GearHead members, Gary & Bonnie Andersen, traveled to Cuba recently on a "People to People" tour that lasted eight days.
Gary's story: In 2011 the U.S. government began to offer limited visas and travel to Cuba for "cultural people to people tours". We were with a group of 29 and stayed three nights in Trinidad and four nights in Havana. We had a chance to talk with many locals and visited historical sights as well as a cigar factory (we were not allowed to bring back any cigars), a health clinic, a retirement home, an artists home, art museum, botanical gardens, a sugar cane plantation and even had lessons in salsa dancing.
On top of all of this, I saw the biggest outdoor car museum I have ever seen. I had heard about all the 1950's American cars there and really was expecting to see a few of them serving as taxi's but they were literally all over the country! It seemed that one in five cars was an American classic or as they call them there "Yank Tanks". The embargo of any commerce between the US and Cuba has been in effect for over 50 years now. The newest American car I saw was a 1960 Chevy. There were many many 1953 and 54 Chevy's but the classics covered the spectrum of GM, Ford and Chrysler cars, even a Packard or two. The Cubans treasure their "Yank Tanks". While many are taxi's the majority are just family cars.
Since they can hardly get or afford original or even after market parts, they have had to rely on whatever they can to keep them running. Most have been converted to Mitsubishi diesel engines and either Mitsubishi or Russian transmissions and Chinese brakes. Diesel is more expensive than gas at the pump however there seems to be an abundance of cheaper diesel available on the black market, hence the conversion to diesel. While I never saw anything like a quality restoration, you have to give them credit for keeping them running any way they can.
On our last night in Havana, we had twelve "Yank Tank" convertible taxi's lined up to take us from our hotel to a great restaurant in Havana. We "cruised" the streets of Havana and people were hanging out of their second and third story windows waving to us and giving the thumbs up! My wife and I were in a hot pink 1951 Ford convertible. What a ride! It was a wonderful trip and I would recommend it to anyone.
Check out the photos below.
Gary & Bonnie
Can you spell Bondo?