Follow by Email

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cuba's thaw with U.S. raises interest in classic-car cache


Cuba Tourism
Wednesday's news of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba after 53 years of post-revolution standoff caught the attention of one group in particular: Classic-car buffs.

Since the Castro-led government essentially banned vehicle imports from outside the Soviet bloc until 2013, and poverty gripped most of the island, many of the roughly 60,000 1950s-era vehicles in Cuba have been driven and kept in use ever since.

 With parts hard to come by, a burgeoning home-garage industry has bloomed, dedicated to fabricating parts and keeping ancient Plymouths, Chevys and Fords on the roads — becoming one of Cuba's most well-known tourist attractions.

Tourists enjoy a ride in a classic American car on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba.
Tourists enjoy a ride in a classic American car on the Malecon in Havana, Cuba.

But before collectors start booking figuring out how to ship cars from Havana, they may want to take a pause. For starters, the U.S. economic embargo with Cuba can only be lifted by an act of Congress;

 the rule changes announced today by President Barack Obama fall far short of a full resumption of trade, and individuals who travel to Cuba under a limited set of circumstances may only bring back $400 in goods.

Secondly, the cars themselves aren't in the best of shape. Brenda Priddy, a long-time automotive spy photographer, has led "people-to-people" exchange tours of Cuba in recent years, with another scheduled for next year.

 Many of the classics "are a bit sad-looking," Priddy told Yahoo Autos, "although there are some beautifully restored cars on the island. It's common to find a '57 Chevy with a diesel engine and many, many coats of house paint."

Priddy says Cubans "have a lot of pride in their automobiles," but that the island's impoverished economy has made them a lower priority than basic sustenance and shelter.

 It may be that should the embargo be lifted, the main beneficiaries wouldn't be the American car auction houses but the Cuban people themselves, especially their car experts.

 After half a century having to repair old Detroit iron with scraps, imagine what they could do with parts and tools they didn't have to scrounge.