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A challenge from China

A challenge from China
Looking at the winner of the 1907 Peking-Paris race in our main picture, we can imagine the fearsome physical obstacles facing the cars and teams as they set out on 10th June 1907 from Peking (then known in Britain as Pekin) to drive to Paris.  But there were cultural obstacles, too.  A first report in the British Motor magazine for 11th June summed it up beautifully: “On Monday the motorcar race from Pekin to Paris starts, unless the Chinese authorities succeed in their efforts to oppose the venture.  The Mandarins have strange doubts and fears concerning the true purport of the intrepid adventurers.  They entertain grave suspicions as to the political designs of the competitors.  They are believed to be engineers under the guise of tourists, and it is thought that they have been ordered by European Governments to secretly plan some remarkable railway system.”
But the concerns of the journalists soon passed to the physical: “…there will be places on the journey at which it will be necessary to carry the cars.”  And, “After the difficulties of the Mongolian Mountains have been overcome, the cars will face the infinity of the Gobi Desert.”
Prompted by a challenge laid down in a Paris newspaper in January 1907, the race had forty entrants – but only five teams shipped their cars to Peking to start the race: the Itala of the eventual winner Prince Scipione Borghese, accompanied by Ettore Guizzardi, one Spyker (which finished 2nd), one Contal cyclecar (which did not finish) and two De Dions (which came 3rd and 4th).
Although the race followed a telegraph route that made international news coverage possible, contemporary press photographs show just how difficult the whole enterprise must have been.  One of our pictures [Picture 2] shows a veritable quagmire in an otherwise bustling town, is entitled “A specimen of roads encountered on Pekin-Paris route.  The principal street in Kouan Chenzy.”  
It was accepted at the time that the achievement of the four finishers could not have been accomplished without external aid, but the vehicles’ ability to withstand the hauling and rough usage in the mountains of China and the swamps of Southern Siberia was, according to the Autocar, “proof of the extraordinary strength of the cars.”
Indeed, another of our photographs [Picture 3] shows just such an example, including these words in the caption: “Large gangs of Chinese coolies were engaged to assist the cars through some of the passes.”
Autocar illustrated the toughness and excellent preparation of the winning Itala in another of our pictures [Picture 4].  The caption tells us: “The mudguards are arranged so that they can be easily taken off and utilised as planks for crossing fords, and soft places.  The large petrol and general supply tanks will be noticed.”
In rural districts, even in Russia, motor cars were still a rarity.  In Kazan, two youths fled in terror when faced with the appearance of a “horseless car”.  But in Russia the reception was usually friendly – apart from an incident near Nijni Novgorod where the Itala frightened a horse.  The angry locals advanced on the car, throwing stones, until, as the Automotor Journal relates, “…the sight of a pistol levelled by a steady hand caused them to withdraw.”
Prince Scipione Borghese’s Itala was so far ahead of the other three surviving cars – 17 days at one point – that he had time to attend four days of celebrations in Moscow and shorter but equally rapturous receptions in St Petersburg and Berlin, before his triumphant arrival in Paris on 10th August.  The Spyker and two De Dions were sadly unable to arouse the same enthusiasm as they finally passed through.
Our last picture [Picture 5], from Motor, shows the winning car on its arrival in Paris in the rain, with the Prince at the wheel.  He has clearly not posed for the camera – but we suspect that the manufacturer has made sure that the Itala script (which is covered in grime on all other pictures of the car during the race) has been added to the image before publication.  And why not?  This was a magnificent achievement by a famous Italian make and its intrepid Italian team.
Words by Peter Moss.  Pictures from the Richard Roberts Archive.
Tuesday, 24 October 2017 Attention: open in a new window. Print E-mail

Early Motoring Days in China

Early Motoring Days in China
The motor car in China had a slow start if compared with many other countries. Around 1900 China was an empire in decline and economically exploited by foreign powers. In China there was much aversion against this Western colonialism, giving rise to a strong nationalistic movement. This resulted in the Boxer revolt directed against the western interference, which started in 1899 and was ended in 1901 by an international coalition. If this had a direct relationship with the first motor car in China is not clear, but it is a fact that in 1901 a Duryea automobile was presented to the Queen Mother Cixi. Probably this has remained the only car in Beijing for a long time: the city were the car was present in some quantity during the early years of the 20th century was Shanghai, an important port and according to The Horseless Age in 1908 “the New York of the Far East”. In that year the number of cars in that city was about 150, which was of course still very modest compared to New York, where two years later (in 1910) already more than 60,000 vehicles were registered. Other cities were even much further behind: Hongkong had only 4 cars in 1906 and Tientsin and Hankow had even less …

