“My mojito in the Bodeguita del Medio and my daiquiri in the Floridita”, said Ernest Hemingway when writing about his beloved Havana. To this I would add music, people dancing, fascinating life stories and the unforgettable vintage cars.
When wandering the streets oh Havana, the eye of the traveller cannot help being charmed by the American vintage cars. They are an icon, a symbol, a more or less witness of Havana's history. This first post of my days in Cuba is all about this cars which with the help of the Cubans found a way to survive .
60.000 "coches Americanos"
One could say that the old American cars clunking around the streets of Havana stand for a truly symbol of the Cuban capital. According to Business Insider, there around 60,000 retrofitted metal relics in Havana and this is the reason why the Cuban capital is also known as the "Galápagos of the car industry".
In 1955, Cuba was the top importer of North American-manufactured cars, with nearly 125,000 Detroit-made automobiles bustling around the island nation. In 1959, when Fidel Castro took control of the country, everything changed.
Cubans' American inheritance
The difficult years that followed and the embargo turned these wonderful vintage cars in a valuable possessions of most Cuban families as they become a major source of income. Most of these still-running vintage cars serve as taxi cabs for tourists visiting Cuba.
A ride in Havana with such a vintage car can vary somewhere between $10-30$, sometimes even more if you do not bargain.
Cuban car-fixing ingenuity
As Castro halted almost all car imports and imposed strict laws and high taxes on Cuban car owners, these cars' owners had no choice and step by step they turned into car-repair magicians. They had to improvise repairs without access to original replacement parts, so they had to marry working parts from multiple cars. When this was not an options, owners and mechanics had to use Russian or Chinese components to fix these cars.
When talking to such a car owner in Havana this year in January, he told me a fascinating story about the way his family preserved their American-made inheritance. A red Cadillac. They repaired the car by using and adjusting various Chinese car components as they were the only one officially imported in Cuba; an they did all these in their back-yard.
... and the beast
These cars may sometimes look very glamorous on the outside, but they’re often battered, rolling monuments to ingenuity within.
One day I decided to take a vintage cab, the worst looking one I could find. It was an old green rusty vintage unidentified car brand... at least until I entered the car I spotted Chevrolet. The car seats had a thin dark and poor quality lining. You could easily feel the metal structure underneath. The padding was almost all gone. The lateral windows of the car, missing. And yet, despite, of the lack of comfort, the talk with the driver was quite interesting. He asked me about Hagi and Ceausescu... Why am I not surprised?!