With an estimated 60,000 vintage cars still in Cuba, these old classics are a tribute to the nostalgia of the old days. Believe it or not, no new parts have been shipped to Cuba to service these auto's since the ealry 60's, and they currently run on the sole ingenuity of the Cuban people. Can you guess how they do this? Surprisingly, they either manufacture their own replacement parts, use common household items, or repurpose parts from older Soviet vehicles to keep these running.
The only American cars that can be purchased for private use in Cuba (with "particular" plates) are those that were previously registered for private use and acquired before the revolution. However, if the owner doesn’t have the proper paper work called a “traspaso”, the vehicle cannot be legally sold. American cars that were present, at the time of the embargo, have been preserved through loving care and ingenuity. And since there were many of these, due to the presence of a past strong Cuban middle-class, classic cars have been the standard, rather than an exception in Cuba. Even President Fulgencio Batista’s son owned a 1956 Corvette. Due to the constant good care, many remain in good working order only because Cuban people are able to adapt to a diminishing source of parts to keep the vehicles running. The owners of these “yank tanks” are sitting on a potential “gold mine” that, if the embargo were to be lifted, the Cuban people could make quick cash by selling their cars to people who collect and restore them.
On the other hand, many of these vehicles, especially those in taxi service, have been converted to accept replacement engines, usually Soviet diesel engines. Fortunately, this is a modification that gives a car a new lease on life. The practical limits of engine longevity, scarcity of replacement parts, and the high cost of fuel in post Cold War (roughly 75 U.S. cents a liter in the summer of 2002) Cuba have made diesel power (roughly 15 to 20 U.S. cents) a popular choice for engine replacement, if a suitable gasoline engine couldn’t be acquired.
LeoGrande, “A Politics-Driven Policy,” 35
Photos by Robin Thom