10 Classic American Cars You Will See on a Trip to Cuba

HAVANA, CUBA - FEBRUARY 28: Vintage American automobiles are seen on the street as their owners wait for tourists wanting a ride a day after the second round of diplomatic talks between the United States and Cuban officials took place in Washington, DC on February 28, 2015 in Havana, Cuba. The dialogue is an effort to restore full diplomatic relations and move toward opening trade.
The old American cars of Cuba are a marvel and a lesson in the same package | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

My baby’s my common sense,
So don’t feed me
Planned obsolescence

— from The White Stripes’ “The Big Three Killed My Baby”

Planned obsolescence never learned the Cuban way of speaking Spanish. Nearly 60 years after Fidel Castro overthrew the government and ended Cuba’s capitalist system, the epic American cars of the 1950s still roll down Havana streets.

How is such a thing possible? Considering U.S.-sourced parts were banned from Cuba since 1959, it had to be a combination of crafty mechanics, body shop wizards, and feats of improvisation. But we’ll leave that story for another day. Here, we just want to celebrate the massive, colorful cruisers you could see on a trip to La Habana. Since many operate as taxis for tourists, anyone can get inside one for a small price.

Here are 10 classic American cars you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Cuba. Note: Because the grilles and other details changed over the course of 60 years, take the calls on make and model year as our best guess.

1. Buick Roadmaster

Picture taken 06 May 2004 downtown Havana of a 1950's Buick, an American classic car. Cars are probably the most valuable luxury items in Cuba, not to mention a necessity for some, and the skills and resources necessary to maintain a car not only provides the best job, but having such skills considered a well-kept secret, passed down from father to son through the generations. The Cubans consider the family car, and its clean-running engine, like a Wedding Car Frenchman or Californian thinks of his vineyard. Up until The Revolution in 1960, Cuba was the largest importer of American Cars.
Several Buick models, including Super and Roadmaster, were popular in Cuba before the revolution | Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Many 1950s Buicks still patrol Havana, with Super, Special, and Roadmaster leading the pack. The pictured model, a Roadmaster most likely manufactured for the 1953 model year, maintained its gorgeous exterior over five decades into its life. There is no telling what it looks like under the hood, but as of 2004 the body was in excellent shape.

2. Ford Fairlane

Tourists travel in a taxi, on January 8, 2014 in Havana. Taxi drivers in Cuba, who until now have been government employees, are to become self-employed workers, the latest in a raft of economic reforms on the Communist island. State-run media reported on Wednesday that the government was making the change with the goal of improving the island's slow and unreliable livery service. It also hopes to pare down the bloated government payroll on this island of some 11.1 million people.
This 1957 Ford Fairlane convertible shuttles tourists around the island | Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

Ford Fairlanes from the mid-1950s are quite common in Cuba. This model, which is pegged as a 1957, sported many of the original details when the photo was taken in 2014. You’ll also see many models from 1956 as well as Customline, Sunliner, and Crown Victoria from the mid ’50s in Havana.

3. Chevrolet Deluxe

Men fish at Havana's Malecon a day before Pope Francis' arrival in Cuba on September 18, 2015.
Men fish at Havana’s Malecon a day before Pope Francis’ arrival in Cuba on September 18, 2015 | Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Classic Chevys rule in Havana to this day. Tourists can ride in an Impala, a 210, a Bel Air, or a Deluxe like the one pictured. This model appears to be a 1952 (possibly 1954) that lost some of the original chrome from the back wheel and the section behind the front wheel. As of 2015, this car still ran tourists around the city, marking its sixth decade in operation.

4. Cadillac Eldorado

Tourists from the United States sit on an old car in Havana, on April 6, 2015. With sanctions easing, Cuba is bracing for what could be a surge in visitors that could overwhelm its small tourism industry. Americans are starting to discover Cuba, though from them, travel to the island remains limited for now to persons with Cuban relatives or those visiting in a handful of categories such as for academic, sport, religious or cultural purposes. Washington and Havana have been moving toward normalizing relations after more than 50 years of US economic sanctions and are in talks on reopening embassies.
Many 1950s Cadillac convertibles shuttle tourists around Havana | YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images

Cadillacs from the 1950s remain a symbol of excess, and they don’t get much more excessive than a late ’50s Eldorado with fins in hot pink. Three people can stretch their legs out, punch their lunch on the counter, and throw down backpacks in the back seat of this ride. If you did nothing else in Cuba, riding around old Havana in one of these would be worth the trip.

