By on July 2, 2011

Aren’t we all for freedom and democracy? Sure we are. But everything in moderation. And this is really getting too far: Cuba plans to lift a ban on the buying and selling of cars registered after the 1959 Revolution, Reuters reports.

Private car ownership on the island off Key West used to be a privilege of the chosen few. The only exception were cars made before 1959, which could be bought and sold by anyone. This turned Cuba into a vintage Americana paradise, which is now threatened.

Even more shocking, the prohibition on owning more than one vehicle will be lifted also.

The new rules should go into effect by end of 2011. Vintage car lovers: Go to Cuba NOW.

Murileeeeeeeeeeeeeeee !!!!

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31 Comments on “The Price Of Freedom: Cuban Classic Cars Endangered...”

  • avatar

    If this does not showcase the laws of unintended consequences, nothing will. Hopefully the cars will survive, but in such a cluster like that? Gone forever. I remember my childhood days where we bought a near 6000 sq foot “estate” home and renovated it over a few years. Yeah, we ended up with an awesome home, but all the cool turn of the century things that made it what is was were lost forever. A few steps forward, a few back, Same with Cuba’s car culture…

    • 0 avatar

      Why did you destroy all the cool turn of the century things in the house in the course of remodeling?

      That’s not progress. That’s lack of vision.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Great place to get a clean solid body. Automakers should head to the island and see if they can find anything that’s missing from their museums and heritage centers.

    • 0 avatar

      Right, Dan. Although the bodies seem pretty stock, I believe 50 years of homemade repairs have rendered most of these time capsules unfit for anything but parts cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        As long as the body and frame is solid the drivetrain can be just about anything you want. 1959 Impala with a LSX anyone? 1949 Mercury with a 5.0 V8? Possibilities are endless.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        ^^^ What ixim said.

        I’ve heard some stories about Cuban fixes, including diesel engines swaps.

        I specially remember one for removing diff noises.

    • 0 avatar

      Nice idea, but I’m wondering if the current embargo restrictions would allow automakers to repatriate anything for their museums.

  • avatar

    We need an article about which automaker stands to gain the most from this change.

    I say Hyundai/Kia, of course, unless the three generations of American car owners are afraid to change brands.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Personally I would say that Impalas, Crown Victorias/Grand Marquis, and 300s should be imported and see how they’re recieved. Yeah the first few are old platforms but they would be a revelation to Cuban drivers.

      • 0 avatar

        @EdDan: Do you have any Canadian friends? Canadians are not restricted from visiting Cuba.

        If the Cuban government doesn’t restrict used car sales to foreigners, then your Canadian friends could be very helpful to getting a brand old pre-1960 something…

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        I’d rather have the cigars. There’s enough cars in the US even in the old, cool, cars category.

      • 0 avatar

        Dan, my friend, I’ll imagine there’s a beautiful vintage Oldsmobile station wagon down there with your name on it!

    • 0 avatar

      @gslippy: Interesting thought. I believe H/K already does sell there. I think maybe VW does too. If so, I’m sure it’s limited quantities.

      What would really affect sales is the exchange rate. If US Dollars are high compared to the Cuban Peso(?), then an Aveo will be a very expensive purchase. And, as I understand it, most of these folks live in poverty compared to what we’re used to in the US.

      Maybe what will happen is something like what happened in the USSR after 1991 and other nations, where used cars will become the purchase of choice.

      I would agree with the law of unintended consequences comment…

      • 0 avatar

        I believe H/K already does sell there. I think maybe VW does too. If so, I’m sure it’s limited quantities.

        Regular Cubans are not allowed to own post 1960 cars (until this proposed change goes into effect). All those Hyundais that you see in Havana are being driven by government officials and those of whom the regime approves.

  • avatar

    My wife enjoys Cuba, so every couple of years we go to Veradero. I’m always amazed by the mechanical engineering the owners of these cars employ to keep them running. ’57 Buicks with diesel engines, ancient Plymouths with running gear from old army trucks, if you can think of it a Cuban has probably done it. They have to if they want to stay on the road. Most of the ’50s American iron in Cuba is so bastardized that only the bodyshell is recognizable, and they are truly used up and then some.
    There are a few gems out there though. I saw a ’55 Nomad in Havana as nice as any you’ll see in North America as well as a ’58 Edsel wagon in mint condition. Who knows how and why they survived but they are out there. The Cubans who own them are well aware of what they have too.
    It’s fun to see the old cars, but when you stop and think about why people have to keep driving these things it’s really kind of sad.

  • avatar

    When I wrote my recent piece on Taillight Diplomacy I was struck by how many media reports about old American cars in Cuba would mention the US embargo on trade with Cuba but not mention the fact that those old American cars were the only ones that the Cuban government allowed private citizens to own, buy and sell, that newer cars you see there are owned by the government. The embargo is usually blamed for the plight of Cuban car enthusiasts, not Cuban government restrictions on private property rights

    It’s almost funny the way the Castro regime has been able to spin this story over the years. Now that Raul Castro has decided to allow some level of property rights (at the same April meeting of the Cuban Communist party that he proposed loosening up car ownership laws, he also said that Cubans would be allowed to buy and sell their homes as well), Cuban denial of those property rights for the past 50 years seems to be going down the memory hole.

    Kudos to Bertel for mentioning the prohibitions and the fact that post 1960s cars have been and, until this change goes into effect, remain a perk of government supporters.

    • 0 avatar

      As far as Taillight Diplomacy is concerned, the trade embargo is what has kept the Cubans from getting parts, and I think it is of therefore of primary importance.

