No collection of photos of Cuba would be complete without some of the classic cars for which the country is famous.
This car in Barrio Cayo Hueso seems part of the art of the place.
This part of Havana is a place of colour and music - and also a centre for the spiritualistic religion known as Santería – asreflected by the abundance of Abakuá plants which are used for initiations.
The paint or dye used by the artist was gathered from bits of this and that donated by people in the area.
We take for granted that we can get the things we need to be creative, but in Cuba such materials are beyond the reach of most people, if available at all.
They say that if you ever need anything fixed or need to get anything particular, ask a Cuban. They live in a world where creative solutions are a necessity, not a luxury – and your personal knowledge of who does what, can get what, can transport something, fix something … is as important as what you can do yourself.
Fixing cars is a specialty.
This classic Ford needed a collaborative diagnosis.
If people are not peering at the engine, they are underneath, examining the suspension…
It reminded me of what I learned during the restoration efforts of my brother:
on a 1929 straight 8 Studebaker (I painted all the nuts and bolts with silver frost!),
a fleet of Austin 7s of various models (including an Austin 7 Meteor that he memorably raced at Sydney’s Warwick Farm., where I remember seeing him coming backwards through the "S" bends. I later said how scared I was to see him travelling at such speed pointed in the wrong direction.
‘Not half as scared as me’ he replied, with a grin)
– and numerous other classic cars.
He taught me these great principles of car mechanics:
Tight is tight: Too tight is two pieces.
Don’t force it, get a bigger hammer…
..and the great saying of Carl Zwanzig:
Duct tape is like "The Force".
It has a light side, a dark side,
and it holds the universe together...
No matter where you go in Havana, these classic cars are part of the landscape, and they paint as vivid a flashback to other times as do the colours of the renovated buildings.
This car, with its roughly panel beaten doors is carefully stopped from rolling off while parked by cobblestones under the wheels.
These Clasicos are usually taxis
… but only for Cubans.
If you are riding and are stopped, you will be asked to produce your Carnet or ID Card – and without one will be thrown out. Foreigners are supposed to take the more modern vehicles. The driver will probably not have such an easy fate.
The locals are used to the collective ride, and the driver usually wants to cram as many people in as is possible.
When travelling with my Cuban friends, I said nothing and tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, enjoying the friendliness with which everyone was greeted as the rest squeezed even tighter together.
I loved the way my friends flagged down any vehicle travelling along……leaned in to ask where they were going, negotiated a deal and then this was repeated by others who piled in along the route, getting dropped as near as possible to their actual destination.
There are disorderly taxi ranks around the Habana Centro, with a constantly changing range of classic cars.
Classicos are to be seen all over Havana…
… or heading off to the beach.
This classic Mercedes was waiting for the wedding couple.
The car here has definitely weathered the passing of time better than the building around it.
But to own and care for a classic car in Havana - more so than for a more modern one– gives obvious pride.
…and apart from the normality of seeing such classic vehicles parked under the trees along the boulevards, or along the Prado, or surprising you as you turn a corner from the barrio…
…or just as a taxi in a rank from which the locals somehow know which to choose…
…it is when they are in the foreground of the baroque and neo-classical architecture of Havana that they seem to transport you to another time – a time when the city was the playground of the rich, and when there were even evening flights from Miami to Havana to gamble, party and fly back the next morning.
With limited services and parts at a premium, Cubans are gifted mechanics and it is improvisation that keeps these classics running.
Our grandparents told us:
Necessity is the Mother of Invention.
...and Albert Einstein said:
Imagination is more important than knowledge.
The fact that these cars are driving around Cuba – where there are no spare parts stores – demonstrates how innovation flourishes when driven by necessity PLUS imaginative passion.
More Havana pages:
Havana Capitol Building
Havana Creative Transportation
Havana Political Demonstration
Havana Fish and Philosophy
Havana Street Water-Skiing
Havana Back Street Rambles
Havana Agricultural Fair
Havana The Art of Dominoes
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