Today’s photo assay is about Americans that have lived in Havana for half a century but are not allowed to leave the country; a Cuban curiosity.
Of course I had been aware of the pre-revolution US cars in Havana. But what came as a surprise were the tens of thousands classic automobiles still in circulation, as collective taxis, rented out for weddings and quinceanera parties (when girls turn 15), or used as tourist transport. The majority of them are Chevrolet and Ford, but also Buick, Dodge, and a variety of vanished brands such as Packard, De Soto, Mercury, Plymouth, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile. With no access to original spare parts, these vehicles are often assemblies of adapted parts from Soviet cars and trucks, and fitted with Hyundai or Mercedes diesel engines.
At the end of the Batista regime, more than 90% of the about 200 000 registered cars in Cuba were American made, of which around 40% were Chevrolets and Fords. These “Yank-Tanks” were, for decades, the only cars that could be traded. The Ladas were reserved for party members, while European cars were restricted to diplomates, expatriate business people, and Fidel, who was driven in a Mercedes Benz. When the ban on car imports was lifted in 2013, many people feared that this could be the end of the old-timers. But the choice was limited and the prices for import cars skyrocketed. And so did the prices for the US cars.
Funny enough, Cuba can be seen as the pride of the largest US car manufacturers. Nowhere else has the quality of these cars shown more clearly, surviving more than half a century without parts and ‘proper’ mechanical services. In an amazing display of colors these astonishing vehicles shunt along the bumpy roads like characters from an old story; a story that came to a halt in 1959. SR
The images were shot with the Nikon D810 and the 24-70 f/2.8 lens during a photo workshop led by Luis Alarcon.