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Cuba’s vintage car culture in pictures

Alex .A

One of the many wonders one can see on a visit to Cuba is its authentic car culture.

Over the years, the island, which sits a mere 90 miles from the tip of Florida, has kept its vintage cars thriving more or less out of necessity.

The Cuban cars are fondly known as Yank Tanks. In a nutshell, these are the remnants of the U.S. automotive industry when some of the biggest manufacturers like General Motors were permanent tenants on the island. That was possible under the Batista regime, which was quite friendly and generous to Americans.

Cars from the 1940s and 1950s, which still make up a significant form of transportation for the island nation

Cars from the 1940s and 1950s, which still make up a significant form of transportation for the island nation

 

Old and rusty but still running strong. Found in Havana

Old and rusty but still running strong. Found in Havana

 

Gran Teatro, Havana, Cuba. The bodywork is gleaming, and they are equally well maintained underneath the hood.

Gran Teatro, Havana, Cuba. The bodywork is gleaming, and they are equally well maintained underneath the hood.

 

For many tourists, a visit to Havana is not complete without taking a tour of the city in a classic 1950s car. 

For many tourists, a visit to Havana is not complete without taking a tour of the city in a classic 1950s car.

 

A vibrant street in Centro Habana, Havana, Cuba.

A vibrant street in Centro Habana, Havana, Cuba.

 

The colorful paint-jobs of these old cars fits perfectly with the colorful buildings in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana district).

The colorful paint-jobs of these old cars fits perfectly with the colorful buildings in La Habana Vieja (Old Havana district).

 

To keep them running, the owners repair these 1950s American cars with non-authentic parts as old ones wear out. Most of them are running on diesel engines in place of the original V8s.

To keep them running, the owners repair these 1950s American cars with non-authentic parts as old ones wear out. Most of them are running on diesel engines in place of the original V8s.

 

Classic American cars in Cuba have become an iconic part of the culture. They add a unique charm to the Caribbean country’s city streets.

Classic American cars in Cuba have become an iconic part of the culture. They add a unique charm to the Caribbean country’s city streets.

 

Old American car parked on a street of old Havana, Cuba.

Old American car parked on a street of old Havana, Cuba.

 

For many people, their car is the family’s main source of income so they need to kept in good working order, despite decades of restrictions on imports. Havana, Cuba.

For many people, their car is the family’s main source of income so they need to kept in good working order, despite decades of restrictions on imports. Havana, Cuba.

The cars match the colors of the buildings central Havana

The cars match the colors of the buildings central Havana

 

Beautiful beast in Havana

Beautiful beast in Havana

 

Bet there is a V8 under the hood.

Bet there is a V8 under the hood.

Cuban graffiti artists go up the walls in Havana

The unique combination of old American cars and grand Spanish colonial buildings can only be experienced in Havana, Cuba.

The unique combination of old American cars and grand Spanish colonial buildings can only be experienced in Havana, Cuba.

Most Yank Tanks in Cuba today are gems of the bygone era of the 1950s and early 1960s. In those days, brands like Chevrolet or Studebaker overwhelmed the streets of Cuban cities. The number of cars that were imported to the island was exceedingly high. There was not only the huge demand, even by people of the middle classes, but also the jokingly low taxes applied on the deals.

The car boom in Cuba was also an afterglow of World War Two. As exports from the U.S. to Europe were largely interrupted, the automotive industry greatly concentrated elsewhere, on the island just across the sea. Detroit vehicle manufacturers flourished here. At least until the political tides changed.

Old American car parking at a street of old Havana, Cuba

Old American car parking at a street of old Havana, Cuba

 

Gorgeous – just may need some tender care

Gorgeous – just may need some tender care

 

This is a well loved classic – many aren’t

This is a well loved classic – many aren’t

 

Beautiful line-up near Parque Central (Central Park), Havana, Cuba. The owners take great pride in their vehicles.

Beautiful line-up near Parque Central (Central Park), Havana, Cuba. The owners take great pride in their vehicles.

 

The classics are a great way to see the city

The classics are a great way to see the city

 

Busy residential street of Centro Havana. Old, rundown residential buildings, remembering better times from 50 years ago.

