In 1963, the first CA700-series model arrived. A rather majestic-looking stretched saloon, it transported state dignitaries in its various forms until production stuttered to an end in 1980.
In 1975, at a time when China was far more isolated from the western world than today and still under the power of Chairman Mao, Autocar was taken aback to see a Changchun-built Hongqi CA77 at an exhibition in Cologne, Germany.
“Intrigued at the unexpected appearance of the strange limousine at their local show, the German magazine Auto Zeitung applied to the Chinese Embassy in Bonn, and after some protracted negotiations obtained permission to take the car on the road for a brief assessment before it departed back to China,” we explained, before detailing the German journalists’ test drive.
“Under the bonnet is a 5.6-litre V8 engine, with drive to the rear wheels through a two-speed automatic gearbox with torque converter.
“Although the Chinese representatives of the firm claimed it developed 220bhp, it was felt that something between 150 and 160 was a more realistic figure,” Autocar reported. This gave it the acceleration of a “hard-driven” Mercedes-Benz 200 diesel, we suggested, “although accompanied by the characteristic throaty exhaust noise of a V8.”
The car, we felt, was built like a tank – evidenced by its three-ton unladen kerb weight. In fairness, the Hongqi was built for political parades rather than autobahnen, which explains its 19ft length and particular focus on the rear of the interior.
“Inside, it offers huge leg space even for Europeans,” Autocar reported, “and the notably short Chinese must feel very grand indeed when travelling there.
“The rear seat is adjustable by electric control, both to and fro and vertically. The floor is covered in carpet of most luxurious quality and the seat upholstery – under plastic covers which were not allowed to be removed – were also of top quality.
“The German reporters were rather taken aback at being asked to wipe their feet getting in.”
Rear occupants were also provided with electric windows and air-con, “tending to suggest that life can be good in the land of the Red Flag, provided you are the right sort of comrade”.
The driver’s seat wasn’t quite as comfy, being a fixed bench seat, although it was “also luxuriously appointed”.
One thing that particularly surprised us was the lack of passive safety features in the Hongqi – a flat dashboard of solid polished wood, dark glass sun visors and tip-up folding seats – all, we knew, dangerous in a high-speed crash.