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Cruisin' Shanghai

Chris Barbieri [ October 2004 ]

After 11 months of living in Shanghai, I've yet to find any sign of a collector car hobby, in this sprawling city, or anyplace in China for that matter. So, a motor head like myself is relegated to seeking out automobilia at the local antique flea markets or simply "car watching" to hopefully spot something interesting. In terms of American cars, my first 11 months have turned up some surprising finds. Not antique by US standards, but somewhat unique considering I'm in Shanghai.

I'm not talking about American branded cars produced in China, but those common "made in USA" vehicles that somehow found their way from North America to the Orient. How they got here will likely remain a mystery, since China does not permit the importation of used vehicles except under very special circumstances. My sightings have included examples of Americas "big three", but it appears that only Chrysler Corp may have established a dealer network in Shanghai during the late 1980's through the mid to late 1990's.

I say this because Chrysler had quite a dealer network in nearby Taiwan at the time, and there are a relatively large number of Mopars of that era still roaming the streets of Shanghai today. For example, the ever popular Dodge minivan, from the late 80's through mid 90's and rebadged as a Chrysler with Chinese badging as well, is still a common sight on Shanghai streets. Less often spotted, but still fairly common are Dodge Shadows, an occasional Dodge Dynasty, and Dodge Spirit 4 door. Also seen are early version Chrysler Concords and LHS luxury models. On rare occasions, I've witnessed a later 80's K car platform New Yorker.

The rarest of the rare, even on US roads, was spotted last February, when I was traveling to the airport to meet a Vermont neighbor who had come to visit. It was relatively early on a quiet Sunday morning as I traveled on the airport bus. As we waited at a red light, my eyes fell upon one of the very rare Chrysler K car stretch limos made between 1984 and 1986. I could hardly believe my eyes! There were only about 3,000 of these unusual mini limos produced and here was one of them roaming the streets of Shanghai! There has just got to be an interesting story behind how it found it's way to China! There have been some GM finds as well, though not many. One morning last January while walking to my office, I came upon a bright red mid 90's Corvette Roadster parked on the sidewalk. (Parking on the sidewalk is perfectly legal in certain sections of Shanghai.)

The owner was nowhere to be found, and I have never seen the 'Vette again. Just a few days ago while walking through an upscale commercial district my eyes fell upon a black very new looking Corvette slowly cruising by, and needless to say getting second looks. A bright red late 80's Firebird zoomed by me one evening, the only Pontiac I've spotted in Shanghai. By far the most popular GM marque in Shanghai is Cadillac.

Mostly seen are the big cruiser 80's sedans, and the newer trimmed down 90's models, but I've noticed nothing past the late 1990's. These are used mostly for weddings, chauffeuring groups, or driven by VIP types or VIP wannabe types. While the Ford Motor Company is currently building a new facility in nearby Nanjing, very few American model Fords have been spotted in Shanghai. The few examples I've seen have been 1980's beaters. One, an Escort had seen better days, and was contributing mightily to Shanghai's already bad air quality.

Over the past 2 months, I've spotted two seperate Ford Tempos, both well worn, but neither in the dire straights the Escort found itself in. I've yet to spot an American Motors product, and not a hint of a 50's, 60's, or 70's vehicle anywhere. While trucks now account for roughly 50% of motor vehicle sales in the US, they virtually do not exist in Shanghai.

Yes, there are SUVs and some minivans, but the pickup truck, and its many variations so popular in the US are very rare in Shanghai, or any other area of China I've visited so far. The few I've seen have been Nissan or Chinese make mini 4 door pickups. There is some interesting Automobilia in Shanghai however, and next time we'll talk about it!

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