Photo Gallery: Classic Cuban Cars to Take You Back in Time

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While we knew Cuba was known for its abundance of classic American cars, but nothing quite prepared us to witness these behemoths barreling down grand avenues and marauding along the famous Malecón.

How did all of these cars end up on the island? We learned that it all started when Fidel Castro overthrew the mafia loving Cuban President Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959. When Castro rode into town, many wealthy Cuban’s immediately fled the country leaving behind their homes and their cars. Because of the following US trade embargo (which forbade further export of cars to the island) and its accompanying economic strife, those abandoned classic cars that were once luxuries of the former elite, became necessities to the locals who inherited them (or simply walked up the driveway and drove off in them, since many still had the keys in the ignition on January 2nd). As the decades of hardship droned on, those classic American cars had to be maintained with whatever parts were available on the economically isolated island. The Cuban’s nicknamed these cars, ‘The United Nations’ because the bodies are American (like the UN headquarters in New York), but the insides are made up of parts from around the globe.

While new cars are now easily imported to Cuba (minus any from the US!), these vintage cars are well loved by locals and tourists alike. Most of them are now used as taxis and are a great source of income to Cubans. Since the average monthly salary is the equivalent of a whopping $30, taking a one hour tour around Havana in one of these beauties for $50 is well worth the price and helps Cubans achieve a better life for not only their families, but their country as a whole.

While we had to stop ourselves from photographing every single one we saw, here is a fleet of photos of some of our favorites we spotted from Havana to Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

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Parked next to the central square of Havana, this looker’s driver had stopped for a quick coffee at the iconic Hotel Inglaterra.

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Check out this white wonder pulling up to the artist commune in Cienfuego. Approximately 60,000 pre-1959 cars are still plying the streets in Cuba.

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A study in blue courtesy of this Buick in Urban Historic Centre of Cienfuegos.

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This white Chevrolet is a nice palate cleanser in contrast to the mosaics in Fusterlandia.

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One of the first classic cars we spotted in downtown Havana. It sports a very “parade-car” vibe, as if the ghost of Fidel might ride in the back of this puppy down Havana’s main drags.

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Purple versus pink at Cuba’s Museum of Fine Arts.

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An all-time favorite, this 1957 Chevy complete with winged fenders and rocket-ship rear lights, drops guests off at the historic (and UNESCO-protected) Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca.

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Clearly, Cubans favor pastel colors for their cars.

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Walking up to the main square in Santiago de Cuba, we spotted this tiny Russian number. The USSR backed Cuba from just after the 1959 revolution until its dissolution in 1991.

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A black matte Chevy with some serious rims looks like the Cuban version of Knight Rider.

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The gold logo on the front of this Cadillac is the icing on an already perfectly polished cake.

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Big Blue, comin’ round the bend!

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You should have heard the horn on this beauty. We don’t think it was original since it sounded like a ‘chacuuuuugah’ from a Model T. A little bit of anochronism never hurt anyone, anyway.

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Cadillac Eldorado in a shade of eggplant or Batmobile?

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Che would approve of this DIY plate on this Plymouth.

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This Jeep was a nice palate cleanser. Check out the tiny flames.

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This Caballero matched his shirt to his ride.

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Public transportation is hard to come by in Cuba and many inventive locals have turned their trucks into bare-bones (and bone-rattling) people moving machines.

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The perfect Chevy to say good bye to Santiago de Cuba.

If you’re interested in checking out Cuba on two wheels instead of four, a cross-country cycling tour might be for you.