In Cuba, old clunkers and Soviet cars now for sale

Tue Dec 13, 2011 2:58pm EST
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By Jack Kimball

HAVANA (Reuters) - Want to buy a blue 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air for $11,000 or a Soviet-made Lada 1600 for $15,000? Or for that matter, sell one?

In communist Cuba, now you can.

For the first time since the 1959 revolution Cubans have the right to buy and sell any car - something that was only done before with the government's 'okay' - or on the black market by illegally purchasing vehicles licensed to somebody else.

Decades of trade sanctions and a ban on car sales have nurtured the island's trademark "stuck-in-time" feel where 1940s and 50s Chevrolets and Fords are revamped with used engines and spare parts to clunk around on the Caribbean island's streets.

So now hundreds of Cubans are taking up the opportunity to enjoy a first taste of wheeling and dealing in the auto market.

"There weren't any transfers before. If I bought a car it was illegal, and the owner was still the other guy, but now I can be the owner. The car will be in my name," said Diego Sorrel, 51, who was looking to buy a car to use as a taxi.

Before the new regulations, only automobiles in Cuba before the 1959 revolution could be freely bought and sold, which is why there are so many 1950s or older cars. Other vehicles were off limits.

Classic U.S. cars are not going to disappear from Cuba, however, since vehicle imports are still restricted to Cubans with government permission and foreign residents.   Continued...