“You based out of Florida? If you can, you should look into those Frankenstein cars in Cuba.”
I was standing in the small office of the body shop at Chatham Exxon in New Jersey, talking to dealer Mark Savvides. My dad had to drop off his car lest a slow leak flatten his tire over the weekend, and I was preparing to fly back to Florida after spending Christmas in a cold environment.
Savvides was interested in hearing about my job, and even more interested talking about the time capsule of classic cars that still run on the streets of Havana and elsewhere in Cuba. Hundreds of classic Chevrolets, Fords and other American cars from the 1950s still fill city streets, shiny and covered in chrome, looking almost new on the outside.
On the inside, they’re another story.
In 1959, when Fidel Castro and his army of rebels took control of Cuba, imports of foreign cars and parts, particularly of the American variety, were banned. A small island nation with no manufacturing plants, the Cuban people were left with the cars already there and their imaginations.
In a true testament to the ingenuity of humans, they’ve kept these classic ‘50s cars up and running, in most cases, for more than 60 years. Triple Powers, a friend of the blog and student at Eckerd College, recently spent two weeks in the country, and brought back a gallery of photos and more than a few stories to share.
“Basically, the older US engines are going to fail after 50 years, so they grab newer engines from newer Russian models or other cars, and put them into the body of these old American models,” he described, mentioning that most of the classic cars in good condition are used as privately owned taxis.
Powers also noted that he saw a decent number of more recent models from foreign manufacturers as well. “There’s a lot of modern cars there too, a lot of Toyotas and lots of Ladas.”
There has been speculation, should automotive imports and exports be allowed between the United States and Cuba, that these rare vintage cars might draw high prices from the classic car community. However, with engines that have been Macgyvered together for 60+ years, there are many doubts that their only value is an historic one.
Automotive Spy Photographer Brenda Priddy has visited Cuba on more than one trip, and feels that history is the driving factor behind the value for collectors and museums.
“These cars have been kept running for the last 50 to 60 years with homemade parts, layers of paint and lots of passion,” she told us. “There is not much monetary value to these, but possibly – a historical value for a few museums.
Be sure to flip through the gallery to check out some of these Cuban Frankencars in the gallery below, and let us know in the comments whether you think style or history holds more value for these cars.
(Photos by Triple Powers)