Today we take a look at the Hongqi-branded closed-roof inspection cars that were used for the large military parades in Beijing. There is a lot of ado about these cars in China. They are seen as part of the parade, and in extension as a part of China’s military power and history. The inspection cars are almost worshiped by Hongqi fans and by car fans in general. There are websites and books, and dozens of scale models of each inspection car. So far, closed-roof inspection cars have been used for five military parades:
1984: 35th anniversary of China.
1999: 50th anniversary of China.
2009: 60th anniversary of China.
2015: 70th anniversary of Victory over Japan.
2019: 70th anniversary of China.
There were other military parades before and in between, but those were held with open-top inspection cars. This story is a two-parter because there are just too many cool pics and stories around. In this part, we take a look at the parades of 1984 and 1999. In the next part, coming soon, we check out 2009, 2015, and 2019.
The inspection cars have an important but short role: they inspect the troops before the actual start of the parade itself. The basic schedule is like this:
- Troops stand alongside Changan Avenue. Top bras stand atop the rostrum at Tiananmen. VIPs sit in boxes next to Tiananmen. Silence.
- The main inspection car drives from the Forbidden City under Tiananmen over the Jinshui Bridge to Changan Avenue.
- The inspection car turns left and is joined by the commander’s car and several auxiliary vehicles.
- The inspection car drives along Changan Avenue inspecting the troops.
- At the end of the formations, the inspection car makes a U-turn and drives back.
- The inspection car goes over the bridge again, under Tiananmen, and to the Forbidden City.
- The inspector, usually the head of state, jumps out of the car, rushes upstairs to the rostrum, and gives a short speech.
- The parade begins.
I added a video for every parade, in case my explanation isn’t super clear.
1984: Hongqi CA770TJ. License plate: A01-3430. With: Deng Xiaoping.
The first inspection car was used during the military parade celebrating the 35th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The parade was held on October 1, 1984. The official name of the parade was the Reform and Opening-up Parade (改革开放再阅兵). This name referred to China’s Reform and Opening-up policy (改革开放), designed so that China would get everything and the rest of the world cheap television sets.
Traditionally, a Chinese military parade has an inspector and a commander. The inspector is usually the head of state and the commander is usually the head of the Beijing Military Region. In 1984, the inspector was Deng Xiaoping. His most important title at the time was Chairman of the Central Military Commission. The commander was Qin Jiwei. Deng’s ride was a Hongqi CA770TJ inspection car with a white military license plate A01-3430. The car was painted dark black and fitted with a boatload of shiny chrome. The interior was beige.
The CA770TJ inspection car was based on the Hongqi CA770 state limousine. The CA770TJ was bulletproof, which makes sense until the inspector stands up with half of his body and his head out of the car. The bulletproof-ness, I guess, was only meant for emergencies. The CA770TJ had an interesting convertible roof mechanism. The roof opened at the B-pillar. It went up and then slid down in a special compartment in the rear. The rear bench was moved forwards and the limousine-style jump seats were deleted. The car was furthermore equipped with an inspection platform in the middle just behind the divider. The height of the platform could be adjusted with a foot pedal.
The Hongqi CA770 was a rear-wheel drive state limousine with a length of 5980 millimeters and a 3720-millimeter wheelbase. It had 8 seats in a 3/2/3 configuration. The middle two were jump seats for aides.
Under the hood was a 5.65 liter V8 four-stroke carburetor gasoline engine with an output of 223 hp kW and 380 Nm. The top speed was 165 kilometers per hour and fuel consumption was a steep 20 liters per 100 kilometers. The early cars had a 2-speed gearbox, which was later replaced with 4-speed and 5-speed boxes.
The inspection car drives on Jinshui Bridge on its way to Changan Avenue. It had three microphones mounted on the roof. The signal of the microphones went to an amplifier in the trunk. The sound was then recorded by road-based microphones, amplified again, and played to the crowds via a speaker system alongside the road. It also had two flag poles and a large antenna. There were no flags at the flagpoles at the 1984 and 1999 parades.
The third-side window is blacked-out. That’s where the roof is. Deng stood in the middle, on the platform. On the front bench a driver and a bodyguard. On the rear bench two officers, sitting in the left and right seats. The middle seat is for Deng.
There are antennae on the left and the right, but they are not of the same type. The wire of the antenna in front of the driver goes into the retractable quarter “vent” window. Deng has three wired microphones, the wires go into the roof. There are two additional wires on each side of the inspection roof.
The 1984 CA770TJ in the Hongqi Museum in Changchun
The Hongqi Museum is a factory museum in Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province, and the hometown of FAW and Hongqi. It is not a public museum, you can only get in with a special invitation. Happily, I had a friend who had a friend and in the summer of 2017, I visited the museum. I stayed for a few hours and took a thousand photos. In the museum are about two dozen cars on display. Some are permanent and others rotate. There is a large FAW storage facility nearby with many more cars and prototypes but I didn’t get to see it. Maybe another time. Anyway. Luckily, four of the five inspection cars discussed in this article were on display when I visited the museum.
