Classic car repairers keep Cubans on the road

Posted: 18-Sep-16 17:17

The need to keep old cars on the road, rather than the scrap heap, and a borderline obsessive attitude towards their rides means drivers on the Caribbean island could well be the most able when it comes to repairs and upgrades. Cuba is a rolling car museum and a paradise for classic car lovers.

Classic car repairers keep Cubans on the road

If you’re looking for iconography then the sight of a classic Chevy Bel Air slowly winding its way through the sticky-hot streets of Havana is a good place to begin. Combining both Americana and the zeitgeist of a culture that in so many ways couldn’t be further removed from the U.S., it offers Kodak moments aplenty and prove the old theory that pictures tell 1,000 words (if not more).

Cuba’s reputation as the largest museum of American motoring in the world isn’t hard to get your head around. During the 1940s and 50s, the Caribbean island was being treated like a paradise playground for rich and famous faces from the States up north, not to mention high ranking members of the mafia. Many had several homes, and several then-brand new cars on the island, hence at this time Cuba laying claim to the status of the world’s number one importer of Cadillacs.

Once the 1959 revolution took place everything changed. Many private businesses were closed down, possessions seized, and privileged Cubans- not to mention American expats on the island- fled, leaving behind a wealth of property, including many, many classic automobiles. In the years between then and now a ban on trade with the U.S., combined with an almost complete inaccessibility of new vehicles for most Cubans, other than models made in former and still-Communist states, meant there has been a real demand for making repairs to those rolling antiques in order to keep the population moving.

Efforts have been so impressive that retired U.S. TV host Ray Magliozzi, of "Car Talk" fame, was on the island purely to learn about the lengths people have gone to in a bid to resurrect and resuscitate their beloved vehicles. The majority of which are now at least 60, if not 80 to 100 years old – ages that seem inconceivable to most car owners.

Of course, times have again begun to change. Relations between Cuba and America have been restored, with lines of business and travel routes set to continue improving over the next few years, leading many to predict a forthcoming tourism boom. Citizens are also now allowed to buy new cars, although tourists shouldn’t worry about all those old Fords disappearing any time soon. Costs of buying something straight off the production line are prohibitively expensive, meaning the need to do everything from replace a full engine to rebuild a chassis from wood remains very real.


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