Cuba serves as home to thousands of classic American cars – 7Online WSVN-TV

Posted: Sunday, December 27, 2015

HAVANA (WSVN) — After a historic change reestablished diplomatic relations with Cuba, American car enthusiasts and auto parts businesses are anxious to explore the island nation.  

At a weekly gathering of local car enthusiasts, many Cubans come and show off their classic American vehicles. That’s where Omar Gonzalez parks his 1958 Dodge two-door hardtop. “Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of having my own car, and one day I was able to get one,” he said in Spanish.

Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, where he installed an oppressive regime and Soviet-style, state-planned economy. His regime banned U.S. auto imports. The only American cars now found on the island are models that predate the Kennedy administration and feature bygone brands like Studebakers, Oldsmobiles and Packards. Estimates say about 60,000 American classics remain in Cuba.  

They drive alongside mostly Ladas and other Soviet-bloc autos and while a few dozen may appear meticulously maintained, most are rigged for practicality instead of restoration. Many are powered by Japanese diesel engines and serve as taxis and personal vehicles. The only remaining original component is the rusted body, its original color concealed under decades of poorly executed paint jobs.

“They have parts from Chevy’s from the 1950’s. They are running with Nissan engines, Hyundai engines, Rear ends from Nissan trucks so they just put things together and make it work.” said Hernando Gordils of the U.S. Automotive Parts Group.

To restore them, some owners said they spend years on their cars, asking friends traveling to the United States to return with parts from South Florida. The Cuban government has eased some import controls, though with a U.S. embargo still in place and a state-controlled economy, there are still challenges to selling in Cuba. “There’s a lot of things that have to take place here for us to do business, but again this is the early stage.” said Gordils.

With that, these cars are now as much Cuban as they are American – so-called Frankenstein cars. As for interest among American car collectors, Rick Drewry of Modern American Insurance writes: “These cars have been kept running for 50 plus years with very little resources available. they are not original but they have a great story to tell.”

Meanwhile,  Cuban auto enthusiasts continue to work to keep these cars running. “I take care of him, and I love him (car) very much,” said Gonzalez through a translator. “And I think, just maybe, he loves me too.”

Despite the thousands of antique cars that are in Cuba, insurance officials say most car collectors don’t plan plan to buy them because of their significant drop in value.

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