Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

A Red Flag rises: The return of China's Hongqi limousine


May 3, 2013

L5 is likely to receive a V8 as its powerplant

L5 is likely to receive a V8 as its powerplant

Image Gallery (19 images)

A sub-brand of China’s First Auto Works (FAW), the Hongqi has been China’s answer to the Rolls Royce since 1958 when it was first manufactured under the direction of Chairman Mao Zedong. The Hongqi (which means Red Flag) is enjoying a newfound resurgence as we discovered recently at the Shanghai Auto Show.

This original Chinese car with its chromed grille work and Rolls Royce cabin has changed little since its inception some 55 years ago. Even though the grille appears to be a copy from many circa 1950s British cars like the Morris Minor, the design actually plays off that of a traditional Chinese fan. You say fan, I say Morris.

The early Red Flag cars, with their American aesthetics and chrome bumpers, hubcaps and flag holder were specifically designed for shuttling about foreign dignitary types and elite party members. First generation Hongqi’s were powered by an anemic V8 that produced only 197 horsepower. Even though the series has evolved slightly in terms of aesthetics it still comes off as a very cool old-school chromed out saloon. In 1981, because of ongoing oil price issues, production of the gas-hungry Red Flag was halted. Three times over the past thirty years FAW tried to bring the Hongqi back to life, and three times it failed. As more and more foreign producers, like Mercedes and Audi, were allowed entry into the Chinese market, it seems the less appealing the Red Flag became.

So nearly thirty years later, why the change of heart by the Chinese government to bring the Red Flag back? According to Bloomberg, the new Hongqi is also part of an effort by the Chinese government to reclaim market share from foreign entities like Audi, which produces thirty percent of the cars used by public servants ion China.

It is estimated FAW plans to invest 1.98 billion yuan (US$280 million) in the Red Flag project and produce 30,000 vehicles over the next year.

The revised Red Flag series shown in Shanghai offered three different variations. The imposing black and chrome L9 “civilian version” measures out at a lengthy 6.39 meters long (20.98 ft) by 2.02 meters (6.63 ft) wide and 1.72 meters (5.64 ft) tall . The L9 is definitely not the inner-city solution most would seek. Nor would the FAW derived 6.0 liter V12 engine and its 400 hp and 550 Nm (406.65 lb.ft) of torque be perceived as an eco-friendly alternative. Pricing for the L9 is reported at very un-Mao-like US$800,000.

The middle child, the L7 Hongqi, uses the same 400 horsepower V12 as the L9 but runs on a smaller wheelbase. Rear doors open traditional style, unlike the L9’s suicide door treatment. Interior details are lacking but the series looks to be of offer similar comfort levels to most limousines. Recently French President, François Hollande, became the first foreign dignitary to travel in the new L7.

The smallest on the Red Flag lot, the L5, again runs a shorter wheelbase than the L7. Details around its powertrain architecture are unavailable but it is most likely to receive a locally derived V8.

The newest and most contemporary of the series, the H7 also debuted at the Shanghai Show. The H7 is apparently based on Toyota’s Crown Majestathe and is tagged as "the official car for minister-level officials.”

Despite the pomp and circumstance surrounding the return of the retro Red Flag series, and the fact that the Chinese government spends between US$13 and US$16 billion on cars a year, it could prove to be a tough battle for Mr. Mao’s 55 year old Hongqi brand to hold its own against foreign entities.

Source: FAW

About the Author
Angus MacKenzie Born on the cold, barren Canadian plains of Calgary, Alberta, Angus MacKenzie couldn’t decide between marketing, automotives or an entrepreneurial path - so he chose all three. With an education in automotives and marketing, Angus has rebuilt the carburetor on his 1963 Rambler Ambassador twice, gotten a speeding ticket in an F430 once, and driven & photographed everything from Lamborghinis to Maseratis to various German and Asian designs. When not writing, Angus has for the past six years been Editor-in-Chief for elemente, an internationally recognized architecture/design magazine. All articles by Angus MacKenzie

We should remember that not too long that any product with the brand "made in Japan" was a joke in the US. Now look at all the Hondas and Toyotas being the best selling cars in the US. So, don't ever underestimate the technology from the folks who built the Great Wall over thousand years ago and who also recently shot down the American spy satellite. Or for the same matters, the Long March booster missiles have done substantial businesses in international satellite launches. And may be you don't know that the Chinese Huawei is one of the world's largest telecom company. Just wait and watch Chairman Mao's children have the last laugh all the way to the bank !

A. Ted Vorachard

@ A. Ted

China + "world's largest". Fair enough. Lots of folks live there.

Laughing and banking aside, what I'm looking to see is China + "world's best". That would be news.


A fancy limo with no interior photo shots? Isn't the interior the point of such vehicles?


@A. Ted Vorachard The great wall was a long wall... it wasn't the antikythera. The great wall didn't serve its purpose of keeping others out, but it did use forced labor. Japanese products were considered bad over thirty years ago... This is an example of something that is deliberately not modern, however. When the Japanese rose they didn't have to compete with another Japan or Korea or Thailand, India... i don't know if you've ever been to China or Asia...but I can tell you from years of experience that the problem has precisely been overestimating Chinese technology as I had an ac adaptor catch on fire, had to search dozens of alarm clocks to find one with both hands still attached, had an electric kettle that shocked me every time I tried to grab it... I think you're completely missing the point though. It isn't that people think that the technology China has in copied Russian things or consumer electronics is bad... it is that people are scared of production quality by substitution of inferior materials for example or melamine, lead, trying to sell rat meat as mutton meat... Get food poisoning a few times in China and you'll understand.

Ian Mitko

Ted, the main difference between "made in Japan" and "made in China" is the fact that Japan is a country based on performance. Like in the west, the harder you work in Japan, the more money you make. In China, it's a little less inspiring. I'm not in the least intimidated by Chinese tech, nor am I a fan of "Mao's children." These would not outsell a Trabant in the west, nor would I expect them to outperform one. And for $800,000, I'd buy two Rolls Royces.

Clay Jones

You say Morris. I say American Rambler.


The article states that the L9 has "Suicide" rear doors, but based on the position of the door handles in the pictures, that doesn't appear to be the case.

Stuart Anderson

If I was a Chinese and a billionaire, I would definitely want one of these in my stable. Alas, I am not Chinese nor a billionaire. The point is that there should be no shortage of Chinese super rich who would want one of these, especially if the interior were customisable.

I like it because it exudes a special kind of class that comes from a timeless kind of style.

Nantha Nithiahnanthan

I fail to see any resemblance to any Morris Minor (grille or any other aspect).


The grille is GAZ-M21 Volga-esque, Prob. because those early limousines were a stretched version of the same. That said,, the first thing I thought when I saw the thumbnail photo on the link was 'Austin ADO16' (Austin America).

Robin Sutherland
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles