USA and China Exchange Classic Cars for the First Time

By Brendan Moore

12.11.2008

The Red Flag, a Chinese car produced for state officials from the 1950’s until the 1970’s, was unveiled yesterday at the Blackhawk Auto Museum in California. The car was obtained by Blackhawk as a result of an unprecedented trade of classic cars between China and the United States. It marks the first time that this type of cultural exchange has occurred between the two countries.

Don Williams, Blackhawk Museum President and owner of the prestigious Blackhawk Collection stated, “This exchange represents cultural and automotive history as a collector car has never left China before, nor has China been able to purchase collector cars from outside the country”.

So, this is kind of a big deal in the collector car community.

The subject of the unveiling, the Red Flag, is a big deal, too. In fact, it’s a massive car. The photos do not do its sheer size justice – think a late Fifties Cadillac Sixty Series parade car, and you’ll get the general idea of the length and girth of the car, although if I had to sum up the looks of the car, I would say it’s a pastiche of the largest Ford and Chrysler cars of its era. The might of the Chinese people was truly represented by the Red Flag.

The Red Flag was produced in very small quantities starting in 1958 and was mostly used by Chinese dignitaries for special occasions.

And how did the Red Flag end up at Blackhawk in Danville, CA?

Here is an extract from the official Blackhawk press release:

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Williams has journeyed to China over the past three years, building many relationships along the way. Upon befriending Jason Huang, an avid car collector, prominent businessman and owner of Sanhe Group, he discovered the Red Flag.

His 40 years of collector car industry experience told him the car had
far more than monetary value as it represented China’s cultural history.

“I wanted the car from the moment I laid eyes on it, who wouldn’t want one of China’s very first cars”, reflects Williams.

Through a friendship built out of a common love for cars, Williams has become the new owner of The Red Flag. The exchange was a timely one that required great patience while earning trust and permission from the government of China to bring the car to America.

Not only does Williams hope to educate people in the United States about The Red Flag, China and its culture, he has also spent a great deal of time in China helping to educate their people about classic cars. Their primary exposure has been through magazines and TV.

Williams notes, “I’ve spent time in Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing and have seen car enthusiasm in China grow by leaps and bounds. They are curious about movie cars and love cars with lots of chrome and detail”.

Williams has worked with government and private enterprise in Shanghai to bridge the collector car gap and has donated his time and expertise to help develop the Blackhawk Pavilion at the Shanghai Auto Museum. He has provided 60 cars to the museum.

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Mr. Huang, the previous owner of the Red Flag, was present at yesterdays’ unveiling and made some brief remarks through an interpreter. The friendship between Huang and Williams was obvious and genuine, even though Huang speaks no English and Williams speaks no Chinese. When I asked Williams during the subsequent press conference what Chinese car was next on his wish list, he replied without hesitation that it would be the first Red Flag produced, and the one after that on the list would be a Red Flag convertible. He added, with a smile, as he looked at Huang, “And I’m going to have Jason do all the restoration work on the cars.”

There were also several friendly Chinese officials at the unveiling, smiling a great deal, and the importance of the event to them was palpable to the journalists in the audience.

After the event, I had a chance to walk around the Blackhawk Museum and was quite impressed with the quality of their cars. I have owned a considerable number of classic cars myself, have also visited many of the top car museums, and Blackhawk has a wonderful (and pristine) selection of important cars on the premises. If you happen to be in the area, it is a trip well worth making.

For a larger gallery of photos of the Red Flag, follow this link

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Blackhawk Museum

Blackhawk Collection

Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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3 Comments

  1. Though it’s hard to tell from the photos, it appears to be a much higher quality piece than you see from the likes of Chery and Geely today.

  2. It also looks uncannily like a Russian ZIL, another curious car designed to prove that communism could produce flashy limousines too, although strictly for the politburo.

  3. I kind of like the way this car looks, I thnk it sort of handsome.

    It’s funny, when I click on this article the Google context ad at the top of the page changes to a matchmaking service for Chinese brides!

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