Classic American cars in Cuba are believed to number about 60,000 and are the subject of renewed interest mostly by classic car collectors in North America who are eager to see the full re-opening of trade in order to get their hands on some of the rarest automotive finds.
Following the 1959 revolution and the ensuing US embargo, the Fidel Castro regime banned the importation of any new cars or parts without government permission. For decades, other restrictions also included color-coded license plates that the administration uses to monitor its citizens and their vehicles. The Cuban government decides who can drive, when, where and for how long, even the type of cargo they can carry.
Cuba: Classic American car on the docks in the Havana harbor entrance. Photo Credit: ©Flickr/GuillaumeBaviere.
Unable to import new vehicles or replacement parts over the years, skillful mechanics swopped parts and modified others to keep the 1950s model vehicles on the road. Hence, Cuba’s streets are almost like a mid-century automotive museum filled with classic American cars like Chevys, Studebakers, and Buicks, as well as rare European models. These classic American cars in Cuba are proudly paraded and cherished by their owners, notwithstanding that a Buick could very well be running with a Puegeot engine, or that a majestic 1956 Chevy is held together by a peculiar contraption.
This is one reason the recent decision by the Cuban government to loosen some trade restrictions on automobiles is being greeted with much enthusiasm by avid car collectors. The announcement will allow new cars to be bought and sold on the island for the first time in over 50 years, opening the gate for classic car collectors from all over the world. As they begin to line up to flock to Cuba in search of rare finds, many believe that the value of these classic American cars will skyrocket, bringing much-needed cash into the country.
Cuba: Vintage American cars on a street in Havana. Photo Credit: ©Flickr/GuillaumeBaviere.
However, the relaxing of the trade rules does not necessarily mean that car owners in Cuba will be able or willing to swap out their ancient rides for the latest model wheels. Still, all the signs indicate that the financial rewards will be great for those now in possession of these classic American cars and who are willing to give them up for the right price. Classic cars in North America can sell for as much as, and sometimes even more than the cost of a new car. It is certainly not unheard of for a limited edition collector’s item to run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions. This could bring some well-needed cash for the classic American car owners in Cuba, as by some estimates, the Cuban cars are expected to be worth double or triple the price of what a similar model would sell for in the US. For example, a 1955 Buick Century sedan that would normally sell for $20,000 could snatch up to $60,000 if it came from Cuba. Collectors are also looking for higher value cars like Mercedes Benz, Ferraris and maybe even the odd Maseratis.
This is, assuming that Cubans will be willing to hand over their prized possessions, though it is hard to imagine anyone refusing cold hard cash just to hang on to a 50-year-old car that is barely held together. There is also the fact that most cars are owned by the Cuban government, which will be much harder to negotiate with than a regular car owner. For now, it is the classic American car owners, the Cuban government included, that has the odds in their favor. And as classic car collectors salivate, they will continue to enjoy the pleasure of owning a coveted and valuable piece of their country’s rich history.
Cuba: Classic American car in the village of Vinales. Photo Credit: ©Flickr/GuillaumeBaviere.
Top photo: Cuba: Classic American cars on a street in Havana. Photo Credit: ©Flickr/GuillaumeBaviere.
Ursula Petula Barzey
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