Perhaps the strongest reminder of the hardened US-Cuban relationship is the 60,000 retrofitted metal relics clunking around the streets of the stagnant island nation.
Havana’s stunning 1950s-era “coches Americanos” — or “máquinas” — are often referred to as the “Galápagos of the car industry” since they have been meticulously preserved by their owners during the 55-year-long trade embargo.
Branded in Cuba’s surreal time-warp image, these cars provide crucial income for locals while servicing the island’s tourists. Here are a few of the most beautiful vintage cars we saw on our recent trip to Havana. You can read more about Business Insider’s week in Cuba here.
In 1955, Cuba was the top importer of North American-manufactured cars, with nearly 125,000 Detroit-made automobiles bustling around the island nation.
'The Cadillac does not provide jobs for anyone,' Castro said during a speech to the Cuban people in July 1959. 'The Cadillac does not increase the wealth of the country. It diminishes it.'
From that moment forward, Castro halted all American car imports and imposed strict laws on Cuban car owners.
And for the next 50 years, owners of these 'coches Americanos' would be forced to improvise repairs without access to replacement parts.
Mechanics have creatively married working parts from multiple cars to create these Frankenstein automobiles, like this red truck sitting outside of the Russian Embassy in Havana.
Even cars that appear to be in mint condition, like this 1950-era Chevy, are likely to have a Russian carburetor and a Peugeot diesel engine under the hood.
And since mix-and-match parts are considered sacrilegious to car collectors, these classic autos, while beautiful, have lost significant value.
Castro's stiff laws also prevented Cubans from selling their cars to avoid the expense of maintaining their 'máquinas.'
Speckled among the classic American relics are the boxy Soviet-made Ladas, another clear reminder of the USSR's friendship with Cuba.
Ironically, the 250,000 USSR-imported Ladas were also expensive to maintain, as spare parts were rarely available in Cuba.
The majority of these vintage cars serve as taxi cabs for tourists, providing a crucial income for locals. A 10-15 minute ride could cost tourists around $10.
Drivers park their cars outside the government-run hotels in order to entice tourists. Having a well-maintained car is important for booking a job.
The owner of this pristine 1955 Chevy Bel Air washes his car three to four times a week and immediately after it rains to make sure the paint stays in excellent condition.
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