Earlier this month, we took a good look at Hongqi open-top inspection cars. Today, we review open-top inspection cars made by other Chinese car brands just because we can. An inspection is used for various purposes, all extremely important. Some are used for military duties, others for civilian work. The main military duty is the inspection of troops by a high-ranking political or military officer. Examples of civilian work are: tours for visiting foreign dignitaries and parades for famous astronauts or sportsmen. The Chinese term for inspection car is 检阅车 (Jianyuè chē). An open-top inspection car is 敞篷检阅车 (Changpéng jianyuè chē). The first open-top inspection cars appeared in the late 1950s and production continues today. You all were so into the last article, so we’re going to look at cars from brands: Beijing, Shanghai, Liebao, and Chery.
The Beijing Inspection Car
We start with Beijing Automobile Works (BAW), which much later became a part of the Beijing Automobile Industry Corporation (BAIC) (also see the BJ80 below). BAW was founded in 1958 after a merger and restructuring of several other automotive companies. BAW was ambitious, and the company started the development of a compact sedan called Jingangshan and of an open-top inspection car and state limousine under the Beijing brand. The inspection car was intended for the 1959 National Day Parade to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of Communist China. It was simply called ‘Inspection Car’, without any real name or number.
The Beijing Inspection Car inspection car had five stars on the hood, above the grille, mimicking the stars of the Chinese flag. The design was heavily inspired by the Buick Century sedan. A certain Liu Ren, at the time the second secretary of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee, owned a 1956 Century. He kindly donated his car to BAW. Engineers managed to reverse-engineer most of the vehicle, including the 5.5 liter V8 engine. But the Inspection Car had its own design elements too, like the double headlights, the complex grille with built-in fog lights [Editor’s Note: I think they’re indicators – JT] , and the suicide doors. In the first photo, the first Beijing Inspection Car is in front of Tiananmen in Beijing.
Here’s a brilliant photo of the unveiling ceremony for the Inspection Car. In the foreground are high-ranking cadres with glasses of beer and packages of cigarettes. In the center, a gentleman holding a speech, with a brand new Beijing Inspection car on each side. In the background, the factory workers and a line of white and gray Jinggangshan sedans.
The Inspection Car had a thin and low handlebar behind the front bench. It has a high bench in the rear compartment, so it seems the idea was that the inspector would sit instead of stand during inspecting or parading. Sadly for BAW, the Inspection Car was not selected for the 1959 parade, mainly because there were worries about quality, as one of the cars broke down due to transmission failure during the rehearsal of the military parade. The organizers went for the Hongqi CA72J1 instead.
The Beijing Inspection Car was used for various local events in Beijing and surrounding provinces. The photo shows one of the Inspection Cars at a parade at the Beijing Exhibition Center, which still stands today. They always have great exhibitions there.
BAW also developed a sedan version, which was called Limousine, and a subsequent series of sedans.
The Shanghai SH761 inspection cars
‘Shanghai’ was a brand under the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). The brand existed from 1963 until 1991. After 1985, SAIC focused on its joint ventures with Volkswagen and General Motors. In 2014, SAIC appeared to have plans to resurrect the Shanghai brand, but that came to nothing. Nowadays, SAIC operates a whole lot of its own brands, including Roewe, MG, Maxus, and IM. Back in the early 1960s, Shanghai was selling the aging Shanghai SH760. The company wanted to make bigger cars, so it developed a whole bunch of prototypes under the SH762 name that never made it to production. The SH761 inspection car was based on those prototypes.
Shanghai went for a different design than Hongqi. Square, with straight lines and a windshield that stood almost straight up. It had suicide rear doors, and four headlights, and it was loaded with chrome. The prototype had a low and rather thin handlebar above the divider. It stood on whitewall tires with wheel covers that looked very similar to Hongqi’s wheel covers of that period.
Only 14 cars were produced before production ended in 1971. The production version had a unique wheel design, and the thick white wall was replaced by a simple white line. The handlebar got a makeover, too. It was now higher and sturdier. The SH761 had a 2.2-liter inline-six engine under the hood with an output of 80 hp and 147 Nm. The top speed of the two-ton SH761 was only 90 kilometers per hour (about 55 mph.
But inspection cars don’t need to go very fast. They need to roll slowly so the inspectors can check stuff out or wave to the crowd. Here is one SH761 in action with three fellows inspecting. The SH761 had a similar hydraulically lifted rear bench mechanism as later Hongqi inspection cars: when on inspection duty, the rear bench would go up so the occupants could half-sit, and half-stand while inspecting. The Shanghai SH761 was mainly used in Shanghai and surrounding provinces. It was never used on a national stage.
An interesting photo. The text only said: “African friends take the Shanghai brand high-end open-top inspection car.” The location seems to be an exhibition hall. In the background is a Shanghai SH760 sedan. There is a Chinese man behind the wheel and a Chinese lady smiling on the right. Was Shanghai Auto trying to sell a parade car to an African country perhaps? I will try to find out more.
