Yes, the “Yank Tanks” are real, and abound both in Havana, and in across the countryside. The 1930-50’s era American cars are not only a practical reflection of the ongoing lack of goods in Cuba as a result of the US embargo that started in 1961, but also tribute to the resourcefulness of the Cuban people. The existing cars are a reflection of the wealthy businessmen, tourism, and Mafia connections of Cuba’s heyday in the 1930’s- 50’s, the embargo has meant virtually no importation of US goods since that time, requiring Cubans to “make do” with what they’ve had since that time. The old cars are a source of much pride, and are handed down from family to family and repaired constantly & creatively to keep them going.
While there are also other more modern vehicles on the streets, these are largely government-owned vehicles, as incomes are so limited in Cuba (approx. $25-$50/mo) that it’s extremely rare for individuals to be able to afford to buy a car. The result is many other creative forms of transportation, from bike taxis in Havana, to bicycles & horse & buggy carts in all the other towns we’ve been in.