Cuba’s Car Culture

Cuba’s Car Culture
Celebrating the Island’s Automotive Love Affair
Written by Tom Cotter and Bill Warner
All Photos by Bill Warner

Reviewed by Linda Kissam & Adrianne Morrison

Shabby but somehow magnificent, decrepit but actually quite dignified, iconic and enjoyable, Cuba is a country that has been in a complex time warp for much too long. Writers Tom Cotter and Bill Warner give us a much appreciated glimpse into Cuba’s history by analyzing past and present-day car culture and racing through their book, Cuba’s Car Culture.

The moment review partner Adrianne Morrison and I read this book we knew it was a winner. The hard cover book (192 pages, $35) features quality printing, presentation and riveting photos.   If you never read one word from authors Tom Cotter and Bill Warner, you would still love the book. The striking photography of real cars caught in a kind of time warp is mesmerizing.  Like the book, the cars they showcase are part historical documents, part works of art. Any car or Cuba buff is going to love this book.

Author Tom Cotter

The authors side step politics.  Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of Cuba’s car history while skillfully weaving in interesting current-day travel tips.  Some we’ve heard, others not so much. Be sure to read the sidebars which include the authors’ own experiences and observations on the cars and life in Cuba.

 

One of the more interesting perspectives we gained by reading this book is understanding how this car time warp came to be.  According to the authors, “The importation of new cars slowed dramatically after the January 1, 1959 Revolution. Castro imposed a nearly 200 percent tax on luxury items, which included cars. Meaning a $2,000 vehicle now cost almost $6,000 to buy. … US President Dwight D. Eisenhower imposed a ban on all exports to Cuba on October 19, 1960, a policy that has been in place ever since.” [p.147] Of course, the embargo terms are now falling apart, so things will begin to change, but this one statement pretty much says it all. How the Cubans kept the cars going for so many years is a beautiful tale of home grown ingenuity and need.

This table book is a perfect gift for those who love international auto racing and vintage cars made before 1960. The often poignant, yet beautiful photography is enough reason to own this book, but it also offers a nostalgic view of past-generation automobiles and an important glimpse under, and into Cuba’s hood. Full of Cuban automotive and car racing history, you will find it to be a heartfelt and enlightening look into the recent history of the people of this colorful Caribbean Island. Adrianne and Linda give it 5/5 stars. You will know someone this book was meant for. It’s a perfect host gift.

Adrianne

It’s true, I LOVE cars. Yep! I’m a Chevy girl who married a Ford man and now we’re divorced—maybe I should have read “the signs” before I got married. I mean, seriously, a Ford man? What was I thinking? That’s like a Democrat and a Republican—it didn’t work out for Maria and Arnie either. But I digress. Do people in Cuba love cars like I do?

Is a new love affair brewing—between Cuba and America—rooted in a mutual love of cars? From this book’s title, Cuba’s Car Culture, Celebrating the Island’s Automotive Love Affair, I thought this must be the case. But, actually, it’s more the story of a long and often difficult marriage that has endured due to necessity and the sheer will to survive. After 50 years, the union is celebrated and on-lookers, in this case, the newly allowed tourists to Cuba, likely have no idea how difficult the journey has been, or if any love still exists. Especially if you plan to visit Cuba, just 90 miles away from the US, take time to read this book before you go—learn about the classic cars you will see and experience while in a country where time has nearly stood still since 1960.

“Chevy vs. Ford

We noticed as we drove throughout the city and the country that 1955, 1956 and 1957 Chevy’s were more common than any other vintage car brand. Was it our Imagination? No. … The abundance of ‘Tri-Five’ Chevys in the 1950’s is still reflected today at nearly every intersection.” [p.157] Just sayin’ (stealing a Linda quip)

Linda

After reading this book, I feel even more inspired to visit Cuba before it changes too much.  We all know with the embargo lifted, Cuba will move forward quickly and become another destination visited by many. This is just the way the world goes and it should be good news for the locals as tourist dollars can provide a new standard of living for everyone.

There are a lot of great reasons to visit Cuba. Thevalue, the scenery, the history, and of course, the cars. It would appear that Cuba is like no other destination on earth at this time. A trip there could fulfill both the car lover and non-car lovers’ expectations. My advice? Keep your mind open, start saving for tickets and be one with the force of good will and discovery.

Resources

Author Bill Warner

Cuba’s Car Culture
Celebrating the Island’s Automotive Love Affair
Written by Tom Cotter and Bill Warner
$35.00