Home » China Once Had The Coolest Airplane Stair-Cars In The World

China Once Had The Coolest Airplane Stair-Cars In The World

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I think it’s safe to say that the popularity of the airliner stair-car in the popular zeitgeist peaked during the initial run of the show Arrested Development from about 2003 to 2006. The show featured, quite prominently, a stair car, and if anyone gave much thought to stair cars, it was probably sometime back then. But now I’m asking you to consider stair cars again, because I was recently shown a picture of the stair car used way back in 1972 when then-president Nixon went to China, and it’s fantastic. So let’s take a moment and actually look at this vehicle, one that so often just gets processed away into the background, doing its humble job, quietly.

It was our own Bishop who showed me these images of Nixon entering China, which I think must be part of his research on Quaker American Presidents, a list so far that starts with Richard Milhous Nixon and ends with, um, Richard Milhous Nixon. I think he’s either writing a book or a one-man show, likely on ice, about this subject. Anyway, He was right to point this image out to me, because the stair car being used is fantastic, and, importantly to me, has some really incredible taillights.

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Let’s take a look at this striking machine:

Nixon China1

Look at that thing; it’s almost an elegant design. Let’s get a better look. COMPUTER! Zoom, and enhance!

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Dammit, that’s worse! What the hell is the matter with this thing? So many rheostats and switches and – oh! My chair was on the primary data hose from the information excorpulator. So, I just plug this back into the port on my Commodore PET, and…

Close Stair

There we go! Look at that thing! The red carpeted stairs, those ’70s-era-Cadillac-style rear fenders, with the integrated taillights; it’s fantastic. Just for comparison, look at the stair cars we were using here in the West around this era:

Weststair

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It seems to be either non-car-based things like that very flat unit up top there in the black-and-white photo, or Ford pickup truck-based stair cars that are pretty much just a stock F-100 with a staircase slapped into the bed. They’re fine and all, and I’m sure they did their jobs with reliability and consistency, but they do feel more, I don’t know, utilitarian than the Chinese one, which surprises me.

I thought we were America, land of verve and bold visual statements and hot pants and sequins and all that shit? How are the Chinese, especially 1970s-era Chinese, doing this with so much more style?

I mean, let’s look at the taillights here:

Innermarker

Are those extra side marker lamps on the inside of the fender? There must be a better picture of this around here, somewhere, right? Ah, here it is! Look!

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Close Lights Nixon

Yes, yes, that is exactly what is going on! There’s three extra side marker lamps on the inside, matching the three on the outside, which must give those red-carpeted stairs and extra injection of crimson light at night. The amber turn indicator seems to be in the pointy lens below, and the main taillight is that lovely rounded obelisk-like lens atop. And it’s all ringed with chrome. That whole thing is a motherflapping celebration of taillight and chrome and automotive opulence!

I mean, if anything, these lights remind me of that most American Capitalistic of cars, a Cadillac, and its distinctive taillights:

Caddylight

How is this what China uses to get people off airplanes? And what is this stair car? Here’s a better shot of one driving through the Pyongyang airport, under the ubiquitous gaze of, I think, Kim Il Sung:

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Stairs Nk

That’s a pretty stylish stair car; look at the character lines stamped into those long sides. Maybe they don’t exactly fit with the cabover front end, but it all works. And now that we mention it, what is that front end? What were Chinese stair cars based on?

Bj130It’s based on a vehicle that I think we can consider China’s Ford Econoline: the Beijing BJ130. The company that made them, from the late 1960s (well, that was the trial period, production officially started in 1973, according to one source, but the one seen with Nixon is from 1972, so who knows) to the late 1980s, is now consolidated as BAIC, still a major player in the Chinese automotive world, and they do proudly note the BJ130 on their website.

The BJ130 was one of the key workhorses of the Chinese commercial vehicle world and, with any number of different back ends (pickups, flatbeds, tankers, box trucks, probably mobile trampolines, you know) these did pretty much every stuff-moving-around job that needed doing in China.

Specsheet

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With their 2.4-liter inline-four engine making a respectable 77 horsepower, these things could hit 53 mph and carry about 4,800 pounds while doing so. It was a workhorse!

And, it seems, it was a workhorse that could be prettied up when acting as a stair car, in ways that, somehow, seemed to eclipse the West in gaudy stair car opulence.

Who knew we had such a Stair Car Gap? I hope our current adminstration takes note, and suitably glams-up all of America’s precious stair car fleet. We can’t be outshone again!

 

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M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
16 days ago

This would be a great article for Tycho from carnewschina to write about.

The Dude
The Dude
16 days ago

You’re gonna get hop-ons.

7Cincinnatus
7Cincinnatus
16 days ago
Reply to  The Dude

I use this as a general phrase for “given the circumstances, one should expect certain situations to arise as an eventuality”, regardless of my audience. Most people who fall into the ever-narrowing category of people who both do not understand the reference and have not heard me say this before, and subsequently explain it, choose not to inquire.

Andy Carlson
Andy Carlson
16 days ago
Reply to  The Dude

There are dozens of us!

