Motor Trend’s Carlos Lago, with family ties to the island nation, and Arthur St. Antoine, an aficionado of the works of Ernest Hemingway, as well as fine Cuban cigars, spend a week in the forbidden paradise exploring the classic car culture of Cuba, borne as much from necessity as passion, and come to appreciate the rustic charm and unhurried pace of the island.
They visit local mechanics to understand the incredible resourcefulness of the Cuban people.
By Edward A. Sanchez, Senior Editor, Truck Trend/MotorTrend.com Weekend Editor
Few places are shrouded in as much mystery and mystique to Americans as Cuba. Although less than 100 miles off the southern coast of Florida, due to historic and political events, the two nations remain worlds apart. After the communist revolution in the 1950s in which Fidel Castro came to power, Americans and sympathizers with the previous regime of Fulgencio Batista were forced to flee the country, leaving behind their homes, and hundreds, if not thousands of cars from the era.
New at the time, many of the cars have survived more than six decades, and through clever adaptation and ingenuity, have been kept running by their owners. Replacement parts are very hard to come by, due to the ongoing trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba, with many parts either being imported by black market means, or trans-shipping through an intermediate nation that has trade relations with Cuba. The parts that can’t be imported are painstakingly reverse-engineered and hand-crafted, or substituted with more readily-available parts on the island.
A common substitution on the old 1950s era cars on the island are diesel engines for the old straight-six or V-8 engines originally in the cars, due to diesel’s lower cost on the island, and the better fuel efficiency of the engines.