Cuba – the old American cars are still there

Sunday, 30 March 2014

After Mexico I flew on from Cancun to Havana, 13 years since I was there last. Way back then I’d gone thinking ‘better get there before Fidel falls off the perch.’ Well all those years later he’s still there, or at least still there behind the scenes. Brother Raul is supposedly at the controls, but one Cuban commented that ‘nothing will change until the dogs go. And then there will be another dog.’

IMG_3916 - Maureen, old Chevy, Havana 542▲ Maureen in an old Chevy in Havana.

So after 13 years Fidel’s still around, but surely all those old American cars couldn’t have survived? In fact if anything there seemed to be even more old cars than ever and if anything they looked in better nick.

IMG_3674 - Havana cars 01 542▲ Lots of them were now in pretty pastel colours, shades which certainly didn’t appear in Detroit in the 1950s.

IMG_3689 - Havana cars 02 542▲ Like this good looking pink (1953 or ’54) Chevy?

IMG_3679 - Havana cars 58 Edsel 542▲ Or a fine 1958 Edsel. Most of them haven’t been restored in the authentic western tradition, Often the engines are now Russian or Korean diesel engines and lots of modern parts have turned up. But they certainly look good.

IMG_3943 - Havana cars 57 Chevy hood 542▲ And the authentic design elements are there, like the 1957 Chevy hood ornament ‘gunsights.’

IMG_3774 - Havana cars Buick portholes 542▲ Or Buick portholes.

IMG_3809 - Havana cars 55 Chevy 542▲ At the end of the day it’s simply nice to see a really genuine looking 1955 Chevy rumbling down the road towards you.

IMG_3968 - Chrysler 180 in Havana, Cuba 542▲ But I also encountered a slightly newer old car which I once had a close relationship with. In a previous lifetime, even before Lonely Planet, I was a car development engineer at Chrysler UK in the English midlands. I worked on a vehicle which never rolled off the assembly line in Britain, but did appear in France from the Simca factory as the Chrysler 180. How did this one – from around 1970 – make its way to Havana?