The FAW Dongfeng CA71 was China's first ever motorcar
Predictably, it was inspired by various Western stuff
When you think of Chinese cars, you'd be forgiven for thinking that various copycats of popular European, American and Japanese cars would immediately spring to mind. For reasons that I've never really understood, this is mostly the case.
All over motor shows in Shanghai and Beijing, you'll find dozens of Chinese cars which look remarkably like the Western cars they were heavily inspired from. This includes the likes of Range Rovers, Audis, BMWs and so on.
But if you ever wondered how the motoring industry began in China, you've come to the right place.
The ZIS-150 truck. (Image credit: Wikipedia)
In 1953, the Chinese state-owned manufacturer, First Automotive Works (FAW) was founded and initially began making commercial trucks. One in particular was based off the Russian ZIS-150; FAW received technical support from the Soviet Union and they were even accredited in the production of those early trucks.
It wasn't until 1958 when Chairman Mao Zedong decided that as part of 'The Great Leap Forward', China should start manufacturing its own cars. He wanted to stop using Soviet-made ZIS limousines and start travelling in those made in China. This led to the birth of the Dongfeng CA71; and it was quite a fascinating thing.
The Dongfeng CA71 (Image credit: FAW).
The entire car was handmade and the first prototype was completed and presented to Mao in May, 1958. The car then underwent a series of testing and development that summer before more examples were produced. A lot of people say the design was heavily based off the Simca Vedette and it's even rumoured that FAW brought in a Vedette as a design study.
The chassis and 1.9 litre 4-cylinder engine are based off the Mercedes 190 Ponton (W120). It made a claimed 70hp and had a top speed of just 81mph.
Personally, I can see a lot of 1950s Ford in the Dongfeng's design: there's a bit of 1955 Fairlane and MK2 Zodiac/Zephyr/Consul. I can even see some elements of FA Vauxhall Victor in the front end.
As for the name, Dongfeng translates to 'east wind'. In propaganda material of the time, a popular term was that east wind prevails over the west wind - signifying that the communist states were stronger than the capitalist Western ones.
Simca Vedette. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)
However, what wasn't so strongly-winded about the CA71 was that only 30 were said to exist with only two survivors. One at the Beijing Classic Car Museum and the other at the Hongqi Factory Museum in Changchun. It's important to realise that it was mainly an experimental car used for propaganda rather than one you could actually buy.
While the CA71 programme was down the drain, it did lead to the development of the Hongqi CA72 and CA770s that would be used to ferry around the political hierarchy. As for those who weren't quite at the top, they later had the option of the Shanghai SH760.
And can you guess what the running gear of that was based off? Yep, it was a Ponton Mercedes! This time, the larger W180 220S.
A 1974 Shanghai SH760. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons).
Thanks for reading
So, that was a little story of how China's first passenger car came to exist. I don't know about you, but the thought of saying to your friends, 'hey, I've got a Dongfeng' sounds ever so slightly hilarious. But perhaps that's just me being immature.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading and hopefully you learnt something new today.