Cuban Cars


The HOTY (a.k.a. Husband of the Year for new readers) and I have just returned from a magnificent trip to Cuba. Yes, Cuba. I still can’t believe that this time yesterday we were in Havana. Worlds, no galaxies apart.  Traveling to Cuba is like traveling in a time machine back to the year 1959. From the moment we landed: 1959.

I’m so excited to share everything about the trip! I’m so excited, in fact, that I offered to do a power point presentation in (our daughter) Finally Five’s Kindergarten class. Seriously. Her teacher said, “Sure!” but looked at me as though I were a little off my rocker. Clearly, they didn’t have power point in 1959.

I am still processing the reentry into a life of abundance…and by abundance, I mean food, running water, democracy.

I will have much to share over the next few days, but in the meantime I thought I’d start with the most visible evidence of the time machine: Cuban Cars.

Everywhere we looked we saw rambling 1950s Fords, Buicks and Pontiacs, some in mint condition, others (most, actually) on the verge of collapse. I was stunned to learn that there are an estimated 60,000 pre-1960 American cars roaming Cuba. About 150,000 existed at the time of the 1959 revolution, shortly after which the Detroit auto giants and all American manufacturers were forced to stop sending goods to Cuba to conform to the United States’ embargo.

There is a feeling abroad that Cubans love old American cars. We learned first hand that nothing could be further from the truth. Cubans love new American cars, not old ones, but the newest ones that they can get their hands on are 45 years old.

Speaking of getting their hands on cars, it was just one month ago that Cubans were granted permission by the government to buy and sell cars to one another. Seriously. Prior to this, they did trades. Literally.

To own one of these vintage cars, known as cacharros, or less commonly, bartavias, in Cuba defines who you are, how you spend your time and how you wish to be known. When plugs don’t spark, when a faulty brake line can’t be repaired, when the engine sputters into a coma, when a person runs into any difficulties, equipment is fabricated personally, shared with a friend, or bought from a stranger. Or the car is put on blocks until the right part appears the next day, month or year. Our dear guide told us, “We do not have mechanics. We have magicians.”

The Silver Lining is that there is still an indomitable charm and determination omnipresent in the cars on the streets of Havana.

Leave a comment


  1. Rob Jacobs says

    Dear Hollye…your pics are amazing! The colors in the cars and people are extraordinary. The first time I saw Buena Vista Social Club I knew I wanted to visit Cuba someday…I love that music! Thanks for bringing me a little bit closer……can't wait to hear and see more!

  2. Nan Jacobs says

    H…That's so trippy! Would love to go to Cuba one day. I too can't wait for power point….
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wendy Breakstone Lad says

    This is so intriguing! And the colors of the buildings behind the 50's colored cars is amazing. Its almost like you've stepped onto a studio lot movie set.
    My grandparents (from Miami Beach) had good friends from Cuba. She often tells me how they'd hop on a plane for the weekend (in the early 50's) and go to Cuba "to play."

    I can hardly wait to hear the rest of your story (and see the power point). [The school should do an assembly so you can share your story of cuban culture with the entire school.]
    Best, Wendy

    • says

      Thanks, Wendy! In the 50's, Cuba was a modern-day Vegas. We went to The Tropicana one night (though utterly touristy, it was fantastic!). An assembly at the grammar school. Love the idea!

  4. joie singer says

    What a wonderful trip down memory lane. I grew up riding in and driving those magnificent beasts. Most weighed a young ton, had no power steering and "standing on the brakes" was literally that. If you were forced to come to a sudden stop, you had to practically stand up in your seat to put enough weight on the brakes. All the different car companies made cars from different designs and different colors, specific to the company. You could tell at a glance the make, model and year: "Oh, look! There went the new black '42 Caddy, forest green '53 Fairlane (Ford), '55 candy apple red Impala (Chevy), '48 navy blue Skylark (Buick). I know, "What's a Buick?"

    As opposed to now when it's "Wow! Did you see that slick silver….Taurus, Thunderbird, Toyota, Beemer, Mercedes… uhhh, what was that, anyway?"

    Thanks for the joy ride.

    • says

      Thanks so much for your note. Love the image of "riding in and driving those magnificent beasts" & "standing on the breaks"! Let's just say that I didn't scoot across the street in front of any of those magnificent beasts hoping that they would slow down or stop for me. Thanks, again!

  5. Stina says


    Love your new blog look and the way you've organized it!

    And loved the pictures of Cuba. Joel and I went there with friends (under the Canadian flag) about 5 – 6 years ago and marvelled at how time seemed to have stood still. The cars really throw you back in time. We loved the people, the energy, the coco taxis, and even more we love the underground swell of the free market in the way they traded houses, owned restaurants and generally bartered their way through the maze of repression. Can't keep the human spirit down! At that time our guide still couldn't answer a question with another Cuban listening though.. He/she might get reported for anti-Casto sentiment.

    We were impressed that the artists, performing and fine were allowed to leave the county, but others weren't. (A great nod to the arts).
    So, did you buy any art??


  6. Shari Harris says

    My grandparents were visiting Cuba when Castro started the revolution. He was out on a balcony talking
    to the man in the next room, when the other man was shot. He and my grandmother were stuck in their
    room for 3 days before they could fly home. He brought his grandchildren brass bullet casings. I used mine as a whistle for years, but sadly don't know where it is today. Thanks for sharing your trip, I would
    love to go their scuba diving some day.

    • says

      Thanks for your note, Shari. What a fascinating story. Absolutely amazing. Hope you get to go to Cuba. It is extraordinary…and I understand that the diving is incredible….in part because the Cubans are not allowed to fish (because of the potential for defecting), leaving the waters pristine.