But, David came back with some great photos of vintage Fords and Chevys from the ’40s and ’50s. We laughed because it was absurd.
As David puts it, Cuba’s cars are impossible to ignore. It’s like seeing a celebrity and trying not to stare. They run through the streets, not so quietly, in bright colors, carrying sometimes half a dozen Cubans from place to place. Maybe you aren’t a car lover. Maybe you love bikes. Imagine showing up in a city and almost everybody is riding vintage Schwinns.
These cars aren’t just a tourist attraction. They say something about who Cubans are at their core, their ingenuity and craftsmanship, and their will to carry on no matter what. Our visit was sprinkled with little clues of this. You go into someone’s house, and the fan has lost its plastic frame, but they still make it function. A mother tells you how much monthly salary she makes, and somehow she makes that stretch to feed her family. Nothing is thrown away, everything is rejiggered to function.
For Cubans, cars are a matter of necessity. It’s not just about looking good (which they do). It’s about function. I call them “Frankencars.” The original motors are sometimes replaced with Mercedes Diesel engines, or the interiors are stripped and re-upholstered over and over again. The hubcaps and wheels are handmade. They are fixed on the street among neighbors and friends.
Seriously. Cars in Cuba are rarely sold. They are handed down like family heirlooms