Go see them before they're all gone.
When gearheads think Cuba, the first image is of a classic American car from the 1950s cruising down the street. For the most part this idea is accurate as Cuba is crammed full of classics. You can’t throw a rock down a street in Havana without hitting one. I would know as I visited the island for 17 days back in August 2015. The United States and Cuba are currently thawing relations. A deal was just struck that restores commercial airline service between the two countries. Previously only pricey charter flights flew to the island.
Travel restrictions being eased doesn’t mean the embargo will fall anytime soon. It also doesn’t mean Cuba’s awful economy will suddenly start to surge. However, all of this seems to point to a future where Cubans have more access to good, such as cars. When this happens, what will become of the classic cars that dot the roadways? I think they’ll become rarer, or “extinct,” to put it harshly. I also don’t think this is a bad thing. Gearheads right now are howling. A world where Chevy Bel Airs are still used as daily drivers sounds like paradise, right? It is if you’re only spectating that world. For the Cubans behind the wheel it has to suck. Makeshift replacement parts are common and maintenance happens in the street, not the shop or your garage.
Maintaining a car over 50 years old with limited access to spare parts isn’t easy. Keep in mind that a minute percentage of these vehicles are “Sunday cars.” Owning a car in Cuba is a big deal and a great way to get into the tourist economy where real money is made. Also, think about how hard it is to be behind the wheel of a car so old day in and day out. It’s hot as hell in Cuba and air conditioning in these cars is about as common a sight as the American flag. These vehicles also aren’t very comfortable or safe either. Luckily you never need to remember to buckle up as that choice is often made for you. Yeah, they look badass but even that exterior upkeep requires MacGyvering and money.
Of course some of these cars will stay on the road out of necessity, their owners unable to afford anything newer. I believe many more will stay on the road simply out of pride. Maintaining a car for decades when your country has faced such hard times is no easy task and that doesn’t go unnoticed by Cubans. This fact shouldn’t go unnoticed by tourists either. If anything we should celebrate the people driving these cars, not the cars themselves. But I digress. A cheap Indian or Chinese car isn’t at the top of any American’s list but these cars could flood Cuba and would be big upgrades over the classic cars currently on the road today. They would be safer, more fuel efficient and easier to repair, provided replacement parts followed these new cars to the island.
The Cuban government would have to change its ridiculous system for selling cars but even a Tata Indica marked up to $20,000 (it goes for about $6,800 in India) would be a steal compared to country's current rates for a new car. Cuba is a country stuck in a time capsule and that makes it an astonishing place to visit. It also makes it a hard place to live. South Korean econo boxes aren’t as charming or easy on the eyes as classic American cars but if they make life easier for Cubans I say let them come.