Walking the streets of Cuba is like taking a step back in time. The country has been cut off for so long that Havana feels like a rolling car museum. The bright, pastel-colored classics line the streets and sit on display by their proud owners.
This is more by default than by design. The 1950s and 1960s-era cars mark a time when the American embargo was in place, and U.S. imports stopped. So the people of Cuba found a way to make it work.
Everywhere you look, there are iconic brands like Buick, Ford, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile. Yes, you can see some foreign imports, but owners of the classics say they would never part with the old American beauty they have now.
The cars are far from factory fresh. In fact, to keep them running, Cubans became inventive and even swapped out old engines for diesel. Wheels are modern and some even have new-age hood ornaments. But owners take pride in their ride.
"It's big and fast so I'm happy," said Juan Alfonso, sitting in his red shiny 1966 Chevy with nostalgic fuzzy dice in the window.
"It speaks to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Cuban people," said Scot Keller, curator at LeMay America's Car Museum in Tacoma. When we returned from Cuba, we wanted Scot's take on the cars too.
"Those are creations, not just cars. Its like saying to an artist 'Can I buy your sculpture'\ or your painting from you?' They have emotional connections. It's not just a car that they kept running."
If the Cuban embargo is entirely lifted, Keller and others believe it will be a long time before car collectors can get their hands on Havana's classic car treasures.
Catch Jake Thursday morning this month as he reveals more from his experiences on the streets of Cuba on KING 5 Morning News. Read more of his stories in our Connecting to Cuba section.