From a very early age, I was fascinated by cars. It was the late 1950s and each model looked different. Most all of them were American-made. So it was mere child’s play, even as a toddler, to watch the road and play guessing games with my uncle. I could name every car from a distance.
Today, even up close, it’s not so easy. Cars come from all corners of the world and most are a largely homogeneous mix of interchangeable designs hatched on a computer and tested in a wind tunnel.
Not so in Cuba. There, time has stood still since 1959, at least when it comes to classic cars.
Since the embargo, the only American vehicles allowed on the island were those previously registered for private use and acquired before the revolution. An estimated 60,000 vintage classics have been preserved for decades through Cuban ingenuity and tender-loving care. They’re a beautiful yet motley blend of homemade parts, discarded household items and pieces scavenged from other vehicles.
But now, time may finally become unstuck. In late 2013, Cuba eased restraints on car imports and acquisitions. And now, the U.S. is putting decades of obstructive international policy in the ditch. Though newer cars are still too expensive for many Cubans, fewer restrictions and improving relations with the U.S. could finally push some of the older American classics to the side of the road.
What’s to become of them? Will hungry collectors from the U.S. swoop in and buy these relics for themselves? Will their Cuban owners hang on to them, or cash in and buy much newer cars? All we can do now is watch the road ahead and try to guess what’s coming.