Think of Havana and images of 1950s US dream cars spring to mind, but the gal was amazed at the numbers of these gorgeous machines – there are thought to be about 80,000 of them. Many are parked near what today are the city’s top ‘luxury’ hotels – but, as will be revealed, as of June 1st, 2017, the Cuban capital will finally have a true luxury property. Anyway, outside hotels and in all main squares, a variety of transportation awaits: classic American cars with taxi signs, and coco-taxis, clamshell motor bikes, pedal cabs, and even horse-drawn carriages. Since the average monthly salary is, net, $23, it is easy to see how renting your beloved vehicle out as a taxi at $10 an hour is good business.
Anyone wanting to buy a new VW Golf is going to have to pay about $120,000 so it makes sense to renovate your grandparents’ car, fortunately in the family since before the 1961 US trade embargo. Over the years, these Chevrolets, Fords, Chryslers and Buicks have typically been kept going by ingenious engineering and a lot of entrepreneurship. Some vehicles now have Japanese or even Russian engines. Today, if you must have some genuine parts, buy’em via eBay, or via, say, Danchuk Manufacturing, a Santa Ana CA specialist that offers a range of 1955-1957 Chevy replacement parts, but then you need to pay duty when the goods arrive in Cuba, which can more or less double the cost. And importing anything also takes at least three months, says one foreigner living here.
Cubans loved their cars from way back – before the 1961 embargo there were more Cadillacs per capita here than in the USA. In 1957 Fidel Castro oversaw the country’s first Grand Prix, won by Juan Manuel Fangio: there were subsequent races in 1958 and 1960, both won by Stirling Moss. In recent times there was a fear that the world’s car enthusiasts would rush in, buy up Cuba’s gorgeous relics and take them elsewhere, but, honestly, collectors want pristine bodies and, preferably, original insides (and, anyway, Raul Castro has now forbidden their export). The sheer cost of completely restoring one of these ‘Cuban cars’ fortunately makes the effort impractical, which is excellent news for the growing number of tourists rushing to see the country before it changes too dramatically.
But will it change? Raul Castro steps down in 2018 but he will continue to head the Communist party. He has a daughter, Mariela, and a son, Alejandro, a PhD who is high in the military, but it is thought that the next President may well be the current VP, Miguel Diaz-Canel. Expect whatever happens in terms of power to recognise the importance of incoming tourism, which will be great for the luxury hotel sector. With Kempinski opening on June 1st, 2017, and with Marriott-Starwood supposedly formally taking over Havana’s historic Inglaterra this December – and with Four Seasons, Bill Heinecke’s Minor Group and One&Only among those on the luxury horizon, it is going to be an interesting time… NOW SEE MORE CARS IN THE VIDEO, BELOW