      • 0 avatar

        As far as Taillight Diplomacy is concerned, the trade embargo is what has kept the Cubans from getting parts

        The Chinese, Canadians, and other nations around the planet don’t maintain an embargo on Cuba. Yet those nations aren’t exporting them large quantities of auto parts, either.

        The problem for Cuba isn’t the US trade embargo, but that they have an economy that doesn’t produce enough wealth to pay for the parts. Because of the lack of a market economy, no one is going to build a parts factory there, nor is anyone going to set up an import business to bring them in from the outside. When the average wage is about $20 per month, earned in a currency that has zero convertibility, then the Cubans aren’t going to have an opportunity to buy these because they have no means to pay.

        Which is why most of those owners of the old American cars go to the lengths that they do to keep them on the road — they have no choice. It just so happens that the cars in question look pretty cool; if they were old Ladas and Yugos, then most of us wouldn’t much care. Of course, that doesn’t take away from the ingenuity that goes into keeping these things running, and that is worthy of a hat tip.

      • 0 avatar


        Interesting point. I don’t know what to think. I suspect some of the owners of the classics may have a bit more cash on hand than your average Cuban. But would they have enough to buy parts in any quantity? New or used? And are enough of the classics in the sort of shape where parts made for those cars are even relevant anymore, or have they been kluged back togehter for so long that you have a hell of a time even fitting an original equipment carb to a ’57 Chevy?

      • 0 avatar

        But would they have enough to buy parts in any quantity? New or used?

        These guys probably pay one another with barter and trade, and possibly with hard currency earned at foreign resorts or sent to them from relatives abroad. There’s a reason why most of the foreign business there is aimed at serving non-Cuban tourists, who have real currencies to spend and in adequate amounts.

        In any case, go back to the Reuters article, and you’ll note that they’re now allowing a market for both more recent cars and for houses. Since no one has any money, this is a way of giving those who have managed to get these hard assets (usually through government connections or celebrity) to convert those assets into cash and/or other goods.

        It’s effectively an acknowledgment that their economy is hitting the wall. Since people can’t earn anything, the only way to improve their statuses is let them liquidate or trade the most valuable stuff that they own. This may ultimately be a move toward broader reform, one doesn’t really have all that much to do with cars, per se.

    • 0 avatar

      Cuda gets lots of foreign currency from its booming sex tourism industry so parts can be gotten.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    As others have said, some of the nicer representatives of these rust-free classics hopefully will be repatriated to the USA (maybe through Canada)?

    • 0 avatar

      I’d rather see them stay in Cuba. I haven’t been yet, but it must feel like Brigadoon to someone who–like me–was a kid when the automotive population in the US looked the way it still does it Cuba. I would love to go.

      I would assume that as long as the US trade embargo holds, these things aren’t going to be coming to the US except by circuitous routes.

      I also question whether the owners will be wanting to sell them. That really depends on how much the capital they can get by selling is worth to them. They certainly are bastardized with parts from old Soviet vehicles, something that would reduce their value to collectors quite considerably. That, of course, is the price of the US trade embargo.

      On the other side of the equation, I think a lot of these cars have jobs that pay their owners fairly well, as liveries and taxis. Kias and Hyundais do’nt have the cachet of a cachero (Cuban slang for jalopy, with affectionate overtones).

  • avatar

    I seem to remember that a number of years ago, Cuba “allowed” a limited number of pre-’60 American cars to be exported. They were supposedly the best, all-originaI examples on the island. I remember thinking, they were probably appropriated by the government to bring in much needed foreign currency. Does anyone else remember that?

  • avatar

    I don’t get what the threat to the old Detroit cars in Cuba would be. Owners won’t be as motivated to install UAZ tractor engines in their ’54 Packards, once they can buy ’89 Okas or (if they can scrape up some hard currency) brand-new Cultuses?

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t get what the threat to the old Detroit cars in Cuba would be.

      I think that some don’t understand the story. The Cubans aren’t opening up an export market for old cars, they’re opening up a domestic market for more recent cars.

  • avatar

    there are peugeots, kia, and daewoo mostly over there, and a bunch of Chinese scooters. The old cars are basically duct taped together nothing any collector would want. and the interiors are usually gutted.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Why is everyone assuming these things are rust-free? The stories on the old car forums say otherwise. So you have bastardized drivetrains born of pure desperation that only a Lemons judge could love in body shells which are the rusted-out product of over half a century of island life.

    Car guys have these terms… a 20-footer or a 50-footer… which is how far away you have to stand before an old car looks like it’s in amazing condition, when it isn’t. That’s the majority of Cuban classics, the way I’ve heard it told.

    Besides, as BuzzDog pointed out way up there at the start of the comments, even if this happens, you still can’t bring them into the US without some sort of overseas co-conspirator and most likely more expense than they’re worth. There actually isn’t any serious shortage of vintage cars in the US to make any of this particularly exciting.

    • 0 avatar

      That 50 foot rule works the other way too. There are some cars, like the ultra luxury marques, concours quality restorations, and custom cars where you can see the quality details from as far away as 50 feet. The convertible Continental Mark II I shot recently was like that.

  • avatar

    I am a Canadian and i can tell you that there are many old North American cars in Cuba in really nice condition.i am married to a Cuban lady and have been for fourteen years and have spent six months of every year in Cuba.We own a 1957 chev. belair hardtop four coats of base and eight clear coats.Engine,trans and rear end original.The frame is very good and the body excelent.The painters bodymen and uphols.are top notch.Before anybody says ah,you can afford it because you are Canadian,there many out there as nice as mine.When you drive to a place were there are lots of tourists,they go crazy about these old cars

  • avatar

    Oddest car I saw in Havana was a Porsche 356.

    God knows how he got parts for it.

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