Cuba: All Those Classic Cars
16 - 22 June 2017
"Man is not made for defeat."
The Old Man and the Sea
All those classic cars. Look at 'em.
Made in America.
In the 1950s.
Boasting fuel efficiency of 6-7 kilometers/liter (3.7-4.3 miles/liter or 14.1-16.5 miles/gallon). These days, the average is easily double that across different makes and models. And — wow — that turning radius is something else. My MINI Cooper can spin around a dime fast enough to make the dime go dizzy. These classics? Give 'em enough time and they'll make it around the block.
Don't get me wrong. They're cool. It's also cool to look under the hood and see actual horns for honking sounds. But they're also another part of the seductive Cuban romance, further fueling the sensation of being on a time-trapped movie set.
The vast majority of those cars — at least the near entirety of the ones I saw — are in service as taxis. They're a well-known tourist attraction in Cuba. They adorn T-shirts, bags, paintings, photos. They're well-maintained and cared for, like the treasures they are.
And those classic taxis charge $50USD/hour, with some options for local tours — such as nighttime Havana tours. They're in some sort of network. Perhaps they're independently owned (one individual in particular pays his girlfriend's father $150USD/day to rent his car, then needs to earn those funds back in fares each day simply to break even). But they all sport the same style of laminated fact sheet: one side features information about the car, the other side shows a map of Havana and the typical rates. It's like there's a larger network coordinating the activity — a "Cuber" of sorts — but I wasn't able to get deep enough into the weeds to get it all identified.
Where's the diner for a late-night burger and milkshake? Where's the drive-in movie? (Heck, the only movie theatre I saw was one catering to children's programming, featuring an American movie that's a couple years old.)
The reality check is those classics aren't the only cars on the road. It's not like 1959 rolled around and no more cars entered the country.
Granted, there aren't any "American made" cars post-1959 roaming the streets of Havana, but there are brand new Hyundai yellow taxis, top-end hybrid Range Rovers, all sorts of non-Ford, non-Chevy motors motoring around town. There are also funky Coco taxis, a motorized Cuban tuk-tuk colored in the familiar taxi yellow, as well as classic pedicabs and rickshaws. Options abound, including horse-drawn carriages.
Similarly, Coke and Pepsi are hard to find, as are Doritos and Lay's Potato Chips, along with Budweiser and Coors. McDonald's and Starbucks are nowhere to be found. Notice a pattern? American brands — at least in terms of perishable products — aren't available.
Those classic 1950s American cars, though, weren't made for defeat. They were built to last.