Eleven days in Cuba proved not unexpectedly to be a car enthusiast's dream.
The standouts weren’t the quantities of old and often decrepit Americana, but in fact some of the other vehicles mainly limping along.
The author was firstly in a seaside resort Varadero where a surprising number 1950s British cars were to be found. Spotted were Mk2 Ford Zephyr and Consul in apparently reasonable condition,, a Hillman Husky barely still driveable even by Cuban standards,, a Singer Gazelle,, maybe even an early OHC varaiant , in use as a taxi, and an Austin A40 or 50 with badges missing after a repaint in red faded to vivid pink but fitted with a fetching roofrack, in an identical hue to that of a Simca Aronde .also fitted with a rack.
A selection of brightly painted lorries of Soviet and US origin were spotted parked behind the market,, all evidently still in use. The Worlds first air conditioned motorcycle was conveniently parked outside the AirBnB that I stayed in.
A stroll (too hot for a proper walk during banking hours) to the bank revealed an Auto Union 1000SP in ostensibly good order parked right in front.
A 15 mile trip in a 52 DeSoto taxi to a town formerly the principle sugar exporting port afforded little opportunity for interesting vehicle sightings in a place that lost its raison d’etre in 1960 when exports ceased. The exceptions were several soft-top GAZ 4×4’s used in various official capacities parked outside offices in the main street that appeared not to have seen as much as a paintbrush since the Americans left. Almost all of the traffic comprised hundreds of Calesas, horse drawn taxis,that seemed to circulate perpetually mostly devoid of passengers, making me thank goodness that I was wearing closed footwear.The trip back to Varadero was achieved in the dodgiest Dodge on the planet.An aircooled VW engined unidentifiable utility vehicle fitted with a nice line in floor boarding doors was seen back at the beach , as was the seemingly excellent condition but un-badged brown 4×4 which I assume was of Chinese origin.
The 12 noon coach was booked for the 3 hour bus ride to Havana. No explanations or apologies were received for the 12.45 departure. About two hours into the journey the very new and comfortable Chinese made vehicle pulled into a layby, and without a word of explanation the driver switched off and got out to crawl underneath. He emerged holding a canister which he couldnt open, so he bashed it hard on a gatepost until the vessel yielded. to his will,. He opened it, fiddled about, then re-installed it. Ten minutes without air-conditioning later, we re-commenced our journey. Moral of story-don’t buy a Chinese bus.
Havana was as expected swarming with old American cars all operating as private taxis.A year ago 30USD would get an hours tour around the city, taking in all the faded glory, some magnificent restored buildings, and the drive along the Malecon seafront road famed for its role in motor races of the late 1950s involving drivers of the ilk of Fangio and Moss. These cars have been photographed and documented countless times. Modern Chinese saloon cars operated as State owned taxis resplendent in bright yellow via for fares with Calesas, pedal operated tricycles, and yellow glass fibre spherical bodied moped engined Cocotaxis.. A tank produced by a sugar factory for the Revolutionaries was on display at the Museum of the Revolution (subtitled by western visitors as the museum of farcical propaganda), didnt need to be used in anger, probably more fortunately for the crew…
The latter also operated in Varadero together with two privately operated Model A tourers equipped with Lada engines coupled to column change 3 speed gearboxes.
A 10 hour round trip coach tour up north to the tobacco, honey and rum producing region elicited no interesting vehicles, the very good road being almost devoid of traffic.once outside the environs of the capital.