A tribute to the mechanics of Cuba
Cuba has long been known for its old cars, following the embargo that has long forced the market to survive for more than five decades without imports and exports for cars and car parts. The typical Cuban cars were until recently the mythical vehicles of America in the 50s.
Since last year, the bans on import/export have have been lifted, and a large number of vehicles with little interest from major European or Chinese brands have arrived on the Cuban market. The number of vintage cars on the streets of Cuba is also in free fall, as many Cubans have sold their old cars to foreign collectors.
There are still a number of vintage cars in the streets, in large part because many of the remaining cars have been retouched many times and are therefore not suitable for "purist" collectors.
The fact that these cars continue to roll 60 years after being launched shows the the durability of these models designed over time, but the longevity of these cars must first and foremost the ingenuity of Cuban garage owners over the years . It is not uncommon, for example, to find petrol cars converted to diesel, Chinese parts installed on American engines, or even tanks rebuilt with household appliances!
Despite the limited attraction of these many retouches not very orthodox for collectors, the decline of vintage cars used on the streets of Havana will probably accelerate in the coming years, given the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States recently announced by the US administration.
Here are iconic models that Cuban mechanics continue to maintain for the time being on a day-to-day basis.
The most common vintage car in Cub a is the Chevrolet "Tri-Five" type, that is to say one of the models dating from 1955, 1956 or 1957. The models Chevrolet Bel Air and Chevrolet 150 are often used by the taxis of Havana. These vehicles can be worth up to $ 30,000 for resale.
There are some nice Buicks on the streets of Cuba, such as the third generation Roadmaster (produced between 1949 and 1953) or the Buick Super having been produced until 1958. There are also some Buick 59, immediately recognizable by their rear fins.
Among the Ford Fairline that can be found at Cuba, the most popular model is the Skyliner, the first convertible with a roof solid sheet. The opening mechanism, while complex and taking up a lot of room in the trunk, continues to work well in most circulating models.Oldsmobile stopped producing cars in 2004, foreshadowing the difficulties of its parent company. These cars are very popular collectors, especially for their engine type Rocket V8. Most of the models that can be seen in the streets of Cuba were built between 1948 and 1958.
The Pontiac Chieftain was produced by General Motors between 1949 and 1958. Most of the models found in Cuba are those dating from the period immediately preceding the Fidel Castro revolution. These cars can be worth up to 50 or 60 thousand dollars.
Tips on tours
The best time to visit is usually in the spring when the weather is good without being stuffy, but taking care to avoid American university holidays.
There are many ways to walk in classic cars in Cuba. The best-known service, that of GranCar, allows you to rent vintage cars for the day that you can drive yourself. However, beware of your safety: these old models are not only difficult to maneuver (without power steering etc) but the multiple changes they have incurred over the years have never been subject to a control regime.
There are also many drivers who offer tours of the capital city (or even further into the hinterland) around the city's grand hotels in their collector car.
For those traveling outside Havana, it is advisable to visit the major tourist centers where the hotel offer is abundant. This makes it possible to travel the rest of the country using these hotel centers as a central point, as there are few hotels in the more rural areas of Cuba. Varadero on the north coast or Trinidad on the south coast have many hotels frequented by European visitors.
Finally, visit the Cuban tourist office for more info on other activities to do when you visit the Caribbean!
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