Sancti Spiritus is no Speedville! Like most cities in Cuba, the capital of Sancti Spiritus Province is full of mostly pre-1959 American cars that utilize Rube Goldberg concoctions of homemade parts to just keep them going. If you’re lucky enough to own a car in the Island Nation, you don’t worry about going at high speed—you just worry about going at all.Now, suddenly, all this is about to change. On Thursday Dec. 19, Cuban officials announced that the country will ease a ban on the importation of cars for the first time since the Cuban Revolution. Cuba’s official newspaper Granma reported that the Council of Ministers changed the rules on Dec. 18. Gradually. Cuba will permit new cars to come into the nation and be sold at market prices.
That’s a big contrast to the former rules and conditions. Until 2011, car sales were virtually banned. After that, residents of Cuba were only allowed to sell cars to each other and a car like a clapped out ’57 Ford sedan with 300,000 miles on it would sell for as much as $12,000.
Granma said retail sales of all types of motorized vehicles will begin over a period of time, ending the current system that permitted the privileged few with “letters of authorization” from the Transport Ministry to buy “wheels.” The newspaper admitted that the old system created “resentment, dissatisfaction and, in not a few cases—a source of speculation and enrichment.”
If you’re a Speedville enthusiast, you’re probably asking, “What’s going to happen to the estimated 60,000 vintage American cars that Cubans drive now?” While few of them are “mint,” most are rust free and could be a source of rare parts, especially sheet metal. Unfortunately, no one right now knows what’s going to become of them. Do you think they have eBay in Cuba?
The new rules evolved from President Raul Castro’s attempt to switch Cuba away from Soviet-style thinking. Granma didn’t spell out exactly how the new rules will work, but said they’ll soon be public. It did say that pricing for new vehicles should be similar to that for used vehicles sold privately, which would mean that Cuba will impose heavy taxes on car transactions. So, if Cuba starts exporting old cars, there’s little chance they’ll be bargain basement jalopies.