Paul’s reminiscence about The East Glows from the People’s Republic of China has inspired me to do similar Maoist-style self-criticism and come forth with an untold story about Chinese cars. In my case, it involves a car book and models from the two competing Chinas: the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (also known as ROC or Taiwan).
The book was the World Car Catalogue for 1969, an international mishmash “Published Annually By The Automobile Club of Italy” with contributors from Italy, the United States, Western Europe, South America, and Japan, and published in the United States by Herald Books in rather jumbled British English. This large volume came into my possession through events similar to those surrounding Paul’s acquisition of his automotive encyclopedias.
It covered what appears to be every car manufacturer on earth in 1969, from Abarth to ZAZ, and from Argentina to the USSR (Zimbabwe was still Rhodesia, and Zambia had no automobile industry, then or now). The sole automakers in the two Chinas, Hongki in the People’s Republic of China and YLN in Taiwan, were not especially unusual in a volume that included DINARG in Argentina and Syrena in Poland. The profiles of each model have exactly two photographs each and no prose describing the car, but each features a wealth of technical data that makes detailed objective comparisons possible.
Comparing the Hongki and YLN 801A is not really fair, since they were intended for entirely different users (high Chinese Communist officials and upper middle class individuals in Taiwan, respectively) and competed in entirely different size classes, but is revealing nonetheless. The Hongki, first produced in 1958, is a massive 225.59 inches in length with a wheelbase of 133.86 inches, comparable in size to a contemporary Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham.
With a separate ladder frame, wishbones and coil springs in front, a live axle with leaf springs in the rear, and an overhead valve V-8 with automatic transmission, it would be familiar to Detroit engineers of the 1950s. Its 345 cubic inch V-8 produced a claimed 210 hp at 4,400 rpm and 312 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm, transmitting it through a two speed automatic, and giving a claimed maximum speed of 180 kph (111.9 mph). In all respects, it appears to be a Chinese knockoff of a 1950s American sedan.
The YLN 801A, on the other hand, represents 1960s Japanese engineering and design. Yue Loong Motor Company (rebranded Yulon in 1992) began during the 1950s by license producing Willys Jeeps, and then began producing Nissan passenger cars under license in 1960, a relationship that has lasted into the 21st Century. The YLN 801A was a Nissan Cedric with a slight facelift featuring distinct pods for its quad round headlights and a different grille, but otherwise essentially unchanged.
It shared the Cedric’s unit body, wishbones and coil springs in front and live axle with leaf springs in the rear, and Pininfarina styling aft of the front clip. The main mechanical difference was substituting an overhead valve 2.0 liter inline four for the Cedric’s more advanced overhead cam inline six, the engine that would go on to power the 240Z. With 99 horsepower at 5,000 rpm, 123 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm from its 2.0 liter four, and a three speed manual column shift, maximum speed was only 87 mph.
In the Hongki, we have a car that was an obsolete dinosaur by 1969 yet remained in production until 1981, much like other Communist regime VIP cars like the original Chaika. In the YLN, we have a modern car in 1969 that would be replaced by a succession of new designs from Nissan from the 1970s through the 2000s. Today, Hongki continues to exist as a producer of large sedans based on foreign designs–now the Toyota Crown — while YLN/Yulon produces a wide range of vehicles domestically in Taiwan and has branched out into producing cars in China. So with the benefit of hindsight, YLN wins the automotive battle between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China, as decisively as the People’s Republic of China won the civil war in the 1940s.