It’s said that you can trace Cuba’s recent history through the vintage of cars on the road. In the flamboyant 40s and 50s when Havana and Cuban resorts were the destinations of choice for America’s rich and famous, and the Mafia, flashy finned Chevvies, Chryslers, Lincolns and Dodges cruised the streets. Post the 1959 Revolution, and the ushering in of Russian-style Communism and the embargo, decadence gave way to utility with staid and unglamorous Russian Ladas proliferating. Then the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989 cut Cuba’s aid lifeline heralding the start of the euphemistically titled “Special Period” of extreme restrictions, particularly in hydrocarbon energy resources. Cheaper Chinese imports became the vehicles of choice.
Cuba’s amazing heritage of Yank Tanks – but don’t expect power steering.
Not that Cuba’s pot-holed city streets and crumbling highways are packed with cars: the cost of a new car is beyond the average wage earner and families with vehicles tend to hand them down. Traffic jams are nonexistent. In the absence of imported spare parts the lumbering old Yank Tanks which are now such a tourist lure, and top of visitors’ must-experience lists, sport an amazing array of make-shift repairs and parts behind their gaudy colours, challenging for ingenuity the fix-it boys in the crazy 2001 ABC-TV Bush Mechanics series. Power steering? That’s for sissies!
Must-do for tourists – cruising Havana in our flashy 1950 Chevy Bel Air.
The aging fleet of Ladas aren’t much better with window winders and door handles and other such luxuries optional extras. A taxi trip means asphyxiation by unchecked exhaust fumes. Pity the poor taxi drivers who inhale the fumes daily. All reminiscent of the lyrics of the kids’ song Driving in My Car : “It’s a bit old but it’s mine, I mend it in my spare time”.
Our trusty Lada taxi – door handles and window winders were optional extras.