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
16 days ago

The scene when they go visit George at the OC Jail, and park the stair car near the wall, and the prisoners use it to easily escape… was one of THE FUNNIEST moments that has ever been on television. Up there with “I’m out” and “Lord and Lady Douchebag”.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
16 days ago

You left out “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
16 days ago

I did, and it belongs in the top 5 also.

AlterId
AlterId
17 days ago

As Karl Marx wrote, ““History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” Thus, Nixon walks down from Air Force One for a historic meeting with Mao on a stair car stylish enough to foreshadow China’s skillful entrance into the world economy; not quite fifty years later, Trump ascends the stairs to Air Force One with toilet paper on his shoe.

The Dude
The Dude
16 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

You really can’t make this stuff up though. Like the whole Four Seasons thing.

Robert Swartz
Robert Swartz
17 days ago

Agreed. There was one of these in the courtyard of the China Military Museum when I lived in Beijing.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
17 days ago

“must be part of his research on Quaker American Presidents, a list so far that starts with Richard Milhous Nixon and ends with, um, Richard Milhous Nixon.”
Ha, yeah, not too many Quakers are overly eager to claim Nixon. He didn’t exactly walk the walk as a Quaker, as his entire political career so vividly demonstrates. And he went out of his way to enlist in the military during WWII, an action not altogether in line with the archetypically pacifist beliefs of Quakerism. As is pretty well known, many if not most Quakers who were eligible for the military in wartime registered as conscientious objectors. Fun fact, some of what we know about modern nutrition has its roots in the results of studies carried out when Quakers who registered as conscientious objectors volunteered for starvation experiments conducted by the military; such studies demonstrated the importance of various vitamins, minerals, etc. & helped identify some of the roles played by such nutrients. So, yeah, we can thank some hungry pacifist Quakers for some of the stuff we read on nutrition facts labels on our food packaging.

Robert Swartz
Robert Swartz
17 days ago

Herbert Hoover was also a Quaker.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
16 days ago
Reply to  Robert Swartz

Oh, right, completely forgot about that! JT will have to amend his speculation about the Bishop’s research and revise the topic from “Quaker American Presidents” to “Quaker American Presidents who didn’t walk the walk” which is lamentably all too encompassing in light of Hoover’s careers in mining and politics which included union-busting efforts both as a mining engineer and as President and his racism during his time working in Boxer Rebellion-era China where he proclaimed the local workers as being inferior due to their race.
Fun fact: Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, translated and published the first English edition of a pioneering 16th century work in mining, metallurgy, and chemistry, De Re Metallica by Georgius Agricola, which had previously been available only in Latin (some of which was in a relatively obscure Germanic dialect) in 1912.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_re_metallica
The tome was also notable for having some early examples of safety protocols in the workplace:
https://www.rockngem.com/examining-georgius-agricolas-de-re-metallica-part-ii/

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
16 days ago

I would listen to this episode of The Omnibus Project

Totally not a robot
Totally not a robot
17 days ago

So when they tell me that oatmeal is good for me, they’re speaking from experience.

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
17 days ago

Tail lights, Communism and a Commodore reference? Damn Torch, stop writing such badass articles like this, which always seem to make my fuzzy bits THAT MUCH FUZZIER! Imma go clean myself up now.

Last edited 17 days ago by Grey alien in a beige sedan
Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
17 days ago

He is the only human that gets us out of town folks

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
16 days ago

Given our usernames, we must certainly long, lost quogdnars! (Humans wouldn’t get that referenece)

Jack Trade
Jack Trade
17 days ago

I can’t believe I’m the first to point it out – we had better! And you guys already wrote about them I think.

The 1960s era people movers and planemates of Dulles airport were the coolest, most western way to do this.

Esp. as the planemates were originally outfitted like an airport gate, complete with ’60s-spec cocktails, ashtrays, and gooseneck reading lamps.

And they were part of the original design of the actual airport even. How cool is that?

Hoonicus
Hoonicus
17 days ago

Can I borrow your “primary data hose” to move a Frogger?
So Fn old I remember seeing that live, and taking note of those fins. good match up to the inspiring Caddy!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
17 days ago

I would like to have seen this stair car hit 53 MPH with Nixon clinging to the top platform. That’d have put a new detente in his skull.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
16 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

COTD. +1.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
17 days ago

That looks magnificent. I’d love to see how the rear looks with the stair gate up. I imagine those inner markers are pretty visible.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
17 days ago

Undeniably handsome, though being an American, if I had my own private airport and needed a stair car, I’d probably go for an F-100-based one.

Data
Data
17 days ago

An old Vulcan proverb says “Only Nixon could go to China”, but it did not mention stair cars. Clearly this was a logical oversight.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
16 days ago
Reply to  Data

Spock lives in a world where transporters are so prevalent that when the Sisko’s neighbor moved to New Orleans they beamed in the furniture.

Njd
Njd
17 days ago

I find it really hard to believe that Nixon was a Quaker.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
17 days ago
Reply to  Njd

They forgot the “c.”

Jonee Eisen
Jonee Eisen
16 days ago
Reply to  Njd

So do the Quakers.

Live2ski
Live2ski
17 days ago

Watch out for the hop-ons

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
17 days ago
Reply to  Live2ski

I came here for this ride.

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