Home » The Story Of President Nixon In Beijing And The Unique And Strange Chinese ‘Sedanbulances’

The Story Of President Nixon In Beijing And The Unique And Strange Chinese ‘Sedanbulances’

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In 1972 U.S. President Richard Nixon went to China for his historic visit that eventually restored diplomatic relations between the two countries. During his visit, he met with Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai. He visited the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. The President had a good time. He did some deals, made new friends, and went home happy. Now to what matters: the cars.

Normally, a visiting U.S. president takes his own limousine on state visits. Most of the time, he takes an entire motorcade. But that was different on the 1972 visit to China. In the preparations for the visit, the Chinese side insisted that the U.S. delegation would use Chinese cars during the entire time they spend in China. The Chinese side was specifically instructed by Premier Zhou Enlai to force the issue. They said: “China has the most high-end Hongqi car, which can receive the noblest guests.” Somewhat surprisingly, the U.S. side agreed. They probably didn’t want to risk the entire visit over a matter of limousines.

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Nixon entered his Hongqi limousine after arriving at Beijing Capital Airport on February 21, 1972. Image credit: Youtube.

And so President Nixon was driven around town in a majestic Hongqi  CA772T. This was an armored variant of the Hongqi CA770 state limousine.

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Nixon’s CA772T at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, where he stayed during the visit to Beijing. Image credit: FAW.


The CA772T weighed over 4 tons. The main body was protected by 8-millimeter thick bullet-proof armor plates, good enough to withstand the fire of ‘light machine guns’. The windows were made of 65-millimeter bulletproof glass. FAW also installed bullet-proof tires and an extra strong air-conditioning system.

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Nixon enters his Chinese ride at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. Image credit: FAW.


Nixon made good use of the Hongqi in Beijing. He visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, the Ming Tombs, and the Great Wall at Badaling, which, in those days, was a 3-hour ride. During some of the rides, he was joined in his Hongqi by Premier Zhou Enlai for some extra negotiation time. Chinese state media at the time claimed that Nixon was impressed by the limousine, and quoted him as saying “Next time I visit your country, I will take a Chinese Hongqi car.” Nixon visited in February when Beijing is cold and snowy. The day before he visited Badaling there had been heavy snow. Zhou Enlai instructed troops based in Beijing and further north to clear the snow urgently, so the convoy could travel to the Great Wall at full speed. During the week-long visit, Nixon also used Chinese airplanes to fly to Hangzhou and Shanghai. For the visit to Hangzhou, the Chinese airlifted the Hongqi  CA772T to accompany the president.

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Nixon’s motorcade on Changan Avenue, in front of Tian’anmen.


The motorcade consisted of at least three standard CA770s and several smaller Beijing and Hongqi sedans. But one vehicle was especially notable. This was the Hongqi CA770JH, an ambulance variant of the Hongqi CA770. The presence of the ambulance was requested by the U.S. side during the preparations. When China insisted on Chinese cars, the U.S. insisted on an ambulance. China agreed. Hongqi made two ambulance variants of the CA770: a traditional wagon-like ambulance and something way more special: an ambulance that looked like a sedan. This was the variant that joined Nixon’s motorcade. A similar sedan-ambulance (sedanbulance) was used by Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai during visits throughout China in those years. Mao was seriously ill at the time but he didn’t want an obvious ambulance in his motorcade, afraid that it would give an impression of weakness. The sedanbulance was designated CA770JH and its official type was ‘special-purpose ambulance (型专用救护车)’.

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Hongqi CA770W standard ambulance. For more on Hongqi ambulances and station wagons please see this article.

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This is the CA770JH as it was used by Chinese leaders. The trunk is much higher than on a standard CA770. Inside the trunk and the passenger compartment is a fully-fledged ambulance layout, complete with a stretcher.

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Image credit: ChinaCarHistory.com.

A factory design drawing of the CA770JH, dated February 1972. The image shows the construction with the trunk lid up and the stretcher underneath.

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The real thing: A stretcher on rails with boxes for medical supplies on each side. There was an oxygen tank too, medicines, and jump seats for the doctor and the nurse. The patient’s head is near the divider, his belly is under the edge of the trunk lid and rear window, and his legs are under the trunk lid. The bed itself is basic, without much comfort for a wounded man. The frame is the stretcher is made of aluminum. In this car, the stretcher is located to the left of the compartment.

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Image credit: FAW via CarNewsChina.com

This image was on FAW’s official website until a few years ago but they took it down. I can’t find any mention of the sedanbulances anymore. The image shows the entire construction with the high trunk and the stretcher underneath. There sure is enough space for a man. But perhaps not for any man.

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Nixon’s ambulance. Credit: YoucheYihou.

When China accepted the U.S. request for the ambulance, the designers at Hongqi got a bit worried. They realized that President Nixon was a tall and heavy man. They were not sure his body would fit in the sedanbulance they were using. So they decided to design a customized version for President Nixon with a different layout and more space under the trunk lid. To make President fit, the bed was moved to the middle to create more side space. According to Chinese sources, the project was overseen by Jia Yanliang, the chief of design of the entire CA770 range. The result looked a little bit like a rush job, especially on the inside. But it would have worked, I guess. After it was used during Nixon’s visit, it was on duty again in 1973 for the visit of French President Georges Pompidou. Fortunately, both visits went well and the dear presidents didn’t get sick or shot at. Of course, that also means the unique sedanbulance was never really used.

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A sedanbulance is on display in the Beijing Classic Car Museum. According to the museum, this car was used by Zhou Enlai. The car is in great shape and nicely restored. Sadly, many Chinese car museums use these ugly steel stands to put the cars on. To protect tires and suspension. But they always put it too high up, so it looks weird. Anyway. The car on display has a beige interior and chrome-colored trim on the lower part of the doors. From the front, it looks exactly like a normal CA770 state limousine.

