Cuba’s Automotive Heritage Has Been Virtually Plundered
Cuba’s Automotive Heritage Has Been Virtually Plundered / Juan Juan Almeida
Posted on July 15, 2015
Juan Juan Almeida, 11 May 2015 — With the relaxation of relations
between the United States and Cuba, speculation has been unleashed and
is causing mischief. Some experts guarantee that several U.S. companies
are ready to buy the famous “almendrones”* on the island. It could be
the arrangement is real; there is always some nostalgic person whose
passion, need or disinformation makes him confuse reality with desire or
Absolutely out of focus, Cuba’s automotive heritage has been virtually
plundered. Most of what remains – Cadillacs, Chevys, Studebakers,
Pontiacs, Thunderbirds and Buicks – which still circulate on the island,
had their engines replaced to be used as collective taxis (“boteros”),
and upon losing originality, they also lost their exceptionalism.
In the middle of the ‘80s, the Cuban business, At the Service of
Foreigners (CUBALSE, for its acronym) capitalized on the large amount of
collectible cars that existed in the country. It acquired them by
referring to their technological importance (Spanish-Swiss, 1930
Cadillac V16), 1918 Ford T, 1930 Baby Lincoln), or their universal
I don’t think it’s necessary to explain that CUBALSE bought them at
laughable prices; for a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, or a Jaguar or
Bugatti, it paid with Russian vehicles.
Several of these rolling jewels are found today in the Automobile Museum
located on Oficios Street in Old Havana; others, like “The Little Pink
Shoes”** are guarded and excellently maintained in the private garages
of the upper elite. The rest were sold at very good prices, mostly to
At the end of the ‘90s, there were almost no cars on the island of the
100 percent original collection in the hands of the population. CUBALSE
stopped buying, and the baton of patrimonial rape passed to an exclusive
group of artists, who didn’t sell their works at the prices they do now
but knew how to cash in, with more than innate talent, on their
government connections in order to buy antique autos, adorn them with
four strokes and, under the status of “work of art,” take them out of
the country and sell them in the exterior.
Thus, by sea, like rafters but with special permission, American cars
left Cuba at the request of a foreign market that demanded,
fundamentally, 1946 Chevrolet trucks, 1941 Ford Mercurys, 1956 Buick
Roadmasters, Chevrolet Corvettes and 1957 Chevys.
In the craze for antique four-wheelers, Cubans and foreign residents
with commercial vision came together. Then, with an economic option, the
Government retook the business with companies like Cubataxi, which
acquired antique cars with a certain national history, not to sell but
rather to rent, at the price of a prostitute, to tourists who would pay
to ride a Harley Davidson that Camillo Cienfuegos used, the Chevrolet
Impala that belonged to Almeida, and what some say is only a fake
version of the Chaika limousine*** that Fidel used for years.
Putting together these simple pieces of the commercial puzzle of the car
in Cuba, it’s very easy to understand that, of the almost 60,000 antique
cars that still circulate on the island, with certain isolated
exceptions, in the possession of some nationals there remain only hybrid
autos, armed with the loose criteria of an ingenious mechanic, which of
course he could sell, but they are not even approximately the gold mine
that their owners believe they are.
*“Almonds,” because of their shape.
”**A poem by José Martí that school children learn and that often is
***A Soviet brand car.
Translated by Regina Anavy
Source: Cuba’s Automotive Heritage Has Been Virtually Plundered / Juan
Juan Almeida | Translating Cuba –