightly dilapidated) goldmines, and now is the chance to sell these colourful, exotic-looking cars from bygone eras to collectors and car fans for whopping price tags. Considering the average wage in Cuba is a mere 20USD per month and these cars can sell for prices of 20-60,000USD, they’d be crazy not to.
So the Chevys, Pontiacs and Studebakers that used to cruise along Cuba’s streets, coughing out toxic-looking smoke and kept together by sheer will and creativity, are now diminishing, to be replaced by newer, more standard models from America and Europe. Which, disappointingly for car fans, means Havana’s highways no longer resemble scenes from 1970s cop movies. If you ever fancied a trip to Cuba to see this multi-coloured, classic-car wonderland, the time to do it is now.
What cars can still be seen today?
This American model made by General Motors was predominantly sold in Canada, Mexico and the US. The last models were built in 2009, after the company declared them discontinued. Most of those still running in Cuba are from around 1950s-1970s – like the dazzling Pontiac Star Chief. On Auto Trader these models are selling for around $60,000, which is more than enough to persuade the less wealthy Cubans to sell up.
Studebaker is another American manufacturer, who later merged with Packard. They eventually stopped producing motors in 1966, which makes them a highly sought –after classic. Studebaker Champions (like the one above) were rolled out between 1939 and 1958. They’re now selling for around 20,000, depending on condition. You’ll still see them chugging along the streets of Cuba, with oddly assembled parts and in various states of ill health.
During the Soviet Union era, cars were shipped over from Eastern Europe and Russia by the boat load. These boxy, Polish made numbers sold widely, and can often be seen being used as taxis in Havana or Cuba’s countryside.
This stylish model from General Motors was reportedly the chosen motor of Fidel Castro. They were mainly produced between 1948 and 1964. The super 88’s of 1956 are a particular treat for car fans – this version had revised side chroming and split grille which made it much better looking than the longer-bodied revisions which succeeded it.
Buick Centuries, Bel Air and Mercury models are impossible not to spot lining up on the sidewalks of Havana. In fact, taxi touts can be quite pushy when suggesting tourists come and ‘sit inside’ for a try. Nowadays these Chevrolets can sell for around 30,000 upwards, depending on the condition of the car.
Despite the fact they’re unequivocally ugly motors, these cars sell for about 5000-10000 USD on the market in Cuba. They’re often used as police vehicles, ambulances and taxis because of their durable, reliable nature. The BBC estimate there are around 250,000 of these on the road, and unlike the other cars, they’re actually still being produced in Cuba.
If you want to stick to the city, you’ll see a big variety of cars in Havana, although the owners will mostly be trying to use them for a profit; taxi rides around the city, photo opportunities with a classic car and such like. To see where people use these cars every day for commuting and as family cars, you’ll need to head out into the countryside.
Trinidad is one incredibly beautiful place to see– registered as a world heritage site due to its cobbled streets and olde-worlde Spanish colonial looks. For something more beach-y and rural, Playa Pesquero on the coast is popular with Europeans, although has very few hotels – read reviews here. Baracoa is also an incredibly tranquil, untouched area with rainforests and beaches (although is better for sightseeing than car spotting, though you’ll still see the odd motor trawling along the country roads).
March and April are the best times to fly, both for price and weather, but try to stick closer to April so as to avoid the spring breakers heading in from Canada!
Been to Cuba? What did you think about the changing car scene? Let us know below!
I’m a travel blogger currently trying to evade death by crushing each morning on London’s monstrous tube system.