Vintage & Classic Cars, Havana, Cuba
Holidays in Cuba

The Car in Cuba

The history of cars in Cuba goes back more than 100 years, 108 to be exact since the arrival of island’s first car that have been reported.

It was in December 1898 when the first car appeared on the dusty streets of Havana; a noisy machine was moving propelled by petro and could only develop 10 km/h. It was known as "Parisiense" and it was french.

Six months later came the second model, Rochet-Schneider from Lyon. This model has 8 horsepower and could develop bigger speed.

A third Auto arrived shortly after and was used to distribute goods in a cigarette factory in the city.

In 1901 11 such machines moved through the streets of Havana. In 1902 the first car arrived in Santiago de Cuba from the United States of America.

In 1903 the owner of the first garage in Cuba organised a race, which involved several drivers some with their wives as co-drivers. The winner was owner himself and organizer Dámaso Laine, who manned a Darracq (French) . The race track was from El Puente de la Lisa until. Guanajay.

On February 12, 1905 the first international race is being held in Cuba for the first time from Arroyo Arenas to San Cristobal, round trip, a journey of 158 km. To celebrate this first race the racers from all around the world gathered, even world record holder. The winner was Ernesto Carricaburu, a Cuban who drove 60 horsepowered Mercedes 60 establishing a new world record of average speed of 80km/h. In the same year the official title of Drive had been issued.

In 1906 the first car accident is recorded where a bystander was killed by a car.

In 1907 the first buss line operated from Guira Melena to San Antonio de los Baños.

Already in 1913 more than a thousand card moved through the streets of Cuba. Maria Calvo Nodarce was the first woman driver (1917). She was so popular that some artists named a few songs after her, some of which can be heard today.

In March 1930 first 24 hour race from Santiago to Havana took place, while in May same year second one occur from Yara to Manzanillo. The same year the first traffic light was introduced.

On May 20, 1927 the construction of the Central Highway started with its intention to link the entire country through paved road systems. The width of the paved road was 6 meters so that cars can go in both direction at once. The total journey was 1139 km. It was opened for public use on February 24 with a total cost of 111 milion pesos.

From that time on many races were held in different part of the country such as Sagua-Havana, Havana, Cienfuegos, Pinar del Rio, Havana the airports, Columbia. Ciudad Libertad and El Malecon Habanero were places where Formula 1 races started in the ‘50s. Many formula one stars attended those races with their prestigious brands and glamourous constructor names. Among others they were Juan Manual Fangio (Argentina), Stirling Moss (United Kindgom), Carol Shelvy, Portage, Andrei Castelotti and many others.

On February 23, 1958 one day before the conclusion of the Second Grand Prix of cuba would be carried out on the Malecon, a Command of the Armed Revolutionary Movement " July 26" kidnapped Juan Manuel Fangio in the Lincoln Hotel where he was staying kept him in captivity until after the race. This action was undertaken to show the world that Cuba is battling against a tyranny that bloodied our people.

These races and grand prix could not continue after 1960 in Cuba after break of the relations with the U.S. government who decreed economic and commercial blockade against the island. Cuba could not get any new cars nor parts.

Until the 1st January 1959 180,511 cars in Cuba were 93.66% of North American origin. When this supply was cut the island remained isolated with its cars condemned to disappear. However several years after, the completely new brand of cars started to arrive: Soviet manufactured Moskvitch and Volga 21 as well as Czech Skoda.

In the early 70s arrived Zhyguli, then Ladas. However it was not all eastern block manufacturers domination. In the 70s Fiat, Chevy, Ford Falcon, Dodge and Peugeot also entered the Cuban market.

More recently, in the 90s the far-eastern infiltration started with Toyota, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Daewoo, Ticos etc.

After the Triumph of the Revolution the National Motorway was build. It connects entire country through Route 6 Carriles, it is more comfortable, safer and time saving.

In these years, many museums devoted to car have been founded. Their main attraction were Old Relics that have been owned by the relevant figures in Social, Political or Cultural circle. The major museums of this theme are in Santiago de Cuba and Havana.

The tremendous efforts of the owners of the old, vintage, american cars, made them still alive and they can be seen still rolling today on our streets, avenues and roads across the country. The first representatives of groups that keeps this tradition alive met at the restaurant "Taramar" in 1996, shortly after their colleagues conducted the first Historic Rally Car in Cuba. The rally stroll from Havana to Varadero and back with 40 antique cars. This group was named "The Rolling Museum"(El Museo Rodante) in a meeting that took place in "La Giraldilla" and in year 2000 officially changed its name to "La Macorina" in honour of the first Women who drive a car in Cuba. Very soon the creation of other association followed in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas, Pinar del Rio and Havana City (4). At present there are three clubs which meets regularly in Havana, "The Macorina", "Club Habana " and "A lo Cubano " ...

Taken from the book "La Historia del Automóvil en Cuba" of Orlando A. Morales Pulido.

 Room Museum Juan Manuel Fangio, Lincoln Hotel, Havana city