For fans of classic US Cars of the 1940’s and 50’s the Island of Cuba is the obvious location for their classic road trip. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the majority of the wealthy elite fled to the USA leaving behind their gleaming Cadillacs, Buicks and Studebakers. Incredibly and with no little ingenuity, the current owners of these vehicles from a by-gone age, somehow manage to keep them working and they are a common site negotiating the pot holed roads of the Island.
In the 60’s and 70’s, the only vehicles imported to Cuba were Russian Moskviches and Ladas. These models also now feature in the virtual automobile museum which is Cuba’s road system.
I first visited Cuba in 1998 and explored the Island by bus. One humid afternoon, myself and a dozen other passengers slumped on a scrubby grass bank as we waited for the waters of a flooded river to subside enough for us to cross a rickety bridge.As we waited,we heard a vehicle rumbling along the road and turned to see a shiny classic car -a black 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible, approaching. I expected to see a well off, middle aged Cuban behind the wheel, or even the ghost of a post- prohibition American gangster , not two twenty something Englishmen.
They’d managed to locate someone in Havana that who was prepared to allow self drive rental of their classic car, and had taken off on a month long , time travelling adventure across the country. As we waited by the still fast flowing river, they regaled me with tales of numerous breakdowns, scary river crossings, entertaining hitch hikers, terrible food, police bribes and nights dancing in small town bars with locals eager for a ride home in a classic car.
It sounded like a marvellous adventure and one I’d love to recreate. Unfortunately there seems to be no ‘official’ opportunity currently to rent an old US classic car or a 70’s Russian Model and drive it yourself. There are a number of companies, such as the one below, who can arrange for a hired driver to transport you around the country in a classic car, but no one seems able to arrange self drive.
I’ve contacted numerous companies and the following was a typical reply –” The cars are 60 year old ladies. They need special love and attention, and the owners aren’t willing to risk a stranger mis-treating them on our bumpy roads”. I’m still making enquiries and will update if I find a contact who’s willing to rent a classic car.
At present it sounds to me that the best option is to rent a classic car with driver, and maybe ask him whether he’d be willing for you to take the wheel while he’s present. Alternatively, make some enquiries in Havana- I’m told there are locals who are willing to allow a foreigner to ‘borrow’ their car for a fee, but make sure you have the necessary paperwork in case you’re stopped by the police. To make some enquiries, a good place to start would be with the Escuderías de Autos Históricos in Havana. These are organisations of classic car enthusiasts who meet to exhibit their vehicles and display their driving skills. “La Macorina” club meet near the Comodoro Hotel, and the Club del Automóvil de La Habana meet near the Melia Cohiba Hotel. Maybe ask the concierge at the hotel when the next meeting is and you’re sure to find some local drivers who may be ‘in the know’ on possibilities of renting a classic car to drive yourself in Cuba.
Although I try and keep the information in the site updated as much as possible, in a rapidly moving world, situations can change daily. Therefore please use the site as an approximate guide, and in conjunction with other resources in order to form your view on driving conditions, roads, safety etc.