Busy residential street of Centro Havana. Old, rundown residential buildings, remembering better times from 50 years ago.

 

Fidel Castro’s autocratic socialism was the final nail in the coffin of the new car market

Fidel Castro’s autocratic socialism was the final nail in the coffin of the new car market

 

Cubans weren’t permitted to buy cars. They could only be given them by the government.

Cubans weren’t permitted to buy cars. They could only be given them by the government.

 

Paseo de Marti boulevard at dusk, Havana, Cuba.

Paseo de Marti boulevard at dusk, Havana, Cuba.

 

Chevrolet in a street in Old Havana, Cuba, April 17, 2016.

Chevrolet in a street in Old Havana, Cuba, April 17, 2016.

 

During the Soviet era, Russia sent Ladas

During the Soviet era, Russia sent Ladas

 

They’re known to be held together by duct tape and bailing twine

They’re known to be held together by duct tape and bailing twine

 

On the beach Cayo Jutias, Province Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

On the beach Cayo Jutias, Province Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

 

The intrinsic value in collector cars is in the originality of its parts

The intrinsic value in collector cars is in the originality of its parts

 

Classic  in the street of the colonial town Trinidad

Classic  in the street of the colonial town Trinidad

 

Province Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

Province Pinar del Rio, Cuba.

 

Paseo del Prado in Old Havana, Cuba.

Paseo del Prado in Old Havana, Cuba.

 

American Mercury, Ford Fairlane and a Chevrolet convertible – vintage cars parked in front of the Gran Teatro in Havana, Cuba – Serie Cuba Reportage.

American Mercury, Ford Fairlane and a Chevrolet convertible – vintage cars parked in front of the Gran Teatro in Havana, Cuba – Serie Cuba Reportage.

 

The greatest interest is likely to come from Cuban exiles who are proud to buy a car that is quintessentially Cuban

The greatest interest is likely to come from Cuban exiles who are proud to buy a car that is quintessentially Cuban

Welcome To Fusterlandia, Havana’s Hidden Artistic Heaven

Streets of Havana

Streets of Havana

 

American beautiful yellow classic parked under palms in Varadero Cuba

American beautiful yellow classic parked under palms in Varadero Cuba

 

 Old Havana, Cuba

 Old Havana, Cuba

 

 Havana.

 Havana.

 

Great on the outside – underneath will be a bit different

Great on the outside – underneath will be a bit different

 

You can hire these taxis for not a lot of $$$

You can hire these taxis for not a lot of $$$

 

In the same condition of the buildings in Havana

In the same condition of the buildings in Havana

 

Not too sure how much of this one is original but looks great from here

Not too sure how much of this one is original but looks great from here

 

You just have to adore the colors of the classics

You just have to adore the colors of the classics

 

In historic Habana Vieja, Cuba, a 1950s  beauty

In historic Habana Vieja, Cuba, a 1950s  beauty

 

Dusk, Havana, Cuba

Dusk, Havana, Cuba

Havana: Street life view with in line american Chevy and Desoto convertible

Havana: Street life view with in line american Chevy and Desoto convertible

 

Check out the wheel arches….

Check out the wheel arches….

 

Havana Vieja, Cuba

Havana Vieja, Cuba

 

Three vintage cars viewed from above in Havana

Three vintage cars viewed from above in Havana

 

Many people would love to own one

Many people would love to own one

When the Batista government fell in 1959, hostility between the new Cuban government of Fidel Castro and the U.S. quickly developed. The U.S. proceeded with an embargo on the island country. Which meant that not only were car imports suddenly cut and manufacturers needing to withdraw, but after a while spare car parts for the American models were nowhere to be found too.

In the following decades, car ownership in Cuba even became a commodity, something people could no longer afford. If there were over 100,000 American models cruising the streets by the 1960s, those numbers plummeted by a half. New vehicle imports were limited, mostly to people who were affiliated or worked with the government, and these now came from the Soviets.

Those who decided to keep their American models, and pass them down to their children, well, they obviously accessed their creativity and ingenuity as can be greatly felt in the pictures. These car owners can truly take pride in having survived an era of no spare car parts and protecting their beauties.

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