The Hongqi L5 is the most expensive Chinese car you can buy
$800,000 limo updates the Communist Party's ride of choice.
China's oldest car company rolled out its first vehicle on Aug. 1, 1958; it was a chrome-lined black sedan designed -- like the pastiche of 1950s cars it resembled, including the Packard-esque Chaika -- to strike equal amounts of fear and inspiration into the revolutionaries.
In Chinese, "Hongqi" in means "red flag," the most potent symbol of the Chinese Communist Party, making it a fitting name for a company that supplied the apparatchik. A symbol of power, a sphere of influence, a four-wheeled Great Leap Forward! Curiously enough, it took Nixon's 1972 visit for Mao Zedong (who finally swore off the Soviets and their ZIS-110s) to get into a Hongqi.
But by then, the die was cast. Hongqi was the official car of the Party, a vehicle spoken about in hushed tones. Even if the sphere of influence may be eroding, the glassy, gleaming red flag still stands tall and proud, defending its occupants against bourgeois paper tigers.
Today, you can ride around in your own Hongqi; in lieu of loyal service to the Party, you can provide something even more valuable: cash, and tons of it. How shamelessly bourgeois, you might say, and you'd be pretty damn right.
Take a look at the above, the Hongqi L5. Under development for the last four years, it debuted at the Beijing auto show with a 5-million yuan sticker. To own China's most expensive car, you'll pay the U.S. equivalent of $801,624, which, as far as we can tell, is the most expensive car to carry one of those small, oval "Made in China" stickers. (Stick 'em on in bulk if it'll make you feel like you're getting your money's worth.) Naturally, somebody bought the first one right from the show floor.
Nailing 50 years' worth of luxury, its specifications are fittingly impressive. It digs into the pavement with three tons of intimidation. It is 20 feet long. There's a 6.0-liter V12 that produces around 400 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic carries this power to all four wheels because the snow in Beijing arrives late but fast. It carries the upright slab-sidedness of not only its styling homage, the famous CA770, but also to various Kenmore products, the works of Mies van der Rohe, etc. The grille mimics the CA770 perfectly. You'd be tempted to put eyelashes on the big chrome headlights, but I wouldn't, comrade.
And you thought the Chinese couldn't do retro. Please. There's 8,000 years of history here, most of it manifested within the L5: celadon-jade door handles, hand-carved wood inlays with little clouds on them, perforated leather everything, a tablet center console--even a Bose sound system. The minimalistic interior looks like a comfy place from which to direct the invisible hand of faux-Marxism or engage in ludicrous sex scandals. If the Hongqi L5 is derivative, as Western media sardonically paints all the efforts of China's nascent car industry, then it's derivative only to its past.
There's a word for this for all this lugg-jury: tuhao, which combines the words for "dirt" and "splendor" to form a wonderful, perfect word of the age: the Chinese definition of nouveau riche, the Asiatic equivalent of rap god braggadocio. I get money, money I got. Chinese luxury buyers have a homegrown inferiority complex. Maybe the Hongqi L5 needs more gold. But maybe the Rolls-Royce Phantoms and Bentley Mulsanne Hybrids currently filling up Beijing's seven ring roads just lack that old-school feeling the Hongqi imparts of a Communist Party that could do no wrong, even when it was.
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