50s cars

Vintage Appeal: The History of 50s Cars in Havana, Cuba

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If you want to take a stroll back in time, you need look no further than Havana.

Sitting quaintly to the south of Key West, this Cuban city is one of the nation’s greatest jewels . . . and every car lover’s greatest dream.

Do you love 50s cars? If so, add Havana to your bucket list and start planning today. This is one vacation you won’t forget.

History of Havana

Nestled on Cuba’s north coast, Havana’s antiquity has charmed visitors for centuries.

The city was once a popular vacation spot, especially for Americans. However, once Fidel Castro took office, Havana’s beauty was left to sit. Castro’s socialist movements redirected efforts elsewhere, and the city’s once lustrous streets were neglected.

Havana survived the regime until the city was restored in the 1980s. The results created stunning colonial-esque architecture that complements the Cuban culture–all set in an ideal climate with it’s coldest months still averaging about 70 Fahrenheit.

Today, it exists as one of the “great treasuries of historic colonial preserves in the Western Hemisphere,” leading to its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.

Where Did the 50s Cars Come From?

If you travel to Havana, you’ll be awed by the sheer volume of vintage classics. You’ll see drivers climbing out of Ford Fairline and Plymouths without a second thought.

But where, you’re probably wondering, did these vehicles come from and how are they still there today?

The Early Years

From the 1920s to the 1950s, Havana was a playground for the rich and famous. Under Gerardo Machado’s presidency, tourism and the sugar industry propelled some Cubans to greater heights.

In the 1950s, wealthy Americans found Cuba to be their ideal spot for vacation getaways. They traveled to Cuba en masse, bringing their cars–shiny new 1955 Chevy Bel Airs, sparkling Buick Roadmasters and more–with them.

During this period, Cuba imported more North American cars than any other country.


Unfortunately, the lavish lifestyle did not extend to all citizens; poverty ran rampant and rumors of political corruption spread, inspiring a revolution in the late 1950s.

Fidel Castro rose to power. His communist beliefs, anti-American perceptions, and friendliness with the then-Soviet Union caused the US to sever ties with the country.

Shortly after rising to power, Castro banned all North American imported cars and implemented regulations that prohibited owners from selling their imported vehicles.

With few other options for travel, Cubans were forced to maintain their 1950s cars. Thus, tens of thousands of vintage vehicles continue to bustle down Cuba’s roads today.

Why You Should Visit Now

For any car enthusiast, understanding why vacationers would want to visit Havana might seem like a no-brainer. After all, many of the models you’ll come across are worth quite a penny back in America.

Yet Havana offers even more than a walk through time, and–much to many hopeful tourists’ chagrin–this era may soon be coming to an end.

1. The 50s Cars Might Disappear

In 2013, the over half-a-decade ban on imported cars was lifted. The change was due in large part to Fidel Castro’s brother, President Raul Castro, who took office after Fidel Castro stepped down.

Although the changes are occurring slowly, the first American vehicle was offered to the public in 2016. It purportedly took years of negotiation.

Many speculate the new law will mean an end to the 1950s-era cars tourists love to see so much. In fact, photographers are racing to the island to record Havana as it exists now.

2. Tour the City in a Vintage Car

It would be foolish to visit Havana without fully immersing yourself in its seemingly frozen time period.

Slide into the back of your favorite classic and let a tour guide take you around the city, showing you the sights only Cubans know and escorting you to your destinations. You get to sit back and relax in a car most Americans would never be able to touch.

Bragging rights? You bet.

3. Admire Ingenuity

If you happen to pop the hood on one of your favorite vintage automobiles, you’ll probably notice some things are a little . . . strange.

You’ll be met with a Frankenstein-like assembly of parts, all of which still miraculously manage to let the car run.

Although this may seem like a huge blow to car lovers, it’s important to embrace this part of the Havana experience. During Fidel Castro’s reign, owners were not permitted to purchase proper replacement parts for their vehicles.

As a result, drivers had to get creative.

The tangle of parts you see under that hood is the direct result of Cuban drivers who wanted to maintain their cars without breaking any rules.

And don’t worry–they are still safe.

4. See History at the Museum of the Revolution

Havana isn’t just for car lovers. It also offers several distinct pieces of history, many that may make Americans uncomfortable.

At the Museum of the Revolution, tourists learn about the original colonization of the island and the political corruption during President Fulgencio Batista’s reign. The museum also covers the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro’s rise to power and the Bay of Pigs.

These events are an integral part of the Cuban culture and a magnificent experience for Americans wishing to view the USA from a different perspective.

5. Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen

In your downtime, settle onto a warm beach with the azure ocean spread out in front of you. One of the best things about Havana is that tourists don’t have to travel far to enjoy these picturesque beaches; Playas del Este is within 30 minutes of Havana.

You won’t regret dipping your toes into the crystal clear water, and when you’re ready to travel back in time yet again, Havana is there waiting.

Are You Ready, Time Traveler?

Havana is brimming with places to visit, things to do and cars to see. But if you truly want to experience everything Havana has to offer, you’ll need a knowledgeable tour guide.

And, chances are, you’ll want to have a tour in style.

VC Tours offers private escapades for visitors. And your dreams have come true: those tours can come complete with the 50s cars you’ve always dreamed of riding in.

It’s time to make that dream a reality. Book your tour today and enjoy all the beauty, history and culture Havana offers.

Sit back and watch as time slips away.