Earlier this year, President Obama travelled to Cuba in order to deliver a speech. In this speech, the president would argue the case for capitalism as a means to transform society, as well as his desire to see “the young people [of Cuba] lift up” the nation – a new take of Reagan’s infamous “tear down this wall” speech of 1987. But why exactly was all this needed?
The answer is simple. In 1960 the United States initiated an embargo that sought to deny money and supplies to the island in a bid to destabilise the Castro government – and 2016 marks the year that ‘el bloqueo’ could come to an end.
In short, this means that Cuba’s doors could potentially open to the world – and they could soon start trading with other countries including the United States, hence Obama’s speech. But while some have welcomed the news with open arms, classic car enthusiasts remain unsure.
To understand why, you must first take a look at Cuba’s automotive industry throughout the course of the past fifty years.
Ever since the US enforced the embargo, the number of cars that Cuba imported fell off the map – meaning that up until recently, the only cars that resided on the island were mostly pre-1960 models. Meaning that while the rest of the world were driving around in techy Toyotas, air-conned Nissans and sporty Subarus, Cuba was awash with 1950s Chevys, Ford Fairlanes and GAZ 2410s.
Sure, the majority of Cuba’s cars over the past half century haven’t been the most sought-after or spectacular of classics, but if you’re interested in visiting a country that’s looks more a film set from the 1950s than your standard tourist trap, there’s no place better.
From top to bottom, Cuba is awash with communist era cars such as Ladas and Fiat 126s, and in many cases both have played the role of engine donor to the 1950s American cars due a lack of spare parts – meaning that, unfortunately, originals are few and far and between.
Described by some as a ‘Jurassic Park for cars’, Cuba’s motors have established legendary status throughout the world. What’s more there’s even the odd gem to be found under the island’s many banana trees and down dusty back alleys.
In his most recent book, titled ‘Carros de Cuba’, automotive photographer Piotr Degler stumbled across not one, but two Mercedes Benz 300SL Gullwings – a vehicle that’s valued at over $1,000,000 in today’s market. Naturally, both examples are in terrible condition, but if any restorer could transform these rusty shells back to their former glory, there’d be more than a few quid in it for them.
What’s next for Cuba’s automotive industry? It’s hard to tell. With the touristic side of the island keen to hold onto the alluring classics, the other side of Cuba is crying out for modernity – with air con high on most people’s agendas. Already you can see the odd Kia and Chinese car being driven around the island – but with Chevy and Ford revving their engines less than 1,000 miles away in America, the romantic days of Cuban classics could well be numbered.