Cuba’s Iconic Yank Tanks

“Yank Tank” is a nickname that many classic car buffs use to describe the many pre-1960 American automobiles present in Cuba — with an estimated 60,000 of them still driving the country’s roads today. About 150,000 existed at the time of the 1959 revolution, shortly after which Detroit automakers and American manufacturers were forced to stop trade with Cuba to conform to the U.S. embargo. They have since become an icon on the island, considered a charming feature of Cuba’s unique atmosphere. Many classic autos remain in good working order because of Cuba’s army of mechanic virtuosos, who have proven they can adapt to a continually diminishing pool of spare parts. So, why do so many American cars remain on Cuban roads? For a long time, they were the only cars Cubans could legally own because the government prohibited the purchase of new cars. Cubans who wanted to buy a car had to secure special permission, and that was something that was reserved for celebrities and senior party officials. In 2014, the Castro regime relaxed the rules on car imports, but the sticker shock prevents many Cubans from taking advantage of the new freedom. A new Hyundai hatchback that starts at $16,600 in the U.S. boasts a sticker price of $44,600 in Cuba. That’s well out of reach for the average Cuban, who earns the equivalent of $1,000 a month on average. Needless to say, they don’t know that they’re driving around literal goldmines in their pre-1960 American automobiles.