The classics, such as 1950s Chevys, Fords and Oldsmobiles can be seen everywhere; there are an estimated 150,000 vintage cars in Cuba, it is unknown how many are worthy, but one is sure to see a great number on the road (or even be driven around in one) of the many which are used as taxis.
Passing them by on the street is like stepping into a scene from Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana. Before too long, the casual observer begins to feel a bit like Sir Alec Guinness himself.
The cars made their way to Cuba before the Cuban revolution, when Cuba was a major importer of American cars. This came to an end when the US embargo struck Cuba in 1962, allowing nothing from American soil to be imported into the island, which included the essential spare parts to fix and maintain the vintage cars. Petrol heads reading this may wonder how cars such as these are kept on the road after 60 or 70 years.
The cars are very much part of the living environment, used by drivers to make a living, so their cars are used all day, every day. It is in the back street workshops where, with a bit of TLC and clever tricks of the trade, old clunkers with difficult to replace, gas guzzling petrol engines are exchanged for diesel alternatives became more economical, roadworthy machines allowing allowed the magnificent motors a renewed lease of life.
Desperate to find parts to maintain the beloved vehicles, Cubans began refurbishing parts from the former Soviet Union and other creative means to care for their beloved cars which were often regarded as sacred heirlooms. Some owners made their own replacement parts or used common household items to keep their vintage cars running.
Many taxi drivers are moonlighting professionals such as Doctors, Engineers and other PhD’s who are fortunate enough to have an old car in the family. With a taxi license, working as a cab driver in Cuba can earn drivers up to $200 a day as opposed to the $200 in a month as they would make as a doctor or lawyer.
Main image: 1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Convertible Sedan in Cuba by Ralphee.