Cuba’s Classic Cars: So Much More than Postcard Fodder

Panning shot of white classic car in Havana, Cuba

I had to mull this post over.

I asked myself: was a photo-essay showcasing the sexy (and perhaps not so sexy) classic cars that I saw while on my photo tour in Cuba too cliché?

My conclusion: Probably, but what the hell.

I’m not a car person. As far as I am concerned, they’re just a mode of transportation; a means to an end. Yet on my trip, I found myself drawn to the colorful silhouettes and sensual curves that were zooming around Havana at lightning speed. (I’m not kidding, lightning. They drive crazy there.)

Red classic car in Havana, Cuba

I realized that in addition to being incredibly photogenic, the cars represented far more than an iconic promo for holidays in Havana, they are a metaphor for the Cuban people: Colorful. Stylish. Resilient. And Vibrant, in both heart and spirit.

Cuba’s fleet of classics is a source of pride and accomplishment and a symbol of resourcefulness. Every day, I photographed Cuba’s citizenry tinkering with their wheels on side streets and along the avenues, modifying spare parts that weren’t meant for cars. The island is populated by a sea of McGyver’s working miracles with bits of steel, rubber, and wire.

So cliché be damned. They’re worth a salute.

I bring you Cuba’s Classic cars!

Early morning shot of red classic car in Havana. Cuba

Just before sunrise in Havana Central.

Turquoise classic car in Havana, Cuba

Stopping for a light near the capital building.

Red classic car in Havana, Cuba

I saw this bouquet on the street in Havana Central but it was the hotrod behind it that really grabbed my attention.

Red classic car with sexy hood ornament in Havana, Cuba

A little worse for wear, but just looking at this car you know it must have been stunning in its day.

Red classic car with sexy hood ornament in Havana, Cuba

I love this sexy wooden hood ornament. Just gorgeous.

Steering wheel of red classic car in Havana, Cuba
A peek inside the interior.
Front seats of red classic car in Havana, Cuba

Another perspective.

Colorful classic cars in Havana, Cuba

View from the roof of the Parqué Central hotel.

Black and red classic car in Havana, Cuba

I saw a lot of this walking around town. Parts of people jutting out from their cars as they worked on them.

Black and red classic car in Havana, Cuba

How cool is this baby? It was parked in what looked to be a bombed out lot.

Green classic car in Havana, Cuba

A green machine in Old Havana.

Blue classic car driving in Havana, Cuba

One of the main drags in Central Havana.

Beat up classic car driving in Havana, Cuba

This man has a lot of work ahead of him.

Man working on a beat up classic car driving in Havana, Cuba

This poor guy just couldn’t get his car started, so….

Man working on a beat up classic car driving in Havana, Cuba

He asked another guy with a truck to pull it with a rope (see it on the lower left of this image) and then he revved the engine.

Steering wheel inside a beat up classic car driving in Havana, Cuba

A glimpse of the inner workings.

Blue classic car with sexy hood ornament in Havana, Cuba

I loved this hood ornament.. snazzy!

Line up of colorful parked classic cars in Havana, Cuba

A park in Central Havana where a lot of taxi drivers hang out in the a.m., their cars all lined up in a row.

Red classic car in Havana, Cuba as seen through a rainy window

I loved the way this classic car looked through the rain and a bus window.

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cuba's classic cars

~I took these photos while an invited guest of the Santa Fe Photographic Workshop: Seeing Cuba: Discovering the Culture and People of Cuba

117 thoughts on “Cuba’s Classic Cars: So Much More than Postcard Fodder

  1. sphericalinsight says:

    Your perspective is brilliant. Your work here strongly corroborates the point that silence speaks. Photos are mere a still unlike the motion pictures photos are open to individual interpretation and learning.

