Top Gear meets the cars of Cuba
For decades, Cuba has made do with old Yank tanks. Now it’s finally opening its doors to shiny new stuff
Posted: 12 Dec 2013
Undeterred by the Molotov cocktail in the cabin, we set off from the Plaza de Armas on a test drive. The handling is, well, non-existent. All there is is jerky, unpredictable movement. The drivetrain bends and lurches one way, and the chassis the other. And that's just on the straights. Navigating the sun-cracked corners, it feels like the axle is going to snap off from the chassis altogether and leave us pedalling madly like the cavemen in Wacky Races. The exhaust sounds like a firecracker erupting in an empty vat of rum. It's hopelessly - wonderfully - Cuban.
"At last, we're on the freeway!" says Diaz proudly, as we exit Havana and hit the main road to the tourist resort of Varadero, a ghetto of white sand and whiter westerners, who sip mojitos and snap up Che Guevara T-shirts without bothering to wonder what Che would make of them splurging Yankee dollars on a swanky holiday.
Freeway is a bold, evocative name from a country where freedom is only a drive away. In Cuba, there is no freedom. Or is there? The road ahead is certainly free of any number of frustrations you see in a shiny, capitalist country. It's free of central reservations, tolls, speed limits, speed traps, speed cops, road markings, road signs, lighting and, apart from the odd belching, ramshackle tractor, it is pretty much free of other cars, too. All this makes me feel pretty free, so I speed on - at 40mph that feels like infinity - under symphonic Caribbean clouds past groups of eternally hopeful, long-distance hitchhikers.
It's all going well until we stop. Not on purpose. Not because we have to. Just because we do, sputtering to a halt opposite an old Communist Party hoarding that reminds the inner car dealer in us that capitalism is "humiliating and degrading to human dignity". We've forgotten to keep an eye on the fuel bottle.
"Where's the nearest gas station?" I ask. "We don't need a gas station. Come with me," Diaz replies, unhooking the bottle from the rear-view mirror and heading off into the bush. It's so hot my head feels like a conch fritter, and I swear even my shins are sweating. Thankfully, it's not long before we reach a village.