Jeeps in Cuba


FordThere are many of us who think of the late 1950s as the zenith of automobile style. In the half century since then, we've seen a gradual decline into safety and efficiency, with just an occasional dash of nostalgia.

As far as American cars go, Cuba is a country frozen in the 1950s, since exports to Cuba from the U.S. were ended by an embargo in 1959. So a late-fifties Ford alongside current fashions, is not an uncommon scene in Havana.

Photo courtesy Richard A. Stanford.

BuickDespite a scarcity of replacement parts, old cars and Jeeps are lovingly maintained as everyday transportation, and handed down from generation to generation.

There were some CJ-3Bs imported into Cuba between 1953 and 1959, including this one photographed by Paul G., but most pictures seem to indicate a Jeep population of primarily 3A's and station wagons. The affection with which Jeeps are viewed is indicated by a Cuban lottery ticket (50K JPEG) with a CJ-3A illustration, from the collection of Glenn Byron.

CJ-3AOf course, the Universal Jeep was a mixture of efficiency and nostalgia right from the beginning, so its style has remained pretty much the same for the past sixty years. This CJ-3A looks equally at home amid cars of the fifties or the nineties. (Later-model imports from Russia or Asia are common on Cuban roads.)

This photo was taken by Ricky Rubin.

3A doorLike the cars, the Jeeps are often maintained and improved with locally-fabricated parts. This CJ-3A sports carefully handmade hard doors and running boards. Photo by Susan Lord.

Bill Blanton in Travel Is Daunting For Cubans says: "When the embargo ends, the first American company to venture into Cuba should be J.C. Whitney, the mail-order supplier of parts for old U.S. vehicles."

1959Willys apparently had a good relationship with Cuba prior to the revolution in 1959, and in fact Fidel Castro also looked favorably on the company. He probably appreciated the Jeep's value both as a military asset and an ideal vehicle for rural areas. One of his officers is seen here in 1959 with a Jeep "donated for agricultural reform" by Willys Overland Export Corp.

1959The occasion for these photos was a 1959 "training course" in Havana which brought salespeople from Toledo together with representatives from Cuba as well as other Latin American countries. Castro himself (120K JPEG) attended parts of the event.

In the background of this photo is a Willys ambulance (90K JPEG) also donated to Cuba.

Willys wagonRicky Rubin spotted this Willys Jeep Station Wagon with the stately grille of the late 1940's, now in service as a taxi in Havana.

Note however that when you see advertisements for "Jeep Tours" in Cuba, the vehicles are much more likely to be recent Suzukis or Daihatsus.

TaxiAnother Willys Station Wagon taxi seen here is a mid-fifties model, with the rear window open to cool the crowd inside. Photo by Richard A. Stanford.

3A frontPaul Kelley checks out another CJ-3A on the street in Havana. It looks pretty basic and stock on the outside, but the interior (70K JPEG) reveals new steering, hanging pedals, and bucket seats.

Many of the older cars and Jeeps have had their engines replaced with Russian diesels. Ricky says, "It's very funny to see an un-restored fifties Cadillac with a huge stick shifter coming out of the floor and this noisy, smoky diesel rattling around under the hood. The Cubans technically have absolutely nothing, but they sure can make the most out of it."

Mini JeepHere's something else that demonstrates some fabrication skills; a flatfender in 1/2-scale. It's about the same size as a Crossley FarmOroads, but with a body much more closely based on a Jeep. Almost a high-hood CJ-3B in fact.

Ricky comments, "These guys use this jeep to get to work in the rich tobacco fields. The Cuban people are very crafty and it wouldn't surprise me if they built it themselves. The jeep had a pull-start engine under the hood. It kept up with us at 30 or so miles per hour."

See a front view photo (80K JPEG) of this mini-Jeep. See also more Gas-Powered Toy Jeeps You Can Ride On on CJ3B.info.

Thanks to Ricky Rubin, Susan Lord and Richard A. Stanford for photos. -- Derek Redmond

Also on CJ3B.info, see Jeeps in the movie Havana (actually shot in the Dominican Republic) and see more Jeeps Around the World.

Return to the Index of Unusual CJ-3B Photos.

FacebookVisit CJ3B.info on Facebook.

CJ3B Home | Contents | Search | Links | Bulletin Board

Last updated 14 November 2010 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond