When you think about traveling to Cuba, there are few more iconic or easily recognizable symbols of the island than the Yank Tank.
Has anyone wondered just why there are so many classic American cars in Cuba? Or even more curious – how on earth they are still in one piece!? To investigate this mystery, insightCuba flew me to Havana and gave me the keys to a ‘57 Chevy. My mission was to drive throughout Cuba in search of answers. Then I woke up and did some research. Here’s the result:
There are somewhere between 50-75,000 classic American cars in Cuba today. That isn’t to say that most of them are anywhere near mint condition, but they still are amazing to look at. Back in the day when U.S. – Cuba relations were on better footing, Cuba used to be one of the largest importers of American made cars in the world. Then along came the Cuban Revolution and subsequent U.S. trade embargo. Not only were American cars no longer shipped to Cuba, but no more replacement parts were either.
Rather than becoming the world’s largest car museum (or junkyard), Cuban car owners had to exercise some creativity and ingenuity. These days, travelers to Cuba can expect to see household products, modified car parts, used pieces from Soviet-made automobiles like the Lada, and things I’d never think of in a thousand years come together to keep these relics cruising.
Some Cubans hold out hope that one day the embargo will be lifted and they’ll be able to sell their treasures for a large profit. On one hand, it would be sad to see so many beautiful cars leave. On the other, anyone who puts in 60 or 70 years maintaining a car with little more than scrap metal deserves to be rewarded for their efforts, at least in my opinion.
If you visit Cuba, definitely take some time to appreciate one of the many classic cars you'll see. It is not only a great way to touch a part of automobile history that has vanished from the rest of the world, but also a perfect conversation starter when you admire the work of a proud owner. Who knows, if you’re lucky you just might get to go for a drive through Cuba and find some answers of your own.