If you’re a fan of salsa music, mojitos, or fine cigars, you owe a debt of gratitude to the island nation of Cuba, which has been isolated from much of the outside world, and its northern neighbor, the United States, for nearly six decades due to a trade embargo following the ascent of communist revolutionary Fidel Castro to power. But the result of that isolation is a vibrant car culture that preserves and venerates American classics in its own unique style, through hardscrabble resourcefulness, adaptation, and hand-craftsmanship.
New at the time, many of the cars have survived more than six decades, and through clever adaptation and ingenuity, have been kept running by their owners. Replacement parts are very hard to come by, due to the ongoing trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba, with many parts either being imported by black market means, or trans-shipping through an intermediate nation that has trade relations with Cuba. The parts that can’t be imported are painstakingly reverse-engineered and hand-crafted, or substituted with more readily-available parts on the island.
A common substitution on the old 1950s era cars on the island are diesel engines for the old straight-six or V-8 engines originally in the cars, due to diesel’s lower cost on the island, and the better fuel efficiency of the engines.
Motor Trend’s Carlos Lago, with family ties to the island nation, and Arthur St. Antoine, an aficionado of the works of Ernest Hemingway, as well as fine Cuban cigars, spend a week in the forbidden paradise exploring the classic car culture of Cuba, borne as much from necessity as passion, and come to appreciate the rustic charm and unhurried pace of the island. Watch their Caribbean adventure below! Check out Epic Drives every fourth Friday on the Motor Trend Channel.