The Beijing Classic Car Museum owns a nicely restored SH761 with a red interior. This car was manufactured in 1970. It is in perfect shape with all chrome shiny as new. The fender-based mirrors seem small for such a big car.
The former Dalian Classic Car Museum had an SH761 too, produced in 1971. It had a black interior and different wheel covers. The then-owner of the museum regularly participated in classic car rallies with the SH761.
The Liebao 4×4 inspection cars
The Changfeng Liebao parade car is based on the Changfeng Liebao SUV, which was based on the second-generation Mitsubishi Pajero. The Pajero was made in China by the Changfeng-Mitsubishi joint venture. The company produced cars under both the Mitsubishi and the Changfeng brands. Liebao (猎豹) means Leopard. Curiously, the current English name of this brand is Leopaard, with an extra A. One Liebao parade car used to be on display in the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution, one of my favorite museums worldwide. It’s got all kinds of missiles, guns, tanks, aircraft, and a small collection of military utility vehicles. I’ve been there dozens of times. In the old days, you could climb on everything, the place was a total anarchy of screaming kids, smoking adults, and apple-eating grannies. Sadly, in 2017 the museum was completely renovated. I went there in 2019. The good soul is gone. It has become a static place with strict guards in military uniform. Boo! I took these pics of the Liebao in 2009.
The Liebao inspection car had a large glass window on the partition wall to protect the inspector against wind and rain. The actual handlebar is behind the window. The gray seats seem simple compared to the luxury of Hongqi and Shanghai inspection cars.
The inspection car with license plate ZA-00-69 has historical significance. It was used as the lead vehicle when Chinese troops entered the Macau Special Administrative Area (SAR) in 1999, after the transfer of sovereignty of Macau from Portugal to China.
Production of the first generation Liebao inspection vehicle started in 1997 and lasted until 2016. It was mainly sold to the armed forces and to the People’s Armed Police (PAP). The PAP is a special paramilitary police force. This group is responsible for, among many other tasks: riot control, anti-terrorism, anti-organized crime, guarding government buildings, and guarding foreign embassies and consulates. I used to work for the Dutch embassy in Beijing. We always had four armed PAP fellows guarding the building.
Such a police force deserves proper inspection vehicles. They got the Liebao. In 2014, for example, the Beijing PAP purchased two dozen Liebao inspection vehicles. They were painted white-green with a red police light fitted at the back. For a while, these cars were actively used for patrolling the streets of Beijing. I remember them driving along the Second Ring Road, with heavily armed officers inside. It looked a little odd. Then one day, the cars were suddenly gone and never returned. They’re probably abandoned at a police-vehicle yard somewhere!
Note the Type 74 Remote Mining Machine and the HY-1 ‘Silk Worm‘ missile in the background.
The second-generation Liebao inspection vehicle was based on the third-generation Mitsubishi Pajero, also made by Changfeng-Mitsubishi. In this photo, President Hu Jintao is at a 2012 military parade in Hong Kong. The Liebao has a red-clothed handlebar on the divider and a 4-unit microphone stand. Mr. Hu is accompanied by three high-ranking officers and a driver. The car has only one flagpole with the Chinese flag. The Liebao is nicely spec’d with chromed mirror housings, fog lights, sidebars, and big shiny wheels.
And here is Xi Jinping during a different parade. It’s a similar vehicle, but Xi has one microphone less than Hu. Xi Jinping has another inspection car following him, with two high-ranking officers standing next to each other. They don’t get to have any microphones. The characters on the license plates are 检阅 (Jianyuè), and that means inspection or review. Xi’s car got 检阅·00001, and the second car 检阅·00002.
Xi with the Jiebao again, this time at an inspection of a navy base in Hainan in 2013. Xi lost another microphone, he’s got only two left. The second car parades a navy officer, and he also gets a pair of microphones.
The Beijing BJ80 inspection car
Xi clearly likes the Liebao, but sometimes he inspects stuff in another 4×4. This is the Beijing BJ80 open-top inspection vehicle, at an inspection of the Hong Kong Garrison in 2017. This inspection vehicle is based on the Beijing BJ80 SUV, a Jeep-like/G-Class sort of vehicle that is available in dozens of civilian and military variants. Production of the BJ80 SUV started in 2016. It is manufactured by Beijing Off-Road, a subsidiary of Beijing Automotive Industry Corporation (BAIC). The inspection vehicle has a sturdy handlebar on the divider, with four microphones on top. It is painted in the then-new ‘digital’ camouflage pattern. Oddly, however, the handlebar appears to be wrapped in a traditional camouflage pattern. Better be careful with that. The enemy sees everything! Happily, it also has a spare wheel for flat-tire emergencies.
The current BJ80 model. It got an upgrade in 2020 with fancy two-tone paint and a new 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 producing 280 hp and 420 Nm.