The road situation in Shanghai and most other cities was very good, but due to the congested state of the traffic, The Horseless Age advised that small cars had a big advantage under these circumstances. They even advised the use of steam cars, which would be much easier in handling in this situation, but the reality was that only gasoline cars were in use.
Shanghai had its first car exposition in 1904 and had acquired a Merryweather fire engine in 1906. The cars in China were imported mainly from France, England and the USA, but in 1908 also in increasing amounts from Germany, as these appeared to be cheap and reliable. The Horseless Age mentioned the makes present from the major three countries: from France mainly De Dion, Cottereau, Renault and Richard-Brasier; from America Columbia, Cadillac, Maxwell, Reo, Rambler and a few Oldsmobiles; and from Britain Earl, Johnson, Wolseley and a couple of Humbers. The Earl did exist, but was a small car manufacturer and the Johnson is unknown to me. So this could very well have been a printing error: if we combine Earl and Johnson it sounds phonetically almost like Arrol-Johnston. This would be more likely as it was a make specially made for the rugged roads of Scotland and thus better suited for the roads outside the Chinese towns!
World traveler Charles J. Glidden had visited Shanghai in the spring of 1906, but a year later a trip of 4 cars and a tricar would become iconic: the legendary Beijing to Paris race of 1907. From the reports on this trip we have a first hand account of the fact that outside the cities the roads were still of very poor quality if there were any roads at all.(more about this tomorrow)
Before World War 1 car industry in China was virtually non-existent and only slowly started to rise in the 1920's. If anybody would have predicted then that a hundred years later the Chinese car industry would become the largest in the world, he would probably have ended in a madhouse! The spectacular fact is, that it really happened. But how it did, that's another story!

On the photos, we see on the lead photo the 1901 Duryea of Queen Mother Cixi. On the other photos a Georges Richard in Hongkong in 1903, owned by the embassy attaché and driving around with his 'gentille famille', and an early Siddeley in Shanghai in 1905.

Words and photos: Ariejan Bos

Monday, 23 October 2017 Attention: open in a new window. Print E-mail

The Chinese automotive industry is 109 years old.

The Chinese automotive industry is 109 years old.
The Chinese automotive industry is 109 years old. You probably don’t believe this. But here it is:
In the streets in China today you will find a lot, a lot of cars. Most of them are from Japanese, European or American origin, some are Chinese. When you ask someone in the street which was the first Chinese car,  most people will answer “Santána”. The Shanghai-Volkswagen Santana is made from 1984- 2012.
No, it is not the first Chinese car. Older Chinese people will answer this question with “ Shanghai” or “Hongqi”. But officially the Dongfeng is China’s first car. Made in 1958 by the First Auto Works, according to factory sources 30 were made. I doubt it, I would guess around 10. Two still exist, one in Mr. Lou Wenyou’s museum in Huairou, the other in the factory collection of the First Auto Works in Changchun. The car was based on the contemporary Simca Vedette from which the factory owned one.
The story is not ending here. Now we are going back to the early years of the People’s Republic. In 1951 a group of Chinese engineers built in Tianjin their first car: a station wagon (woody) based on an old 1932 Dodge pickup chassis. The engine was a homemade 4-cylinder. Some sources say that they made four cars, but I think that they stopped after the first one. The same group trial-produced a jeep based on a Ford GPW and a bus.
The real Chinese automotive history friends know that the first Chinese truck was developed at the end of the 1920s. It was a local warlord in Manchuria, Zhang Xueliang, who decided that he wants to make automobiles. Though initially in 1929 he sent a delegation to Birmingham to study the Austin facilities with the idea to produce the Austin 7 in China, he changed and chose to start motorization by producing trucks. He hired an American engineer named Daniel F. Myers who worked together with the factory director general Li Yichun to design and develop a truck, to organize a factory and start the production. Myers had worked at the Relay factory in Ohio and designed a truck with Relay influences, using a Relay engine. The first prototype, named Mingshen or Zhongshan, was ready in May 1931, made from both Chinese and American parts. After a second prototype was made and the production of a series of 45 trucks was prepared, the Japanese invaded Manchuria and bombed the factory in September 1931. Myers flew to Beijing and Shanghai where he designed a people’s three-wheel cycle car, a project which was never realized. 

This is not all. We go further back, to Shanghai of the roaring twenties and thirties. No car factories, but a lot of coachbuilders. One was the most important: the Shanghai Horse Bazaar and Motor Company (SHB). At least one car of their production has survived. You will find the SHB-Studebaker Light Six Coupe made in China in the Studebaker Museum in South Bend USA. SHB made a complete series of the Light Six, but they also built coaches on other makes: for instance Scripps-Booths or Stearns. There were a lot of other coachbuilders in Shanghai, like Mark L. Moody, Honigberg, Hudford, AutoPalace, the French Garage, Eastern Garage or China Motors. 
Recently we found in China a 1908 Swift brochure, stamped by the Shanghai Horse Bazaar. SHB offered motor car bodies that will equal the best European production”. So I count 1908 as the start of the Chinese automotive industry. 

Words and pictures: Erik van Ingen Schenau,

Sunday, 22 October 2017 Attention: open in a new window. Print E-mail

What is it? Quiz #456


This weeks quiz is about a company that built very unusual and modern cars. The ideas of its inventor „were always right, but far ahead of their time“. He showed prototypes on many shows from 1926 till 1956 but unfortunately he didn´t sell a single car. The first prototype was a streamlined mid-engined car with many modern features, but in 1930 he changed the concept and built the prototype, we are searching for. The car had an integral pontoon body, still kind of streamlined and independent suspension for all four wheels. It had a front engine and also featured front-wheel drive. After the war, a similar, but a modernized prototype was introduced. Still with integral body and independent suspension, but powered by a small V8-engine. Sadly only one of the cars, the last concept, built in 1956 still exists.

You know this unusual car from 1930? Don´t hesitate and leave your answer in a comment before Monday and use no more than 100 words to collect some more points for our six-month challenge!

Saturday, 21 October 2017 Attention: open in a new window. Print E-mail

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