    So, absolutely brilliant and yes indeed the thirst for all of this is Insatiable

  2. thatstupidfashionblog says:

    I’ve always dreamed of visiting Cuba just for the collection of incredible cars! I am a car person thanks to my dad dragging me to car shows when i was younger. I dream of owning an early 50s Chevy. Or anything from that era! Thanks for sharing!!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      What I loved was that the experience was real, not some major car show. The cars were held together by band aids but absolutely amazing. While I’m sure they’d love to have access to newer models, I’ll be bummed when the time comes that they give up those old gems. Glad you liked the post. Please share if you think friends or family will enjoy. Have a great weekend. 🙂

  3. dinkgo says:

    Just found your lovely blog! It is fantastic that the cars still exist so documenting them is by no means a cliché! We hope to visit soon, too.

  4. Paolo says:

    At the beginning of March, I was in Cuba for ten days. We moved across the island with four taxis of the 50s. It was the best way to live the true essence of the island.
    This reportage is gorgeous. I would like to go back to Havana to make more photos.

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  6. awtytravels says:

    Ha, loved how some of those classic cars have 1990s/early noughties steering wheels. Mind you, it smacks of desperation to be resorting to use a Peugeot steering wheel for your car but, hey, better that than no wheel!

    I’m more a Russian car fan but I really liked your shots and the views of Old Havana, Susan. Some remarkably beautiful buildings there.


  7. mermaidsjuju says:

    I love this post. I would love to go to Cuba one day. The old cars are really attractive and I am not really into cars. Bucket list item for sure. ‘visit Cuba’ 🙂

  8. martisempreavanti says:

    beautiful pics 😀 and Cuba looks … just wow! hope to go there one day, amazing…and do you know that in Cuba Fiat126p is a quite popular car (like in Poland long time ago) and they call it ‘polaquito” 😀

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    • Susan Portnoy says:

      It’s really not that different from what I hear. It’s been open to the rest of the world all this time. There’s only been small incremental changes from what I hear from the Cubans.

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    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Aren’t they amazing. It’s a surreal experience to see them tooling around Havana and know it’s not some vintage drag race but real life. Glad you like the post. Thank you very much for letting me know!

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  15. WhoWouldaThunk says:

    I absolutely love your blog! I am a car enthusiast, I attend the Iola Car Show every year in Iola, Wisconsin. Reading this blog about Havana is breathtaking you made all the pictures make it seem like I was there on how realistic it is! The use of the cars too is truly authentic. Awesome post, I will be following you!

    • Susan Portnoy says:

      Yes. The country was frozen in time in many respects in the 50’s when US relations ended with Cuba. We didn’t ship any more cars there. Only Russia and a few other countries, but our sanctions kept most automotive companies at bay. The cars have been kept going out of pride and practicality. Individuals don’t have the resources to buy a fleet of new cars, so they make due with what they have. It’s not a tourist act, though many Cubans make money by using their well kept vehicles as Taxis for travelers. The use of the cars is truly authentic, whereas everywhere else it’s a nod to nostalgia and collectors.

  16. De Coninck Sven says:

    Did you tried to car pool ? Because it suposed to be quite common over there. my preference is the red car with the wooden hood ornament.

  17. Robin S. Kent says:

    Great portfolio, Susan. One of the charming aspects of these cars is how their owners have transformed them over the years into a kind of “mixed breed.” A car that orginally was a Buick might now have a Cadillac rear fender, an Oldsmobile tailight, a Peugeot steering wheel, a Pontiac hood ornament, etc. In essence, each is “one of a kind.”

  18. Dave McCorquodale says:

    Fabulous shots! These old cars are a Transportation life line for the everyday Cuba and many of them are “Cuban Taxi”s” with an extra set of seats in them to get in a many people as comfortably possible! A Bus Service of sorts if you will 🙂

  19. Laura (PA Pict) says:

    I’m pretty clueless about cars but I appreciate the aesthetics of good design even in vehicles. You also brought back memories – fond ones actually – of being dragged to vintage car fairs by my Dad. All the images are wonderful and fascinating. Of the selection, I’m drawn to the portraits of cars that have really worn paintwork. They are characterful because they are battered.

  20. Patricia Pomerleau says:

    very nice susan. your motion blur africa experience set you up perfectly for havana cars! love what you captured!

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