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Cuban Classics: What will the normalization mean to these gems?

Written by Nicole James

Due to an embargo that began nearly 50 years ago, Cuba is home to 60,000 plus American Classic Cars. With the exchange of prisoners today as part of a deal to expand trade, increase travel, and normalize relations between the two countries, many classic car enthusiasts, like Roger Falcione, the CEO of, are viewing the shifting change of the American-Cuban relationship as potentially one of the biggest ‘barn finds’ ever.

While Cuba currently ranks 134th in the world in vehicles per capita, approximately 138 vehicles per 1000 residents, the island has become emblematic for American classics over the past 50 years. Following the Cuban revolution, the US stopped all auto exports to Cuba, the leader at the time, Fidel Castro, famously declared “We need tractors, not Cadillac’s!” This caused Cuban mechanics to find new innovative ways of maintaining these classics by doing things such as swapping out those American made V8’s for Soviet Diesel Engines.

What can enthusiasts expect to see out of Cuba? It is unclear how many of the classics have been severely tampered with, however according to Falcione there will be some that are pristine enough that they would still be worth quite a bit to collectors.

A good example of this is the 1955 Chrysler New Yorker that was found in 2011. Ernest Hemingway was notoriously known to winter in Cuba for more than a decade. In 1955 he traded in his 1947 Buick Roadmaster for a beautiful two-toned New Yorker. After the Revolution, Hemingway fled the county leaving his driver and the car in Cuba. His driver, Augustín Nuñez Gutiérrez hid the car. The location remained a mystery until it was found in 2011 in a nearly unrecognizable state.

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for told USA today “There certainly is pent-up demand for modern cars. Anyone who has been to Cuba can attest that in terms of cars, time stood still. Beat-up Classics from the 50s and 60s are on the streets but Cubans can’t afford todays cars until their economy is revived.”

Approximately three years ago Cuba began allowing foreign automakers to import into Cuba; however the US trade restrictions have stayed the same. Earlier this year in January a new law took effect for Cubans that eliminated a special permit requirement that has greatly restricted vehicle ownership in the country. As the law took effect, Cubans found a huge markup on vehicles. Cubans found a new Kia Rio hatchback that starts at $13,600 in the United States sells for $42,000 in Cuba, while a Peugeot 508 family car, the most luxurious of which lists for the equivalent of about $53,000 in the U.K., will set Cubans back $262,000.

While most Cubans have not been able to afford the mark ups on the newer cars, the new relationship with the US could provide a new market for American used cars while Classic Car enthusiasts will be eager to see the cars Cuba has kept tucked away for the past 50 years.

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