5. Ford Edsel

A Cuban just married couple ride in a Ford Edsel 58 near the waterfront in Havana, on February 23, 2008. Cuba's National Assembly was to select Sunday a successor to Fidel Castro, likely his brother Raul Castro, extending the Americas' only communist one-party regime in defiance of US-led calls for political opening. Fidel Castro lashed out at Western appeals for democracy in the days leading up to the vote, which will trigger some readjustments in the political chessboard even as the transition bears the exiting leader's imprint. Saturday, Fidel Castro wrote in another editorial that he was eagerly awaiting the "transcendental decision" of the National Assembly, and took a potshot at the US-based Organization of American States which does not allow Cuba to be a member due to its lack of democracy.
A Cuban just married couple in a Ford Edsel 58 | Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images

While the Ford Edsel is considered one of the great automotive flops of all time, the convertibles you see in Havana certainly look impressive six decades later. Edsel survived only three model years (1958–60), but this red ’58 Pacer remained in excellent condition for its 50th anniversary year (2008). We can think of worse cars to get us to the church on time.

6. Chevrolet Bel Air

A tourist leans by a taxi in front of a portrait of Pope Francis marking his visit to Cuba, in a street of Havana on September 17, 2015. The pope is visiting Cuba from September 19 to 22, the first stop on a trip that also will take him to the United States. In Cuba, he will visit Havana, the northeastern city of Holguin and Santiago de Cuba on the southeastern end of the island.
Among all the classic cars of Cuba, the Chevrolet Bel Air may be the most common | Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

You won’t hunt forever if you want to ride in a classic Chevy Bel Air. This pink convertible model, which we believe is a 1953, lost some chrome details from the back wheel but otherwise remained in great shape when the photo was snapped in 2015.

7. Mercury Monterrey

Tourist take a ride in a fully restored Mercury along the coast in Havana on March 18, 2013. Luxury is slowly reappearing in Cuban society after half a century of egalitarianism and austerity, brought upon by the economic reforms of Cuban President Raul Castro.
Mercury Monterey Adalberto Roque/AFP/Getty Images

The Mercury Monterey debuted in the U.S. for the 1952 model year, and that premiere edition made its way to Havana. When the photojournalist filed this shot in 2013, at least one original Monterey convertible still made the rounds as a taxi for tourists.

8. Buick Super

An American classic car drives along Havana's waterfront, on March 19, 2016. Political and economic reforms in Cuba will be a no-go area during talks between Cuban leader Raul Castro and US President Barack Obama, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said Thursday. Obama will be on Sunday the first sitting US president to visit Cuba since 1928, capping his historic policy of ending a bitter standoff that has endured since Fidel Castro's overthrow of the US-backed government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Classic Buick models continue making runs in Havana | Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Images

When you think of big American cars of the 1950s, you’re probably thinking of something like a Buick Super sedan. This model, likely manufactured as the 1953 edition, lost some chrome on the driver’s side but kept its menacing fascia details.

9. Oldsmobile 88

A private taxi (Oldsmobile Super 88, circa 1958) drives along a street on
Oldsmobile’s signature 88 remains a Havana stalwart | Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

You can probably see models from every year of the Oldsmobile 88’s first decade (1949–59) in Havana. Some convertibles are in pristine condition, but we thought we’d showcase an example of a 1958 model that survived in less glamorous form. You see chrome details missing from the sides, but that unique grille and fascia mark it as a ’58.

10. Ford Super Deluxe

TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Rigoberto Diaz People drive cars along the streets of Havana, on January 11, 2016. A third of the cars riding in Cuba do so with mechanical failures and on destroyed roads.
Some American cars in Havana date back to the 1940s | Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re a fan of 1940s American classics, Havana has some of them, too. This Ford Super Deluxe (ca. 1947) is one intriguing example. Note the three riders up front in this vehicle that dates back seven decades. As of 2016, this car still made the rounds in Cuba.