Cars and transport of Cuba: a photo essay

Before we arrived in Cuba we wondered how common the classic 1940s and ’50s American cars would be, given that the newest would be 57 years old by now and their maintenance would have been severely hampered by post-Revolution trade embargoes. The fuel shortages during the Special Period of the 1990s meant many vehicles sat unused as people took to bicycles and public transport.

However, we soon learned that the resourceful Cubans have worked miracles to keep so many of them running, their tough life evident in a patchwork of dints, bumps, scrapes, makeshift repairs and resprays which only added to the charm, and complemented the dilapidation of their surroundings.

Classic American 1950s green Ford, Camagüey, Cuba

The thing we noticed most was the size of the classic American cars – they’re huge!

Close up of the rear light cluster, green Ford, Camagüey

The modest tail fin puts this Ford in the mid to late 1950s, when pointed tailfins and chrome were the futuristic fashion – America was in the Space Race with the USSR at the time

White 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe

At first glance, this de-badged 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe looked abandoned

Bright red and white interior of the white 1958 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe

But its bright red interior and new seats mean someone’s looking after it and it’s slowly being restored

Green 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan sitting on stilts and covered in dust

Unlike this 1959 Chevrolet Bel Air Sedan, which is how I imagined I would see a lot of the cars in Cuba; up on stilts, patiently waiting for its owner’s fortunes to change

1921 Ford Model T, Trinidad

The oldest car we saw was this 1921 Ford Model T Touring which sadly doesn’t work anymore and sits in the back of a pottery factory in Trinidad

Big black Lincoln Premiere, Varadero

The largest ‘sedan’ we saw was this monstrous late 1950s Lincoln Premiere – even the 2-door version sits 6 people!

Colourful bicycle taxis lined up in Bici-taxis in Camagüey

Many people took to cycling as their mode of transport in during the economic crisis known as the Special Period and “bici-taxis” or bicycle taxis are still a popular form of employment and transport today. They typically have a simple roof providing shelter from the sun and the rain, but we loved the unique design and colourful artwork on these bici-taxis in Camagüey

CoCo Taxi, Havana

Slightly larger than a bici-taxi and unique to Cuba are CoCo-taxis, small motorised vehicles that get their name because they resemble the shape of a coconut

Viazul bus, Cuba

We’ve written about a few of our public transport experiences, such as taking a bench-seat passenger truck from Baracoa to Moa, a Pontiac colectivo from Moa to Holguin, and a ‘camion’ or converted truck which was pretty much standing room only! For the longer distances we usually used the Viazul coaches for the comfort of the seats and the air conditioning (which was a bit too cold sometimes, even for me!). There’s a rival service called Cubanacan which runs between Havana, Viñales and Trinidad and we’d recommend them as their pick-up and drop-off locations are more central than the Viazul stations

We made use of private taxis for bus station transfers and the odd half-day excursion. Typically they’d be Ladas which were pretty common on the roads of every Cuban city we visited. I’d say about half of them had been modified, sporting huge drain-pipe or even sewer-pipe sized exhausts!

3 1970's Lada cars parked in a street in Camagüey

Lovely examples of the more original, unmodified Ladas we saw. From front to back, I think they’re an AvtoVAZ VAZ-2103 (exported from Serbia as the Lada 1500); It’s precursor and first AvtoVAZ car the VAZ-2101 (Lada 1200/1300); and the yellow one at the back is likely an earlier revision still, as it more closely resembles the car the other 2 are based on, the Fiat 124. 3 generations in a street!

Russian Kamaz truck, Camagüey

Familiar to us from our travels in Russia is the Russian brand Kamaz. We saw plenty of their trucks on the main roads

There are mechanical garage services like we have here in the UK, but we also saw a bit of roadside maintenance being carried out in the street too..

Inside the boot of a classic 1950's American car in Old Havana, propped open and full of tools

An advantage of a huge car is the boot can hold all the tools for an owner’s workshop, like this one in a back street in Havana’s Old Town

Resprayed

We also saw a couple of chassis that had been stripped and resprayed, though I’m not sure this particular shade was one of the manufacture’s original swatches..

The result of the restorations are amazing – even though we were in Cuba for 6 weeks, we never tired of looking at them and we never saw two cars exactly alike either..

Metallic Blue 1950's Chevrolet Bel Air

A 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air 2-door Hardtop in a lovely metallic baby-blue

Metallic red 1950's Chevrolet

And a slightly newer Bel Air Sport Sedan from 1957. Chevrolet was the most common marque of classic car we saw in Cuba, which isn’t surprising given how popular they were in 50s and 60s America

Unsurprisingly, the cars in the best condition were to be found nearest the tourist money in Havana and Varadero. We found that the main road along the Varadero peninsula was ideal for classic car spotting..

Bright Pink Pontiac, Varadero

A two-tone pink and white Pontiac

Blue 1950's Mercedes-Benz W120

There were very few non-American classics from the 1950s, but we did spot this Mercedes-Benz W120

Oldsmobile 98 Second Generation, Holguin

We spotted this near pristine Oldsmobile 98 sitting in a back street in Holguin. It looked even better when the sun came out!

Ford Fairlane 500

I really liked seeing the whitewall tyres, and they’re a lovely complement to the paintwork on this beautiful Ford Fairlane 500

Line of classic cars in San Martin, Havana

And speaking of paintwork, there was always a line up of gleaming, vibrant motorcars at the end of Parque Central opposite the Gran Teatro de la Habana

Sunset on the Malecón

Havana’s Malecón was another great place to spot cars as it’s on the itinerary of all the classic car tours

One thought on “Cars and transport of Cuba: a photo essay

  1. Mum & Dad

    Some years back I saw a bumper sticker on an Oldsmobile which read ‘Real Steel Rules’. Seems the point is proven with so many still making folks smile in your photo’s. Happy days when gas guzzlers were the way to go!

    Reply

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