Home » Chinese Take-Out Boxes: 2003 Wuling Marathon vs 2011 Vantage Truckall

Chinese Take-Out Boxes: 2003 Wuling Marathon vs 2011 Vantage Truckall

Sbsd 1 8 2024

Welcome back! This week on Shitbox Showdown, you’re in charge of choosing the cars. I’m pulling suggestions from the Shitbox Showdown channel on our Discord server, as well as from Opposite Lock. Today’s contestants are a pair of Chinese-made mini trucks that are, somehow, both street-legal, or so the sellers claim. Hat tip to Oppo member “dogisbadob” for the suggestion.

Friday, our own David Tracy chose the vehicles, or at least provided the inspiration via a cryptic Slack message. We stepped well outside our normal price range to look at a Dodge Viper convertible and a BMW i8 coupe. Comment and vote counts were both high, which I take to mean you all enjoyed the walk on the wild side. I’ll try to add in some more variety to keep things fresh; I know I sometimes get stuck on things that I think are cool, and they’re not always to your taste. That’s what this week is all about.

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Voting was closer than I expected from the comments, which seemed to heavily favor the Viper. In the end, the big dumb fun Dodge won, but it wasn’t a landslide. I am firmly on Team Viper, in case there was any doubt. The i8 is cool, but a hyper-sophisticated limited-production car with a BMW badge on it is not my idea of fun. Rowing through the gears on a Tremec 6060 gearbox while listening to V10 noises, on the other hand, sounds like a hoot.

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I may have mentioned this before, but I grew up in a staunchly “Buy American” part of the country. “Foreign” cars were around, but viewed with suspicion, and in some cases outright hostility. Most of that animosity was directed at Japanese brands; my family’s Volkswagens and Fiats were just seen as weird, not really evil. The idea of Chinese-made cars being sold in America would probably have made heads explode back then.


Now, of course, there are Buicks and Volvos and Lincolns (oh my) sold in the US that come from factories in China. And Chinese brands like BYD will probably set up shop here any day now. Not to mention that, from what I’ve seen on the country-of-origin stickers on half the parts I’ve bought from RockAuto in recent years, we’ll all be driving Chinese-made cars eventually anyway, one replacement part at a time. But Chinese-built vehicles have been commonplace for decades in one market: mini trucks. The Japanese Kei trucks steal the spotlight, but American companies have been importing similar vehicles from China since at least the early 2000s.

I don’t know much about either of these, but I’ll do my best, and we’ll learn together. Sound good? Let’s go.

2003 Wuling Marathon – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 797 or 970 cc overhead cam inline 4, three-speed manual, RWD

Location: Philadelphia, PA


Odometer reading: 2,400 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives well

This one I’ve at least heard of. This little van is known as a Wuling Dragon in its homeland, a license-built version of Mitsubishi’s Minicab kei truck. It’s powered by a license-built Suzuki four-cylinder, at least I think it is; Wuling licensed engine designs from Mitsubishi and Daihatsu as well. It has a manual transmission which the seller lists as a three-speed, though it may actually be four. I found a few forum posts that seem to suggest that the models imported to the US had fourth gear locked out, to keep it under the 25 mile per hour limit for low-speed vehicles. Whether that lockout can be removed or not, I don’t know.

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The “Marathon” name comes from Marathon Motors, a company in Alabama that used to import these vehicles. Apparently “Wuling Dragon” sounded too Chinese. It’s hard to find information about the importer, because there is also a company called Marathon that makes electric motors, and the Marathon Motor Works, a concert venue in Tennessee in the factory of the old Marathon automobile company that folded in 1913. Not to mention Marathon Coach here in Oregon, a company that converts buses into RVs. This Marathon appears to now do business as Rosenthal & Associates, though there are hundreds of law firms with the same name, so that search is futile, as well.


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Annoyingly, the ad is short on details. We get only four photos of the exterior, showing three different sets of wheels and tires, and a short video of the van doing a burnout (probably with the surface wet, or oily, or something) which likely explains the tire discrepancy. Other vehicles in the background of the photos make me think that this van is at an impound lot or a towing company or something. They do say it has a title, which I think means you should be able to register it for the road.

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It looks all right, and it has that same adorable tiny van charm as Japanese kei vans, for a lot cheaper price. And the steering wheel is in the right place. This is allegedly a seven-passenger van, though I can’t imagine actually trying to drive any distance with seven people in it.

2011 Vantage Truckall – $6,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Boyertown, PA

Odometer reading: 9,900 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives fine

I didn’t even know this manufacturer existed before Friday, so I guess you could say I knew truck-all about the Truckall. At least this company still exists, so tracking down information is easier. Vantage Vehicle International is a California-based company that “designs, assembles, and sells” low-speed trucks. From what I can gather, it brings over Jiabao truck chassis and bodies from China, installs the drivetrain, and completes final assembly, presumably so the trucks are “made” in the US, to avoid tariffs.


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It’s powered by a 1 liter fuel-injected four-cylinder engine, driving the rear axle through a five-speed manual. This one is supposed to be limited to 25 mph as well, but somehow I don’t think it is. The seller says it is street-legal and has a title. This is the fancy model, with air conditioning.

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Surprisingly, for its diminutive size, the Truckall seems to have a decent amount of room inside. Even the back seat legroom looks acceptable, at least to ferry security guards or groundskeepers around a campus, which is what these things are made for. It’s stark and utilitarian inside, but I wouldn’t expect much luxury. It’s all in decent condition, it looks like, at least.

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Outside, it looks like any other hard-working truck: scrapes, dings, and a little rust add character to the stark white paint. It has a small bed, but it’s supposedly able to carry a thousand pounds of whatever you need in it. It’s amazing how much stuff you can carry with so little power when you don’t have to move it very fast.

Neither of these is much use as an actual vehicle for, you know, driving on roads and all that. But if you have some enclosed area with a lot of ground to cover, these make a lot more sense than a whole big truck or van. Or, if you want a weird little toy that’s not your typical side-by-side or golf cart, these would fit that bill as well. You just have to choose between the van, or the crew-cab truck.

(Image credits: Facebook Marketplace sellers)

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Calder Smith
Calder Smith
3 months ago

My university has an old Vantage, with either a 4 or 5 speed manual. It’s got some fun bullet hole stickers, and a bit of rust, but I see it driving around every once in a while, so it seems to be running well.

Geoff Buchholz
Geoff Buchholz
3 months ago

Van, please! It’s too cute, and would look sick with a set of five-slots all around. I appreciate the Truckall’s utility, but it looks too ungainly.

Not The Ford 289
Not The Ford 289
3 months ago

Can I have them both?

3 months ago

The “burnout” video in the Marathon’s ad made me laugh, but doesn’t do anything to make me want to buy it. Trucklet it is.

3 months ago

Wonder if that was supposed to be imported by Checker and was intended to replace the marathon Cab… LOL

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