Here are some BJ80 inspection cars after the parade. There are three cars in the photo; the two cars used for the inspection and a spare. At larger parades, the spare car sometimes drives a few meters behind the lead car. Just in case, as in this case:
Inspecting again, 2017 was a busy year for the BJ80. Here we got three inspection vehicles at a military parade for China’s 90th anniversary. This was a unique parade because it wasn’t held in the capital Beijing, but on a dusty military base in the desert in Inner Mongolia. With some badass ICBMs! Behind the inspection cars is an open-top broadcast camera vehicle, also based on the BJ80, but with different wheels. The camera cars used at inspections are worth a separate story, some have become very popular in Chinese car culture, and some are even available in scale model form! More on that later, I hope. I was in a smaller restaurant in Beijing when the parade was held; the TV was on, with lots of old folks watching while eating and drinking tea. They cheered for every new weapon system. I had an early beer for a peaceful atmosphere.
The Chery Eastar inspection car
Chery is a locally-state owned car maker founded in 1997. It started with old Seats and, nowadays, they make advanced mid-range cars under a whole bunch of brands. The Chery Eastar inspection car was based on the first-generation Chery Eastar sedan. The name is interesting. Eastar stands for Eastern Star. The Chinese name is 东方之子 (Dongfang Zhizi), and that means Oriental Sun, an unusually long name for a Chinese car. Most Chinese cars have two-character names, or max three. Four characters is a lot.
The first-generation Chery Eastar sedan was launched in 2004 and produced until 2011, powered by various four-cylinder engines. The 1.8-liter was developed by Chery. The 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter were sourced from Mitsubishi. Chery also made a stretched-limousine variant of the Eastar.
The inspection car debuted in 2008. It was a classy car with dark black paint and a beige leather interior. Wheelbase was lengthened by 20 centimeters compared to the sedan. It didn’t really have a full divider between the front- and rear compartments, but instead relied on a lower bar that supported the actual inspection handlebar. The Eastar inspection car was equipped with screens in the headrests where the inspectors could watch a DVD. There was no convertible roof. Rain = bad luck for the inspector.
The inspection car had the 2.4 under the hood. This Mitsubishi Sirius (4G64) engine was sourced locally from the Shenyang-Mitsubishi engine-making joint venture. This outfit has been supplying engines to dozens of Chinese automakers. The 2.4-liter unit has been fitted in anything from SUVs to sedans to pickup trucks to small trucks. The chassis of the inspection car was strengthened at the bottom and at the center pillar.
In 2009, Chery scored a space deal. The Eastar inspection car was chosen to parade the taikonauts of the Shenzhou VII mission, China’s third manned spaceflight and their first spaceflight with three people on board. It was a huge honor for Chery. Normally, Hongqi inspection cars were selected for this kind of parading work. Since there were three taikonauts, a single parade car was not big enough. So they went for three instead, one car per man. The parade cars were dressed up with fake flowers and escorted by military police. Parades were held in several cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong.
Sure, none of these are Hongqi cars, but they’re still cool. For my next story, I want to talk about roofed state-limousine inspection cars for military parades.
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Winnie the Poo looks like he’s been cut and pasted into those photos. Same identical smirk in every photo.
That SH761 looks like a cross between a 60s Ford and a Mercedes pagoda convertible, just fantastic.
How big is that BJ80, because it looks like a Jimny but the engine says otherwise? That seems like one they could sell a lot of overseas.
Love that Liebao, though all of these are fascinating.
I really like the Liebao cars. But I would: always thought the Pajeo was a Cheerfully Cheap car. Plus they’re stupid-capable
The Beijing Inspection Car from the ’50s looks like it would be a big hit in Havana.
Fascinating article. From now on I’m calling convertibles Inspection Cars. You can’t stop me. Any idea what’s up with that motorcycle? It looks like a thumper with dual exhaust. I have to be wrong.
Weirdly, I see some Checker in the Beijing one – weird, because Checker themselves only introduced the quad headlamps and eggcrate grille in 1958, so it was parallel thinking.
Checker was also the Chaika stand-in of choice for American low budget made for TV movies and miniseries whenever a real Soviet limo couldn’t be obtained.
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I love the angular SH762 sedan. It has kind of an Opel-ness to it and I wish they made more of them.
The SH761 Inspection Car seems to have a bit of an Amphicar vibe to it. Minus the plastic props, of course.
Side comment. It is rather amusing how Xi’s official picture pose seems to always be of mild irritation. Like it is taking you too long to find the shutter button and he could just show you if you stopped being stubborn and handed him the phone.
The point of an inspection car seems to be displaying the occupant.
So, who is inspecting whom?
Oh, he’s inspecting YOU, but it’s also that you need to see him inspecting you, because as a Chinese citizen, you’re being inspected every moment of your life. Check out the “social credit” system if you’re in the mood to get the willies.