Book Review: Cuba’s Car Culture

It must be a sign that I’m getting old (or older) that until this year I never had a bucket list but these days I find myself adding things to one, like photographing Monument Valley in infrared, the way John Ford did for Fort Apache. But Number One of my bucket list is still visiting Cuba and for one reason: Cuban Cars. While I wait for the trip to become affordable and not a political hassle, I’ll content myself reading Tom Cotter and Bill Warner’s impressive book, Cuba’s Car Culture.

cuban-carsThe book features the high quality printing, binding and reproduction typical of what Motorbooks does but for whatever reason seems like they’ve kicked it up a notch here. The books kicks off with a brief Forward by Stirling Moss, one of my racing heroes who talks about racing on the island back in the day.

Cotter’s text and Warner’s are clearly simpatico although Cotter admits his inability to speak Spanish slowed his interviewing but that’s not apparent in the well-written and easily accessible text that accompanies Warner’s stunning photography of cars that are real cars not museum pieces. When placed within the context of their Cuban environments these photographs transcend the genre and become more than historical documents but works of art.

Cotter’s introduction wisely eschews the political aspects of the trade embargo and so will I. Each succeeding chapter emphasizes something different about Cuba’s car ecosystem. Heck there’s even some images of Russian leftovers, like a Chaika limousines but no Death Star-like Zils. But there’s more here than cars, including some useful travel tips like what the airport USA visitors get to land is like. Picturesque, for sure. Modern, not so much. Cotter also provides his experience with being questioned by airport officials about his visit during an earlier trip. If you’re interested in visiting Cuba, be sure to take time to read these sidebars.

There are some well reproduced historical images of the racing scene in the 1950’s from everything from FIA sanctioned open-wheeled racing to large sedans to sports racers. There’s also a look at today’s events such as cart racing and old car rallyes, featuring great photo of a Triumph Vitesse next to a 1950’s Oldsmobile.

The author gives you a insight into some of the marques you might encounter on a Cuban street, takes a look at some “barn finds” that will make a car enthusiast cry but all of this is topped off with Warner’s engaging photographs, like one of a four-porthole Buick Roadmaster next to a crumbling building with a large graffiti of Che Guevara. You ain’t seen nothing like this before, making this the best-ever book about the automobiles of Cuba that I have ever read. The tag line Cotter offers at the book’s wrap-up set the tone of everything you’ve seen and read to that point; He calls Cuba “the country that time forgot.”

After reading Cuba’s Car Culture, I’m even more determined than ever to visit Cuba and make my own photographs of these cars. And when that happens, I plan to take some of this blog’s readers with me.

After reading Cuba’s Car Culture, I’m even more determined than ever to visit Cuba and make my own photographs of cars,. And when that happens, I plan to take some of this blog’s readers with me.

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Motorbooks
  • Product Dimensions: 9.8 x 0.9 x 11.2 inches
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0760350264
  • Price: $35