“When I tell (travelers) where the car came from, they sit in the seat back there and … stretch their legs and say, ‘I can’t believe it!’” said Havana limo driver Moises Suarez
The limos were built in the 1960s and 1970s by Russian companies GAZ and ZIL. One of the old limos is a ZIL-111 convertible
, which was the first one ever made and sent to Cuba by former Russian president Nikita Kruschev as a personal gift to Castro.
Though Castro himself didn't often use the limos, preferring instead the more commanding appearance of a military jeep
, the old Soviet cars were often used to haul around important guests and dignitaries.
For instance, when former U.S. president Jimmy Carter visited Cuba in 2002, Castro met him personally at the airport in a Soviet stretch.
Suarez drives a GAZ Chaika model, which still has most of the original interior parts and materials from when it was first shipped over to Cuba, but with the original engine replaced by a Mercedes engine to keep it running.
According to Suarez, who works for the state-owned Cubataxi, about 14 of the old presidential limos were handed over to the company five years ago, and 10 of them are still being used to transport tourists.
Suarez's fares range from a few dollars for a quick trip to a maximum of $140 for a full day.
"A lot of drivers pull up next to me at stoplights,” said Suarez. “They start laughing and they say, ‘You never imagined you would be driving the comandante’s car, eh?’ ‘You have a great car in your hands.”
“It’s exciting to be able to get inside a historic piece of Cuba,” said Spanish tourist Miquel Torres. “It’s a very different kind of car.”