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
"Gasolina?" Diaz asks the old farmer, who has been toiling in his tobacco fields for so long his face is gnarled like a ginger root. "How much you need?" he replies, as if it were the first question he would expect anyone to ask in these parts. And the funny thing is, it is.
Like all of us, Cubans don't like paying for fuel. So they steal it, usually siphoning it out of the tanks of the state-owned buses and lorries. They then sell it to people like Diaz and me for six pesos a litre, compared with 28 pesos at the pump.
Back on the road, a few pesos lighter, we drive back to Havana, this time taking the Malecón, the city's corniche that Fangio drove in the practice for the 1958 Havana Grand Prix, before he was (briefly) kidnapped by the rebels that finally overthrew Batista a year later.
"How much?" I ask, as Diaz and I clang-clatter back into the raucous, elegant decay of the Plaza de Armas? "$25,000," he says. In Cuba, that's probably a fair price. Cars are still so scarce, some cost more than houses. But it's too rich for me. I pass on the boneshaker and hitch a ride in a Lada back to my hotel.
I've been driving for almost four decades. I've got behind the wheel of more cars than I can remember. In fact, most I've forgotten. But I'll never forget the unpredictable, time-warped yet oddly glamorous ride on that summer's day in Havana. And if I ever change my mind about buying the Austin Healey-Lada-Seat-Audi-Chevrolet-Daewoo-Ferrari, I know it will still be on the road the next time I land in the strangest car country on Earth.