The museum claims that this is the actual car used by Deng during the parade. But there are some differences. The 1984 inspection car had round fog lights and the car in the museum had square fog lights. The microphones look different too. But it did have the roof mechanism with the black-out side window and the correct license plates.
Note the handlebar below the microphones.
Part of the roof mechanism.
So it ain’t sure if this is the parade car but it sure is a pretty Hongqi.
Interestingly, there is another museum in China claiming it has the 1984 inspection car. The Great Man Wax Museum of China has created a display with a wax figure of Deng with a Hongqi parade car behind him. The display has been on show in several cities, including Beijing, Hong Kong, and Macau. The microphones seem about right but the plastic mirrors indicate the wax guys used a newer CA770 model for their artwork. The museum also created an infamous wax figure of the previous North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and they even opened a wax museum in North Korea.
A period 1:24 kit of the inspection car.
The auxiliary vehicles
There were three auxiliary vehicles in the parade: a camera car, the commander’s car, and an open-top inspection car.
The commander’s car was another CA770TJ, fitted with three microphones. The open-top inspection car was a CA770JG, but there was no inspector, so it likely functioned as a spare car.
Lots of missiles on the left. The white missiles in the foreground are HQ-2 anti-aircraft missiles. In the background are Dongfeng-4 ICBMs.
Deng had used the open-top CA770JG before, seen here during a regular military inspection.
The car on the right is a camera car, based on a modified CA770JG. It is fitted with two cameras, one aimed forwards and one rearward at the inspection cars. The trunk lid was taken out, and in went two fellows holding microphones. In the middle is a gutsy photographer.
But there was one more car, and it is a mystery. The image is a still from a documentary about China’s military parades. The segment about 1984 shows a blue station wagon in front of the camera car. China didn’t make any wagons like that at the time. The early Great Wall station wagons were still some ten years away. It looks Japanese, perhaps a Toyota.
It seems to be a signal-relay car, for sending the imagery from the camera car to the studio. There is a platform on the roof with two tall antennas. The stuff seems heavy; the car is clearly overloaded.
A shot from the front shows the tall antennas. The formation is different here: Deng-Commander-Spare-Camera car. This is the formation used just before the cars turn around at the end of the avenue.
An old black and white photo shows a part of the front of the mysterious car. If you recognize what it is, please let me know in the comments below.
1999: Hongqi CA772TJ. License plate: 甲A·02156. With Jiang Zemin
The second inspection car was used in 1999 during the military parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The parade was held on October 1, 1989. The official name of the parade was the “Military Parade of the Century” (世纪大阅兵). In 1989, the inspector was Jiang Zemin. His most important title at the time was General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, but he was also President of the State and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Even more interesting, Mr. Jiang used to work for FAW, the owner of the Hongqi brand. FAW has always been state-owned. Long before he became Gen-Sec he held three positions at FAW: deputy chief of the dynamic-mechanics division, deputy chief engineer for dynamic mechanics, and director of the power factory.
The CA772TJ inspection car was based on the CA772T state limousine. The CA772T, in turn, was an armored and improved variant of the CA770. CA770 > improved and armored > CA772T > inspection car > CA772TJ. FAW established a special working group for the development of the TJ, called the ‘772 special group’. The group’s slogan was “Defend the Party Central Committee and Chairman Mao”. That was of course symbolic, as Mao died in 1976, but it shows how important the Chairman still was.
The CA772T had square fog lights on the bumper whereas the CA770 had round fog lights. It also had modern black mirrors instead of the classy chromed mirrors of the CA770. The wheel design was new too. But the most distinctive exterior element was the thicker chrome trim around the side windows, which were made from 8 cm thick bulletproof glass. The engine was enlarged to 6.5 liters and the power went up to 250 hp. It needed extra power. The armor was 6 millimeters thick, and the weight of the CA772 was 4930 kilos. Top speed was down to only 130 kilometers per hour. FAW says they also developed an 8-liter version of the engine with 300 hp.
In June 1998, FAW received formal instructions from Beijing to start the preparation of four inspection vehicles for the parade. The parade is a military affair so the department in charge is the General Armament Department. FAW suggested an inspection car based on the Hongqi Qijian CA7460, a luxury limousine that was basically a Lincoln Town Car with Hongqi badges and a different grille. I have written a lot about these Lincoln-based Hongqi cars before, but I have loads of new pics and info now, so perhaps I can write another article for The Autopian. We will see. Beijing turned the offer down and kindly suggested that FAW used the CA772 instead, as it was a more traditional Chinese vehicle. And so it happened. But the Hongqi CA7460 did make an appearance in the parade, as we shall see below, but not as an inspection car.
FAW produced four CA772TJ inspection cars. The company published a set of photos of the first one. They went out of their way to make it something special: Hongqi added two chrome strips over the side, heavier bumpers, and once again new wheels. Relatively small changes but they almost transformed the car, making it look a lot more modern.
The CA772TJ was equipped with a new roof mechanism that functioned more like a traditional sunroof. The great advantage of this solution was that the rear bench could stay in its position, so there was more space inside the vehicle. The inspection opening was much smaller than on the CA770TJ. It was equipped with four microphones. The transmitter was in the trunk. On the trunk lid were three antennas. Inside the car were the driver and a bodyguard on the front bench and two officers on the rear bench.
