Classic 50’s American Barges: Cuba’s Next Export?

As reported by NPR, times may be changing for the mid-Century classic American cars that still make up a significant part of the Cuban fleet, and a huge part of modern Cuban culture.

In a Caribbean micro-version of Perestroika, Cuba’s President, Raul Castro, is starting to allow more trade with the US, and many are speculating that it won’t be too long before American cars (imports of which have been banned since the 1959 revolution) may start coming ashore, to replace the ancient but revered old Detroit iron that still does its daily job on the communist island.

Though most of these geriatric dream ships are no longer “original” (since parts, too, are banned from importation), no amount of duct tape and baling wire under the bodies, lawn furniture in the cabins, and makeshift power under many hoods dims the enthusiasm for the definitional shapes of the Eisenhower era.

Because of Cuba’s stranglehold on commerce, Cubans have learned to be quite inventive, doing “whatever it takes” to keep these examples of capitalist excess on the roads, and sometimes still making black-market money in the tourist trade.

This, despite Detroit’s lackadaisical attitude toward gas prices in the era from which they come, when “Ethyl” was under .30 cents a gallon, and regular was in the low 20s.

If these vehicles found their way back home, it wouldn’t take long to get them back to near-original appearance (if that’s what anybody wanted to do – a “nearly” original car is just as valuable to a dedicated collector as a hot rod), or to fuel a whole new wave of “imported exotic” custom machines. (Imported from Cuba, that is. OK, “repatriated.”)

The most-important question for us, avoided by NPR, is whether any of these veteran sleds will ever become available for export to the US.

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