Yank Tank

Yank Tank

Yank tank (or máquina) is a slang term referring to American cars, especially large models produced in the 1950s and 1960s common in Cuba today. In 1962 a US embargo against Cuba was introduced, effectively cutting trade between the two countries. This meant that the cars in Cuba could no longer receive new replacement parts when something broke. Currently, the only way to keep these cars on the road today is by using Cuban ingenuity to adapt household products and Soviet technology (such as train parts) for use in these vehicles.

If a car is unable to be repaired at the time, it is usually either ‘parked’ for future repair or ‘parted out’ (to produce extra income for the owner’s family) so that other cars can remain on the road. During the years of Soviet Union influence on Cuba, Ladas, Moskvitchs, and Volgas became the main cars imported by the communist regime, mainly for state use. As a result of these internal economic restrictions, to this day there is no such thing as a new or used private European or Asian automotive dealership branch in Cuba for independent purchasing by regular Cubans.

The only American cars that can be purchased for private use in Cuba (with ‘particular’ plates) are those that were previously registered for private use and acquired before the revolution. However, if the owner doesn’t have the proper paperwork called a ‘traspaso,’ the vehicle cannot be legally sold. American cars that were present, at the time of the embargo, have been preserved through loving care and ingenuity. And since there were many of these, due to the presence of a past strong Cuban middle-class, classic cars have been the standard, rather than an exception in Cuba. Even deposed President Fulgencio Batista’s son owned a 1956 Corvette.

However, the old American cars on the road today have ‘relatively high inefficiencies’ due in large part to the lack of modern technology. This has resulted in increased fuel consumption as well as aiding to the economic plight of its owners. With these inefficiencies, noticeable drop in travel has occurred from an ‘average of nearly 3000 km/year in the mid-1980s to less than 800 km/year in 2000–2001.’ As the Cuban people try to save as much money as possible, when traveling is done, the cars are usually loaded past the maximum allowable weight and travel on the decaying roads, resulting in even more abuse to the already under maintained vehicles.

The term ‘yank tank’ is also used in Australian slang to describe these cars, but more generally to describe any American car considered to be large and unwieldy – including both classics (such as Cadillacs) and modern SUVs. The term entered the general vocabulary in Britain during WWII and especially the decade afterwards, when some American servicemen stationed in Britain imported cars from the States. This happened at a time when American cars reached their largest sizes and most extravagant styling, making them impractical for narrow and winding British roads. This difference was especially great because British cars of the ‘Austerity Years’ in the late 1940s and early 1950s were generally small, low-powered, with low equipment levels, and restrained styling in comparison. The use of the term however no longer occurs in the UK as the sizes of European and Asian cars have increased, and very few US models are sold in the UK.


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