Every guide book, website, and travel brochure uses them as a sort of shorthand for the city; show a picture of a 1950’s Chevrolet and everyone knows where you mean. Sadly these classic cars may be living on borrowed time.
The restrictions on car imports following the revolution forced Cubans to find ways of preserving what they already had, and they have made it into an art form. Copying, adapting, and force fitting components to keep a vehicle on the road, the original vehicles have evolved. Some, like the taxis which give tourists guided tours of the city, are pristine; their seats sealed beneath a shell of transparent plastic to prevent any possible deterioration.
Others are stripped to the minimum, and what features there are were probably never intended to be part of the car that now houses them. A lick of paint, in something close to the original colouring is considered enough to validate the transformation. It’s as if George Miller had eschewed the steampunk view of his Mad Max films in favour of psychedelia. Roadside repairs are a common sight, as is the driveway toolkit
There are other vehicles on the roads; Soviet imports are common, and there has always been an exception to the import restrictions for doctors and government officials. In 2014 Raul Castrol opened up the market to all Cubans, but surely that was a fairly empty gesture. How many citizens can afford the costs of a modern vehicle I wonder?
Recent developments in the relations between Cuba and US will undoubtedly lead to further change, and slowly the anachronistic hulks will be replaced. Good for the environment no doubt, but a part of Havana’s character will be lost.