Classic cars, many from the 1950s, are everywhere in Cuba—and they’re fun to photograph and to ride in. You spot them as soon as you exit the airport, and it’s likely that your taxi to your ‘casa particular’ (private room in someone’s home) will be one.
I found myself oohing and ahhing when I saw them, especially those with wild colors or super long tails. The kind you rarely see back home—except at a classic car show or on a perfect-weather day, when an owner gets the urger to take one for a spin.
In Cuba, these cool looking cars are a part of everyday life. They’re what most car owners have and drive—thanks to great mechanics and lots of recycled parts.
My trip lasted for about 3.5 weeks and included Havana, Vedado, Viñales, Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Matanzas and Veradero and during that time, I saw quite a few classic cars. Some were in great shape; others, not so great, but full of character. Many/most were American; a good number were Soviet (the Lada).
Every time I rode in one, I had a unique experience—and that was a frequent occurrence since I often took ‘colectivos,’ shared taxis of sorts, vs buses. A few had AC, but most didn’t…just nature’s AC-—aka, humid air flowing in through the open (and sometimes stuck-open) windows. A few radios worked but most had been ripped out or damaged beyond repair. Seats were spacious, but often torn and lumpy…
The Cars Have Character…the Taxi Drivers Are Characters
The taxi drivers themselves also had a lot of character or, rather, they were characters. One was like an actor in an Italian comedy; another was like a neurotic in an Almodóvar film. Most were cool to interact with. Only a few were hard to deal with.
No matter what, it was an experience to look at the cars and to be in them. Like being teleported back to the late 1950s or simply in a parallel universe—right now. I’ll admit that I became slightly desensitized to the feeling of awe after a couple of weeks, but some cars still got my attention during my final days in Cuba.
Let’s begin our tour of classic cars with a few ritzy ones, which I believe were used for tours around Havana. Definitely hot rods…
(PS: If you can help identify these cars—make, model and year—that would be great. I’ll update and give you credit, too, if you’d like.)
1. A Hot Green _______?
2. A Pontiac _____?
Here are two slightly less ritzy ones, but pretty damn nice ones–spotted in Trinidad, I think.
3. A Pontiac 19_ _?
Me and a new friend in Trinidad, posing next to yet another classic car.
6. One of My Favorite Classic Cars: a ’57 Chevy? Or Pontiac?
This car, which I think was a 57 or 58 something (Chevy?), holds special memories for me. The driver (Vicente was his name, I think) was fun, but intense (as far as how he drove and how upset he got when a casa owner didn’t tell me he’d called), but he was fair with his prices. He car was spacious, but the air didn’t work.
I rode with him a few times, which is why you see different backgrounds in the photos. I enjoyed chatting with him about his car (it previously belonged to his dad), Cuba and life itself.
Yeah, you have to crank the windows up and down…and slam the door hard!
Here’s a car that I did not ride in. I spotted it when Vincente stopped off at a tobacco farm for a while. I wandered around and saw this car and thought I’d check it out.
Is it a Lada? The boxy shape makes me think so, but I could easily be wrong…
Here’s a nice lonnnnggg car…is it a Chevy?
And a short one…
Here’s a taxi I took a ride in—one that involves a bit of a story. More on that later…
11. Ford ________?
This poor car was imprisoned in a garage. Seemed like it wanted to be driven…
Here’s the interior of a taxi—I don’t know what it was. Note: there were quite a few rainy moments in Cuba during the summer.
Rainy day…wet car…
Yes, that’s a plastic container on the street that once had (crappy) ice cream in it.
13. A 1927 Studebaker
Holy moly—that’s a seriously old car! The owner said it was a 1927 Studebaker. If that is incorrect, please let me know and I’ll correct it.
The car, stored in a garage, was drivable, according to the owner—but only for short rides (like 1 mile or so).
Is the horn on top of the engine?
Smart dog to chill out on the cream-colored Corinthian leather seat…it was probably the coolest place to be during the very hot summer days…
14. A 1958 Austin ________?
Finally, a car I can identify—a 1958 Austin. But which Austin?
Pretty fancy mascot, eh? Gives the car a Rolls Royce-like quality, I think.
15. A ______ Lada?
Mechanics and their buddies seem to always be working on cars in Cuba…
Have you been to Cuba? If so, what did you think of the cars? Did you have a favorite classic car you enjoyed riding in or photographing?
If you haven’t been to Cuba, are you a fan of these older cars? What is it that you like about them?
Which of these cars is your favorite—and why?
Do you prefer the color photos or the black/white one? I myself am torn…if I only look at the b/w ones, I prefer them…but then again, I do love seeing the colors.
Can You Help Identify The Cars?
I know most are from the 50s, but are they Chevy’s, Pontiac’s, or ________? Any help would be greatly appreciated.