Cuba - Unlocking an Automotive Time Capsule
Imagine from an automotive perspective, a country completely frozen in time in the year 1959. Various colorful classics roaming the streets where reality is one vast vintage car show - picturesque, historical, and almost surreal in that the kaleidoscope of bright yet weathered buildings and well worn roads serve as a perfect backdrop to this automotive timewarp. This is Cuba in a nutshell, where new cars and even new parts for the cars are as common as snowfall in Havana.
For the past 57 years since 1959 when Fidel Castro came to power, laws and embargos have been in place preventing the import and sale of new foreign cars and parts, with the only exceptions being for government vehicles and those who happen to be very well-connected. Since those exceptions are rare, an estimated 50,000+ classic American Fords, Chevys, Buicks, Plymouths, and Oldsmobiles dot the landscape with a smattering of old-school Russian Volgas, Moskvichs, and Ladas to mix it up a bit.
While the import/export embargos are finally starting to loosen, up until now the residents of this island nation had little choice but to make these cars last and last for a long time. How did they accomplish this without even access to replacement parts? When given no other choice, creativity and ingenuity began to shine as brightly as the Caribbean sun and the citizens of Cuba basically began doing their best MacGyver impressions. When possible, parts from other cars were interchanged or repurposed and adapted to fit, Russian diesel engines were bolted to standard gasoline automobles, and it was not uncommon to see custom car parts completely fabricated out of household items.
As a result of this patchwork automotive necessity, a country of master mechanics was born and a very deep car culture emerged, although this was rarely seen outside the island nation itself due to travel and media bans. Recently though as these bans have subsided, internet media and television shows such as Cuban Chrome have brought Cuba's rich automotive culture to light and showcased the history, the car clubs, and sense of automotive pride that exists for the rest of the world to see. Carponents was fortunate to have a first hand look at this amazing vintage microcosm thanks to our good friend Chris Milano, who recently traveled to the island nation and chronicled it's rich automotive story which we gladly present to you...
Special thanks to Chris Milano for giving us an up-close look into Cuba's automotive car culture!
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