Welcome to the ’Jurassic Park’ of motor vehicles — an island where, in vehicular terms, time has stood still.
Cuba imported more than 150,000 American cars by 1955, a few years before their northern neighbours embargoed the Caribbean nation in the height of the Cold War.
But relations between Cuba and the United States thawed under President Obama, and despite Trump’s best efforts, the Communist state is becoming more open to the outside world . . . and that means motors manufactured more recently than the 1950s.
Good thing legendary production designer Kim Buddee — best known for films like Lantana and TV shows like Ninja Warrior — has captured this dramatic heritage in his new coffee table book Cars in Cuba — You Should See Before They Die.
And here are six classic Cuban cars that make this book a must-read.
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible
This full-size model measures a whopping 4.6m long, with a Ferrari-inspired grille and distinctive chrome spears on the front fenders. One of Chevvy’s famous ‘Tri-Five’ models of the mid-1950s, the front-engine rear-wheel-drive layout has gained a cult following among collectors in the six decades since . . . but you’ll see them cruising around the streets of Havana like a Camry or Commodore around Sydney.
1951 Pontiac Chieftain
The Chieftain was Pontiac’s first release post-World War II came in 1949, and also its smallest (and therefore most affordable) model — meaning they’re everywhere in Cuba. Then-cutting-edge features like a built-in radio, tissue dispenser, and under-seat heaters make it a dream for tourists looking for a classic car tour.
1955 Oldsmobile 88
Oldsmobile by name, Oldsmobile by nature — this 62-year-old classic is a lot more nimble than a lot of the vehicles lumbering around the Cuban capital. The made-over grille and tail lights in 1955 added to the large high-performance V8 engine, which makes the 88 the oft-dubbed first muscle car in history.
1953 Cadillac Eldorado
If you’re shelling out the $30 an hour for a tour of Havana — the equivalent of a month’s salary for a doctor in the socialist state — then you want to be doing it in this hot pink set of wheels, Cadillac’s limited-edition speciality convertible.
1953 Buick Super
This sensible sedan is a little closer to the cramped confines of National Lampoon’s Vacation than the breeze-through-the-hair vibe of Thelma and Louise, but this functional family auto is a staple of Havana.
1972 Polski Fiat 126
The US embargo means that car imports have been limited since the ‘50s, so even this Polish Fiat knock-off will do. These tiny economy cars are enjoying a renaissance as an artefact of the Cold War, with more than 10,000 still sprinkled amongst the iconic American muscle cars.