Car enthusiasts ponder future for Cuba’s vintage classics

HAVANA, May 13 (By Alasdair Sandford)  They are iconic symbols of Cuba like cigars and rum: pre-revolution 1950s American classic cars.

But the Cadillacs, Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles are not nostalgic collectors’ items on the island; they are necessities for Cubans who have no modern alternatives – and breakdowns are frequent.

Maintenance can be a nightmare for workshops such as “Nostalgicar” in Havana; spare parts have to be smuggled out of the US and are increasingly hard to find.

The thaw in American-Cuban relations has focused thoughts on the future, should trade barriers come down.

“What could happen in Cuba in my opinion is that modern cars will quickly follow in our streets, but there will still be a niche market for classic cars,” said Nostalgicar’s manager Julio Alvares.

Cuba of course faces questions that go beyond
the fate of the old vehicles, whose elegance has been noted by many an awestruck visitor, but which have been described as “a legacy of the country’s isolation”.

Asked whether he is optimistic for the future, Alvares paused lengthily and answered cautiously: “I do believe in the changes that are taking place in Cuba.”

The garage owner also said he hoped Cuba would become a land of real opportunities with a functioning market economy.

As for the cars, despite their glossy external appearance, some commentators warn that after years of Heath Robinson repairs involving little more than paint and sticking plaster, many are more fit for the scrap-heap than the auction house.

Euronews’ correspondent in Havana Stefan Grobe said:
“The old Eisenhower cruisers are a colourful reminder of Cuba being stuck in the past. Fascinating for tourists, but a hassle for Cubans. Many here would love to see them disappear – if Cuba were to embrace the 21st century.”