CC Taxi Ride: Re-powered Citroen Traction Avant in Havana, Cuba

My middle son and I took a trip to Cuba in November and for us part of the adventure was taking a few taxi rides. While the stereotypical choice would be to go for a Fifties American car both my son and I wanted to try as many different things as we could. We managed three American cars, Chinese and Russian ones as well as this French example. The highlight for me was this Citroen Traction Avant in which we travelled in Havana from Chinatown to Vedado.

While named Chinatown there is not much obviously Chinese about it except this gate. Which is quite odd as the current country providing massive investment and influence in Cuba is China. An obvious example is the majority of the newest cars, trucks and scooters are Chinese. The guidebook we had briefly perused in our lodging said something along the lines of “you should go to Chinatown … but you will be disappointed”.

We approached the Citroen from the rear and while it was unmistakably a Traction Avant I was a little worried how the front would look given the tail light substitution and cheap hub cap on the spare wheel. The modern alloy wheels were a clue that the Citroen had received modern running gear as I expect the stock bits would be impossible to keep running in Cuba. A large number of the classics you see have been swapped to Lada or newer mechanical bits but this one might have been a bit more involved as the original car would have had a longitudinal engine layout with the gearbox in front of the engine. Once inside a Mitsubishi steering wheel perhaps indicated the donor although the centre caps on the rims had a Renault logo on them. Speaking of the wheels, they look a touch too small to my eyes. Whatever the donor, it was definitely diesel powered. My Spanish is, unfortunately, not good enough to confirm with the driver.

I suspect not many Citroen Traction Avants have a modern screen grafted into the dashboard but given the dramatic conversion the dashboard has undergone it, at least, retained a decent amount of classic charm.

Here is a video detailing the start of our ride. Check out the horn noise which could be original.

At one point a modern Citroen van followed us although the rear window had a coating that made photos taken through it a little blurry. While the running gear was modern the rear seat room was authentic. We were travelling between casas (basically you rent a room from a local rather than stay in a hotel) so we had all our belonging with us. Luckily this consisted of just backpack and small bag for each of us as the rear seating area was tight in all dimensions.

At 6′ tall my head was flat on the roof.

The traffic and buildings in this part of Havana are amazingly diverse. I cannot recommend enough a visit to Havana if you get the chance. To get the most out of it we mostly did self guided, random walking tours of old and central Havana for several days but taking a taxi ride off the beaten tourist track was a worthwhile experience as well.

Apologies for the wind noise in this one but it gives a flavor of the city as we left central Havana for the Vedado district.

I found the Traction Avant, even if this modified state, to be quite charming. The non-extended trunk on our taxi makes it a pre-1952 example but there are a huge array of Traction Avant variations making it tough to exactly identify this one especially given the customizations. After a thrilling fifteen minute or so ride we reached our destination with a new section of Havana to explore.

Further Reading

Curbside Classic: Citroen 11CV – A Traction Avant Sends Its Greetings From Switzerland

The CC Graveyard Part Five: A Citroen Traction Avant Hiding Amongst Cadillacs

CC Taxi Ride: The Modern Chinese Taxi – Emgrand EC8

CC Taxi Ride: The Other Russian – Moskvitch 2140 in Havana Cuba