For first time ever on Pebble Beach’s hallowed turf, two stately Chinese limos will be showcased alongside greatest cars from Europe and US
History will made when two imposing Communist heroes – a pair of Hong Qi limousines – pull onto the turf during 2018’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This will be the first appearance of cars crafted in mainland China in the history of the event – which has long been associated with the finest European and US offerings.
The Chinese manufacturer Hong Qi, which translates as ‘Red Flag’, is celebrating 60 years of production this year. First launched on August 1, 1958, the marque remains China’s oldest vehicle builder – not that the cars were offered for sale to the public. You had to be a high-ranking official within the country’s political elite in order to procure one.
As a result, Hong Qi models were built in strictly limited numbers, and expressly employed by the Chinese government. If a fellow driver met a Hong Qi on a narrow road, it was he who backed up – often at speed.
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It was the first-generation Hong Qi CA72 that carried Richard Nixon about on his well documented trip to China in 1972. Also on this occasion Chairman Mao claimed to have taken a personal interest in the cars from the beginning.
Based upon a 1955 Chrysler Imperial, the Hong Qi CA72 was powered by a 197bhp V8 mated to a three-speed manual transmission. A convertible intended for use by dignitaries during National Day parades arrived for September 1958.
The next-generation model landed for 1963. Dubbed the CA770, it remained in production until 1980, when the company wound down production. The brand was revived in 1995 with a new model, based on the Audi 100 and Lincoln Town Car.
The two limousines being showcased at Pebble Beach this year come from the Sanhe Classic Car Museum in Chengdu, located in the Sichuan Province of China, and the Blackhawk Collection in Danville, California.
Both of these heritage-infused Communist vehicles are adorned with three red flags, which are claimed to represent the Socialist Construction, the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Commune.
The first of the decadently luxurious CA72s set for Pebble Beach was used by the Central Government until the 1970s, after which it was put into storage for 20 years. It was then acquired by Zongmin ‘Jason’ Huang of the Sanhe Classic Car Museum, where it underwent a full frame-off restoration.
Huang has been attending the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance since 2001, and in 2016 he was the first entrant from mainland China, winning two awards with his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.
He said: ‘My experience in 2016 was wonderful and urged me to achieve my next dream. That is presenting the Hong Qi, the best Chinese car, to the whole world. It was my ultimate dream that one day I could bring my favourite collector car to this sacred hall.’
The second Pebble Beach vehicle is the 1974 Hong Qi CA770 that has been displayed at the Blackhawk Collection for some time. Larger than its predecessor, this limousine features three rows of seats and a 215bhp 5.6-litre V8 mated to automatic transmission. Weighing in a just over 6000lbs, the second-incarnation Hong Qi could just about manage a whopping 12mpg – if you were careful with the throttle. Some of this weight come from the interior, which is trimmed in scented mahogany.
This car was primarily used for military parades, and carried Premier Zhou Enlai, Foreign Minister Chen Yi and other state leaders. Later used as a reception vehicle before being retired and placed in storage for a decade, it was then acquired by the Sanhe Classic Car Museum and restored to its original splendour.
Don Williams, president of the Blackhawk Collection, had his work cut out to get the Hong Qi onto American soil back in 1988. Williams – who has been dealing in classic cars for over 50 years and has shown dozens of great classics at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance – understood the significance of these rare cars, and wanted the rest of the world to see them.
‘I’m very proud to show our ‘Red Flag’ with our friend Jason from whom we acquired it. Having him bring his Hong Qi all the way from Chengdu to Pebble Beach displays his commitment to the event,’ said Williams.
After making their historic appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours, both cars will be displayed together for a brief time at the Blackhawk Collection, before the 1965 Hong Qi CA72 returns to its home in China.