Cuba is known for its American cars but Soviet Ladas are really close to the Cuban heart

Cuba is known for its American cars but Soviet Ladas are really close to the Cuban heart

Cuba is known for its American cars but Soviet Ladas are really close to the Cuban heart

 29 March 2021   The Independent

You may imagine old Fords, Cadillacs, and Chevrolets when you think of Cuba, but as an article in The Independent tells us, it's the Russian Lada which the Cubans hold really close to their hearts. Read on and find out why!

How do you double a Lada's value in Cuba?

Just fill the petrol tank...

There are many jokes about the Russian designed Lada. They range from funny to downright cruel, and the car itself will split opinion. If you've ever owned one, you'll either have loved it or hated it. You could say the Lada has a whiff of Marmite to it.

The Independent has published an article explaining just why the Lada is so popular in Cuba to this day. After all, isn't this a country full of stunning 1950s American Fords, Cadillacs, and Pontiacs?

How could the Lada possibly be Cuba's sweetheart?

A political status symbol

"Uncomfortable, wasteful, tough, rustic. All are descriptions heard about the old Russian-built Lada cars cruising the roads in Cuba where it is common to see a driver standing next to the raised bonnet of one, pondering what has gone wrong this time."

However, you have to delve deeper than the car itself to gauge why they're so popular. It certainly isn't their reliability on Cuba's roads. Drivers will often own them against their wallet's wishes, performing expensive repairs just to keep them on the road. Why?

Because of politics. The Cuban revolution and ensuing confrontation with the United States brought sanctions that left spare parts scarce and cut off the importation of American vehicles completely.

Cuba's economy turned to the Soviet bloc for support over the following decades, as the Caribbean island became politically, if not geographically isolated. The Cuban authorities never made public the actual number that arrived in Cuba, though experts estimate about 100,000 Ladas were imported.

The Lada Cuba Club

A Russian Lada car travels along a seawall in Cuba

Now, the humble Lada officially has its own fan club. In a country that produces superb music and dance, world-famous cigars, and cocktails enjoyed from Melbourne to Manhattan, there's also a place in Cuba's heart for this unpredictable box-like car.

"At the end of last year, a handful of owners founded the Lada Cuba Club and in less than four months it has about 140 members who meet for social activities, assisting each other when breakdowns happen, or just trading quick-fix tricks and parts."

Some of the cars are decorated as well as fixed up. One particular driver has adorned his Lada with the hammer and sickle – a profound gesture of support for the Soviet ideology so embraced on this Caribbean island.

Benito Albisa, a 33-year-old history professor and member of the Lada Club of Havana said of his 1976 Lada:

"My car belonged to a lieutenant colonel and his wife, an official of the former Ministry of Economy. After 40 years with the car, they did not have enough money to continue maintaining it and they sold it to us."

Many of these Ladas that were imported decades ago are now taxis, so if you're ever lucky enough to visit this part of the world, there's a chance you may climb into one when you want to get around Havana.

The taxi-driver will almost certainly be happy enough to tell you about his car. Many Cubans are aficionados – proud and knowledgeable about them. Therefore, it's wise to steer clear of jokes about why Ladas have heated rear windows... keep your hands warm when you push it.

Well, at least keeping your hands warm is not something you need to worry about in Cuba.

As president of the Lada Club, Carlos Rodríguez, says with lips set firm:

"It has always been said that the Lada is the Cuban's car. I'm proud to have one. I take care of him as if he were my son."

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