A car spotter’s guide to an automotive landscape few Americans have seen
Cuba is perhaps the only country where classic American cars from the 1950s share the road with classic Eastern European cars on a daily basis. It’s also the only country where, if a modern Geely clips your 1950s Cadillac, the traffic police are bound to arrive in a 1980s Lada. A nation frozen in time in more ways than one, it would be an understatement to say that Cuba has a diverse fleet of cars and trucks.
It is often the 1950s American cars that we hear about and see in the few news reports that we have access to, but the reality on the ground has changed dramatically over the past decade. There are plenty of European and South American companies doing business in Cuba. Those companies are allowed to bring their own cars and trucks, and there are also car rental agencies where tourists from just about everywhere except the U.S. can rent a modern car — an MG, Geely or even an Audi — to travel around the island.
The reality for Cuban citizens is much different, and despite the purported launch of new car sales earlier this year — a tragic joke by the government by most accounts — car ownership remains an unfulfilled dream for millions of Cubans.
The prospect of booking a flight and a hotel online in minutes in the reclusive island nation is still a few years away for most Americans, but tourists from other countries have had a chance to document the mix of fascinating machinery that fills Cuba’s streets, painting an accurate picture of the mix of cars one is likely to see there. One of these travelers has shared his photos and experiences with us, and we’ve used them to put together this spotter’s guide for fans or rare cars.