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But from the rear, the higher trunk immediately stands out. The standard CA770 had a 5.65 liter V8 under the hood with an output of 223 hp. In the sedanbulance, however, the engine was enlarged to 6.0 liter to give it more speed and to take care of the extra weight of all the medical-emergency stuff. The dimensions were unchanged: 5980/1990/1640, with a 3720-millimeter wheelbase.

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Hongqi CA770JH in Longtan Park, 2004. Photo by me.

Another CA770JH. I met it at a classic car event in Longtan Park in southeast Beijing in 2004. With a super cool police light that seemed as old as the car. It has a red interior and it doesn’t have chrome trim on the doors like the museum car. There is just a single flagpole. Normally, these state limousines and sedanbulances have a flagpole on each side.

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Hongqi CA770JH in Longtan Park, 2004. Photo by me.

The most notable difference is at the rear. The Nixon and the Zhou Enlai car had hinges on the outside of the trunk, but on this car, the hinges are on the inside. Like the sedan, the ambulances were handmade on order, so details always differ; not even two are exactly the same.

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Photo by me.

Standard Hongqi CA770 for comparison. Same event.

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Image credit: Sohu.

President Nixon and his wife on a visit to the Forbidden City in heavy snow. The Forbidden City is ice-cold in winter. I know, I’ve been there in February too, that is the coldest month of the year in Beijing. And in 1972, it must have been even colder.

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That’s a lot of Hongqi right there. The smaller gray cars in the background on the left are Shanghai SH760s.

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The two cars that are in the foreground: on the left Nixon’s armored CA772T. Behind it, on the right, is the CA770JH. Note the bulbous trunk.

President Nixon was a lucky man in China. Not only did he ride a rare armored Hongqi limousine, but he was followed around everywhere he went by an even rarer sedanbulance. China continued to field Hongqi sedanbulances until well in the 1980s, and Hongqi designed a new version with an even larger trunk. Today, these special sedan-based ambulances are long gone. The current motorcades for President Xi Jinping and visiting heads of state are interesting too, but that’s for another story.

Movie time! Here is President Nixon in a classic movie compiled by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library. With cool airplanes and Hongqi limousines.


The next article in this series will be about the closed-roof inspection cars used during military parades in Beijing. Hopefully we’ll have that next week.



Here’s A Look At More Fascinating ‘Inspection Cars’ Used By Chinese Presidents And Generals

Chinese ‘Open-Top Inspection Vehicles’ Are Used For Very Specific Purposes And They Are Cooler Than Regular Convertibles

A Deep-Dive Into The Absurdly Active Flying-Car Industry In China

Here Are The Wildest Chinese Electric Sports Cars You Haven’t Heard Of

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Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
1 year ago

Really interesting article. I lived through it, but lacking the existence of the Internet, never had any idea of the cars and planes toting the world leaders around! The nuts and bolts of history are often more interesting than the big picture!

Not to say that the big picture wasn’t also interesting. Whenever I read an article about Nixon’s trip to China, I think:

Only Kirk could go to Klingon….


“Only Nixon could go to China,” a phrase said by
Democratic Senator, Mike Mansfield and of course, Commander Spock.

It was amazing that staunch Anti-Communist President Nixon was the first U.S. President to visit and recognize China. Nixon also, to put an automotive spin on odd events, created the Environmental Protection Agency. Both events seemingly out of character for a Republican President at the time.

Which is not a comment expressing favoritism toward any particular political party, but in these contentious times, does express my belief that it’s important to respect people with whom you might otherwise not be in agreement.

Grey alien in a beige sedan
Grey alien in a beige sedan
1 year ago

Every time I read “Hongqi”, I can’t help but hearing Jeremy Clarkson’s voice in my head say it out loud.

Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
Do You Have a Moment To Talk About Renaults?
1 year ago

It’s so good to have someone here who can give us a historic perspective of the chinese automotive industry. As much as the country has opened up and adopted more economic-liberal policies, their cars weren’t hitting western european markets up until recently so it al still feels like a huge mystery to me. My knowledge on the subject is pretty much centred on their production of older european models, like the Dongfeng-PSA joint venture or FAW-Volkswagen building old Jettas well into the 2010s. Please keep those articles coming!

Jeff Marquardt
Jeff Marquardt
1 year ago

Thanks Tycho, awesome reporting as always! Long Live the Hongqi!

Justin Short
Justin Short
1 year ago

Thanks Tycho, great read, I enjoyed the links as well 🙂

1 year ago

“was seriously ill at the time but he didn’t want an obvious ambulance in his motorcade, afraid that it would give an impression of weakness”

I would be very surprised if Chairman Mao was the only world leader with this sort of image concern, and they found a very elegant solution – kind of surprising nobody else copied it (the Soviets went through a series of ailing leaders, you’d think Andropov or Chernenko would have liked something like that).

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
1 year ago

This is a top quality post. I love it.

1 year ago

Very interesting stuff. Richard Nixon always looked so frail to my eyes. I’m shocked that he was six feet tall.

1 year ago
Reply to  Dodsworth

He had a bout of phlebitis in the mid ’70s and was diagnosed with A-fib in the ’80s, but nothing terribly unusual healthwise for someone in that age range

Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
1 year ago

Keep ’em coming. I have nothing intelligent to add; if you want lots of replies you need to omit more or begin purposefully make mistakes.
Also, Jason asked me for more Hongqi and Shanghai taillight content. Did they use the same units as they did on Liberation trucks on any cars?

1 year ago

Well, that’s certainly a bit of history I didn’t know. Those sedanbulances are pretty cool. Very much of the time. Wonder if other countries tried it?
Thanks, Tycho.

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