This is the inspection platform. It was foldable! So after the inspector finished inspecting the inspection platform was folded back into a cabinet, which was then covered up with neat white curtains. The platform itself seems rather small. The inspector has to stand very still or he drops down into the car. But at least the platform is covered with a soft piece of carpet, so a bare-foot inspection is possible. The handlebar isn’t very wide either, and it ops out just under the roof. Inspecting stuff, or so it seems, isn’t an easy lazy job.
Jiang with a stern look on his face. Note the road-mounted microphones for recording the sound of the troops.
Taken for a fool: not the 1999 CA770TJ in the Hongqi Museum in Changchun
Hm! FAW was trying to fool me here. The caption claimed that this was the inspection car of the 1999 parade and it has the correct license plate, but it sure ain’t Jiang’s ride. It doesn’t have chrome bars on the doors. Bumpers are not different. The microphones and mirrors aren’t the same and I doubt this car is even armored. It appears to be a standard CA772 with some fancy bits and a hole in the roof.
See? The museum has this standard CA772 on display as well.
A 1:18 scale model of the CA772TJ. These are still being made. Always in a limited production run.
The auxiliary vehicles
There was a whole lot of Hongqi in the 1989 parade. From left to right: the main inspection spare car, the commander’s car, the main inspection car, the camera car (Hongqi CA770JG), a camera & relay car (Hongqi CA7460 L1), and another camera & relay car (Hongqi CA7220 A9EL2).
The commander’s car looks slightly different than the main-inspection car. It has white-wall tires and less chrome around the windows. The roof mechanism is the same. The commander’s car drives next to and behind the main inspection car. Its front comes to next to the rear fender, but not any further. Driving that precise requires training. The armed forces do have several parade training grounds; one to the north of Beijing and one in Inner Mongolia. So I am sure the drivers of these inspection cars practiced their driving skills.
The commander’s car is on the left and the main-inspection car is on the right. In the middle is a cameraman in a simple red T-shirt. Ha! The 1990s were wild.
The first camera car is a modified open-top CA770JG again, just like in 1984. But it is a modern version, it lies lower to the ground and it has cool alloy wheels.
There it is! On the left-top. An American car in a Chinese military parade. This is the best shot of the Hongqi CA7460 L1, taken from a video. Hongqi created three limousine versions of the Lincoln-based CA7460 (in order of launch): The L3, the L1, and the L2. This order is a bit odd. But it gets even odder: The L2 was the longest, extended by 1.35 meters. The L1 was the second-longest, extended by 1 meter. The L3, finally, was extended by just 20 centimeters. The camera-relay car in the parade is a modified L1, with a landaulet-like open roof.
An official FAW image of a standard CA7460 L1 against a lovely background.
There is a documentary about earlier parades first. Footage of the 1999 parade starts at 9:30.
And that is the end of Part 1. The second part is coming soon with many more inspection cars. The 1984 and 1999 parades also had other cool cars, like Beijing 4x4s and Jiefang trucks, but that’s again for another story.
Open windows & sunroof are not bulletproof
Much like the vigor exemplified by the People’s Revolutionary Hongqi Factory #7, I think this piece could use a Revolutionary Editor. Stats are great, yet I’d like to know the soul of the Hongqi People. They’ve come such a long way, let’s hear from them?
And for the video for the 1984 CA770TJ, I find it hilarious that they put whitewall tires on many of the military vehicles.
As for the ‘mystery wagon’, I suspect that’s a S120 (7th gen) Toyota Crown Royal wagon:
At at 56:18 in the video, the trucks pulling the missles look hilariously old… like they’re from the 1940s or 1950s… which would mean they might have been 30 years old at the time of the parade (or at least their designs were).
Almost – that’s nearly certainly an S130 Crown Wagon, note the blacked out C- and D-columns.
Chinese inspection cars have never been on my radar. I suppose I knew they existed, but who cares. You obviously do passionately, and apparently many Chinese do if they are featured in multiple museums.
I’m really enjoying the series and hope it continues forward. You’ve made it easy to dive in further if you care to. For someone who is interested in why a car comes to be, how it comes to be and what it comes to be, it’s really interesting. I’ve been drawn in to a tik tok of the subject by the history and photos.
I hope the series continues.
I’ve built that model kit, there was some distribution of it in the US around the turn of the millennium or a bit earlier. It’s molded in a plastic that defies attachment by all known (at the time) forms of glue and the longest-surviving parts are the fog lights, now repurposed as front turn signals on a Hasegawa 1974 Honda Civic converted to US-spec.
This is prime Autopian content, lacking only taillight discourse
Hongqi taillights are quite special actually. Maybe it’s being reserved for a big reveal at the end of the series.
You won’t get stories like this from any other site. Great stuff.
I know very little about Chinese language, but I’m always surprised they use Latin letters and Arabic numerals on their license plates. Can you enlighten us, please?
Totally dig the retro look….wish manufactures everywhere did that
You didn’t mention whether or not it has a radio (or I missed it), but if it does, I assume it plays Hongqi-tonk.
You’ll see yourself out, won’t you?