Motorbiscuit’s Freak Show Friday: Cuban Escape Vehicles

Mostly, Freak Show Friday is about laughing at some of the crazy contraptions builders make from cars. Actually, it’s all that it is about. But not this week. We have some of the most ingenious creations ever this week. They are all fashioned in Cuba, in secret, from the bleakest circumstances, in an effort to flee to the US. These are real, actual Cuban escape vehicles.

To honor these brave builders and those who choose to make the approximately 100-mile journey to freedom we’ll show you their craft. The craft of crafting a boat from a car or truck. And the craft itself. 

A propeller is usually attached to the driveshaft. If they make it within the coastal waters of Key West many times they are intercepted by the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, if that happens they are returned to Cuba and the car boats are sunk. Some never make it that far, but a few have fulfilled their dreams with extraordinary efforts. If they do make it to land, they are usually allowed to stay.

Cuban Escape Vehicle #1

This is the first of two crafts this Cuban builder fashioned from cars. Or in this case a 1949-53 Chevy flatbed truck. For you geeks we know it’s not a 1948 truck because it has vent windows. And we also know it’s not a 1954 truck because it has a split windshield.

Beyond that, this era of Chevy truck is pretty much the same from one year to the next. These escapees were stopped by the Coast Guard and returned to Cuba. They had been in the water for 31 hours. But the builder was persistent.

Cuban Escape Vehicle #2

The same builder of the green truck built this 1959 Buick Invicta. Look at that flat roof! These were the fancy four-door hardtops. The lesser versions had a six-window hardtop. What we love about this “conversion” is the boat prow attached to the front of the Buick. Obviously, it helps slice through the water. There were nine passengers including five children.

These types of vessels have been clocked around eight miles per hour. So a successful escape takes half of a day if the Cubans are lucky. Again, some never make it and are never found. This time they made it. 

Believe it or not, the builder got a job at a Chevy dealership in Miami and the owner asked him to recreate the Chevy flatbed escape truck. He did, which we have here. The word is that he built the original in six hours but we question that. At any rate, while the original was sunk a replica exists to honor all escapee’s efforts. It is currently in the Orlando Auto Museum. 

Cuban Escape Vehicle #3

Originally, this was a 1946 Mercury that was custom-built into a coach for hauling people to and from fancy hotels. The process was similar to making limousines. The racks on top of the car were for strapping down luggage. 


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

This one utilizes the same type of removable bow as the 1959 Buick. That’s because it was fashioned by another of the Cubans that were on the Chevy escape truck. Once these coaches got older these conversions usually were put into service as taxi cabs. We don’t know the fate of this carload of 13 people.