My baby’s my common sense,
So don’t feed me
— 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.