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This Mercury trolling the streets of Havana looks like a white canvas for the Kustom King to ply his talents on top-chopping and lowering.

Automoblog Book Garage: Cuba’s Car Culture

Book Garage

Imagine walking down the street and the newest car was a decade old. Even your own vehicle would be that old at least. Now, that’s not to hammer on your trusty pickup that continues to rack up the miles, but imagine an automotive world where nothing was ever current.

In the Republic of Cuba, this is life; an automotive universe frozen in time, where the newest vehicle around is from the late 1950s.

Boom Town

For generations, Cuba thrived with American influence, partly from its close proximity to Florida. Following World War II, Cuba was an automotive diamond, with more citizens purchasing vehicles than any other Latin American country. With a strong middle class, influential labor unions, and solid trade, many Cubans enjoyed a lifestyle comparable to the United States.

However, when Cuba emerged in 1959 at the end of the Cuban Revolution, the dynamics changed. The rise of Communism brought about a trade embargo, forcing Cuba’s car culture to get remarkably creative. Owners had to figure out how to keep their vehicles running without replacement parts. Even recreational and competitive Motorsports became an exercise in ingenuity with the rise of drag racing.

History Alive

Cuba’s Car Culture: Celebrating the Island’s Automotive Love Affair documents Cuba’s pre-Castro car days and racing history. The book examines today’s lost collector cars, street racing, and the challenges of keeping a decades-old car running. Chevy Bel-Airs, Ford Fairlanes, Studebakers, and Soviet Ladas decorate the pages, showing Cuba’s automotive landscape is both unique and endearing in its survival.  

Authorship & Photography

For the past 30 years, Tom Cotter has worked on nearly every end of the car business: mechanic, sales, public relations, marketing executive, auto racing authority, historian, racer, collector, restorer, journalist, and author. He has written for the New York Times and Road & Track.

Cotter is joined by Bill Warner, Founder of the Amelia Island Concours and President of H. C. Warner, Inc., an industrial filtration company. He also owns and operates Bill Warner Racing. Warner won the 2002 Meguiar’s Award for Collector Car Hobby Person of the Year.

Cuba’s Car Culture: Celebrating the Island’s Automotive Love Affair will be available starting October 1st through Amazon and Motorbooks.

Cuba’s Car Culture Gallery

Last weekend in the Automoblog Book Garage, we featured the Shelby Mustang.

  1. This article has the look of the past! Yes, many cars in Cuba date from before the revolution in 1959, but it is false to say there are not modern cars. Lots of cars, buses and trucks from all over the world as anybdy who goes there or even just Googles Cuba today can see. Yes, the proportion of old American cars is special and the government, like other developing countries has prioritized social services over consumer goods. But this article contains other old propaganda. The Embargo didn’t just happen. The US government imposed it in order to force out the socialist government by trying to literally starve Cuba. It forced Cuba to turn to the USSR for resources and more recently Venezuela. It is also an old propaganda claim that Cuba was more prosperous before the revolution. Only the upper classes and foreign companies and the Mafia were well off. The average Cuba was as poor as most throughout Latin America. The revolution got rid of illiteracy, provided universal health care for the first time and built houses mostly in the poorer areas. Then the US attacked militarily, committed widespread sabotage and assassinations. Nonetheless, Cuba survived and remains independent. This article is not an accurate portrayal of Cuba past or today.

  2. I met Bill Warner in front of the Hotel Parque Central in La Habana over a year ago. He has a great story about an old gull-winged Mercedes he pursued for a decade. We had a real nice conversation. Jack Bell, Winter Park, FL

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