About 10 years ago, McKeel Hagerty traveled to Cuba, where the auto enthusiast and CEO of Hagerty Insurance Agency met up with some of the custodians of the country's iconic classic cars.
During the trip, a member of one of its many car clubs invited him for a ride in his 1956 Cadillac. Hagerty remembers the car being in good shape, even if some of the chrome was touched up with silver paint.
But then the owner turned the key—and a diesel engine roared to life. It turned out a Peugeot engine was under the hood.
Car collectors hoping to go treasure hunting in Cuba can expect to find many American classics in the same shape. The cars have been lovingly maintained through generations, said Hagerty, but they are Frankenstein monsters, products of America's 54-year-long embargo on the island nation.
The collision of old cars with new parts puts a question mark over how they may be valued if President Barack Obama's recent diplomatic overture eventually results in renewed commercial ties.
It may also disabuse a few assumptions people hold dear about the autos that rove Cuba's streets.
"There's just this fascination with this idea that there's this treasure trove of collector cars sitting there waiting to be discovered or found, when in fact it's more of a time capsule," Hagerty said.
Cuba saw a mid-century boom that filled Havana's streets with Detroit steel, which remained after the socialist revolution and into the embargo years. At that time, car owners were forced to become auto parts fabricators for lack of access to American parts.