Opportunity To Repatriate American Cars From Cuba?

Setting the politics aside, the possible thawing of relationships between the United States and Cuba could provide an opportunity to repatriate some American cars from the 1950s that got “locked” inside Cuba.  When Castro took over Cuba in 1959, which subsequently lead to a trade embargo with the United States, it is like time stood still.  No new American cars were imported into Cuba and so the locals had to keep their 1950s cars and keep them running for the last 60 years as no newer American cars could be brought into the country. As a result  these old cars have been used every day for the last 60 years – the ultimate “driver” car.  I understand that many of them are used as taxis.

Cuba cars 1

A Cuban Street Scene Full Of Old American Cars

It is interesting to think about traveling to Cuba and purchasing some of these cars.  They are unique.  As far as I know, no other place in the world has kept large numbers of 1950s cars as the daily vehicle of the people.  And talk about “patina”; these cars would have “patina” by the car load.  If I had one of these cars, then I would try to keep it as much like it would have been in Cuba.

Cuba cars 2

Some Of The Cars Look Reasonably Good

I have no idea how much it would take to buy one of these cars.  many of them are rather plain – just 4-door sedans.  Probably these cars are fitted with column-mounted three-speed manual transmissions and have six-cylinder engines.  I would have no idea how they kept them running all these years nor would have any idea about the quality of any of the repairs made over those years.

Cuba cars 3

I Would Be Very Tempted To Leave The Cars Untouched

Given how desperate the Cuban government is for money, they would probably add some massive export tax on these cars if someone wanted to take one out of the country.  Who knows, but it is interesting to think about.  There are a lot of old running cars there.  You need to get there early before the big auction houses get there.

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5 Responses to Opportunity To Repatriate American Cars From Cuba?

  1. Being Canadian, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Cuba and get a taste of their car culture. There are a couple issues with bringing cars back to the US. From what I have been told when doing some digging, is that they are very expensive compared to similar cars back in the US. They’ve only recently been able to buy and sell ‘yank tanks’ and prices are still high.

    Another factor is that many of them have been severely bastardised, out of necessity. With no factory or aftermarket support, these cars were kept on the road with Lada parts or whatever family members could smuggle in from Miami. I’ve even found a frog eyed Sprite with a Lada engine!

    If there was a specific rare or exotic car (Or if you wanted a piece of history from this unique political situation) that you found, it might be worth it, but I can’t imagine the red tape. I’ve seen photos of 356s and other 50s and early 60s European sports cars!

    • Hi Dave,
      Thanks for the insight. When you mentioned the Lada engine in a Sprite I thought of my late brother-in-law had a Lada and I recall that the engine was very noisy. He said once that the engine sounded like 50,000 engine parts flying in close formation.
      I expect that the paperwork and costs to get a car out of Cuba would be high, as I expect that the Cuban government would use the interest in these cars as a source of income. However one would think that the purchase price should not be too high though because if people, on average, earn very little money,then a couple of thousand dollars would seem like a great deal of money. In any event, it would be interesting to look at what might be available. In the 1950s there were a number of races in Havana. There could be some very interesting barn finds or cars hidden under haystacks.
      Steve McKelvie

      • You’re right about people not making much money in Cuba – anywhere from $20-50USD per month. Like many things in Cuba though, the price of cars just doesn’t make sense.

        Even the new cars are considerably more expensive than the same models elsewhere in the world and it basically means that only the government and some international companies can afford them. It makes sense I guess, if you want to limit your people’s freedoms, make cars completely unobtainable.

        As for the old American cars, they are a complete necessity for everyday life in Cuba. They keep the country running, no pun intended. They are also in short supply since obviously no new 50s American cars are coming to the island. Not only are the extremely valuable for utilitarian purposes, nicer condition cars can be huge income generators when used as taxis in tourist areas. I’ve paid $5-10USD for some fares around Havana… imagine if you could make 10% or even 50% of your monthly salary in 10-15 minutes moonlighting as a taxi driver!

        And there definitely are some gems over there. I’ve been able to find a few and I’m working on finding more. Havana was a playground for the rich and famous for many years leading up to the ’59 revolution and they have the cars to prove it!

  2. it’s interesting to read your post!…tx for the info

  3. Ami says:

    There is a law in Cuba that these American cars cannot be shipped out of the country even if own them.

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