Will booming China buy our classic cars?

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On the Techno Classica show in Essen – Germany, we met Yang Li, representative of FIVA for China and organizer of the rally Beijing – Sjanghai. We thought it would be very interesting to interview him about the current developments in China about classic cars. The question which interests everybody is “Will booming China buy our classic cars?”. But to get a better picture, we have to know more about China and its people and their feelings towards classic cars. The following interview will give you a general idea of what to expect.

Hello Yang

Can you say something about yourself and your relationship with classic cars:

General info & education

My name is Yang Li, born in 1983 in Beijing. When I was 19, I went to Gelsenkirchen (Germany) to study computer science in mechanical engineering and came back to China in 2008. Since then I work for the classic vehicle union of China as secretary of events department.

How did your interest for classic cars started?

My father is a committee member of FIA classic car section who works for FASC (Federation of Automobile Sports of China). When I was a child, I got the opportunity to experience the automobile sports in China, which was still unfamiliar to normal Chinese people at that time. But the passion of automobile sports has impressed the 9 years old boy – me and made me become a fan of this kind of sports. In 1998, the first official classic car event “Louis Vuitton Classic China Run 1998” took place and made great effects among Chinese society. Since then the word “classic car” becomes more and more popular and well-known by Chinese publics. For me, it was my first time to see real classic cars personally. Especially when I sat in the Redflag 770 that attended the “Louis Vuitton Classic China Run 1998” as the only Chinese participant, I deeply felt that I would be connected with classic car in my life, sooner or later.

What is your interest now in classic cars?

To popularize collecting knowledge in China;
To unite the enthusiasts of classic vehicle in China;
To make efforts to industrialization and standardization of classic vehicle industry in China;
To guide and develop classic vehicle sports, collecting and appreciation;
To realize national and international registration of classic vehicles;
To create more exchange and cooperation opportunities with international organizations in classic vehicle area;
To build up friendship with other classic vehicle organizations and members from all over the world.

How did you become the FIVA-representative for China?

Until now our organization owns about 400 members with nearly 1,000 classic cars. Our members have the strong will to communicate with people outside of China who also share the same hobby. That’s why we decided to apply for joining in FIVA. Then we contacted FIVA membership supervisor Mr.J.J. Dolleman, who help us a lot. In October 2009 through the General Assembly of FIVA in Turin, we are approved to join in the FIVA family officially.

How did you got the idea to organize a rally in China?

It formed a certain group of classic car enthusiasts in China gradually in the past few years. Some domestic events have been organized by us but there still hasn't been any official international classic car event in China since the "Louis Vuitton Classic China Run 1998". However, there are thousands of foreign classic cars coming into China to have a tour every year, because China is such a mysterious country for western people. China has developed a lot in the past years, as the holding of the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008, we welcome all the friends from the world. The same situation happens in classic car field in China too, we would be more than happy to welcome friends that share the same passion with us. That's why we decided to organize such an international rally for classic cars in China.

Is there a lot of interest from the West to participate in such an event? Where do most participators come from? What are the most difficult corners to take in organizing such an event in China?

We were at the Techno Classica Essen in April 2010 to promote the rally. During the exhibition we received plenty of interests. Until the deadline we have gathered 18 teams from Europe and 21 teams from China (including Hong Kong). There were even another 5 European teams asking for participate the rally after the deadline of application. So half/half, our participators come from Europe and China. International entrants come from Belgium, UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, USA, Australia, Japan and Sri Lanka. The most difficult corner for us to organize such event is how to let foreign classic car enthusiasts know about our rally. Because we are located in China, it’s not easy to spread our messages all over the world. Then the organization work, the preparation, the permit of rally, etc. , they are no problem for us.

Why  is your rally “China Open of International Classic Cars 2010” postponed?

Unfortunately it happened a serious problem when we were trying to continue the preparation of the rally. The route will run through the area of Jinan military region (from Day 2 - Day 4), due to the unstable military situation on China Yellow Sea along the eastern coast (US and Korean navy's exercise there), the relevant department of Chinese government has withdrawn the permits of China Open of International Classic Cars 2010 although we have already got them in June 2010. We have tried our best to persuade the government to change their mind, but it has failed due to the explanation of "Any international event has to be cancelled because the Chinese military movement in that region is top secret for the nation". After a tough fight against that decision for more than two weeks, we had to accept the fact that it won't be possible to realize the China Open 2010 on time. Then we decided to postpone it to the year of 2011.

What’s the plan of “China Open of International Classic Cars 2011”?

We will continue to organize this regularity rally in 2011, date will be from 18th September till 23rd September 2011. Route: Beijing – Tianjin – Jinan – Xuzhou – Nanjing – Hangzhou – Shanghai, 6 days driving for about 1,600 km (like a 1000 Miglia in China). The bird nest, the water cube, the forbidden city, the summer palace, the Great Wall, the Yangtze river, hometown of Confucius, Chinese Venice (city upon water), etc. They all will become the part of the event. The developing China open the arms and invite the friends from the world to experience the extraordinary "Tour of China". For more information please check our website:



Classic cars & China

The interest for classic cars in China

Does the “common Chinese guy” have any interest for classic cars or oldtimers?

Absolutely yes. Every time, whenever there is classic car on the road, people gather themselves, surround the classic car, take pictures together and discuss about it. However as you may know, Chinese people just started buying private cars like 20 years ago, most family just began spending money on cars like only 10 years ago. Classic cars are still such an expensive hobby to common Chinese people. Only a few people own classic car in China.

Does China have a classic car community? Do they have classic car clubs?

Yes. But as far as we know, we are the only official organization in classic vehicle industry in China.

In the west, most classic car enthusiasts love the cars they remember when they were kid. A bit like nostalgic memories. Do (fortunate?) Chinese people have the same nostalgic memories?

Yes, kind of. For example when a Chinese collector was still a child, he saw many Redflag limousines serving for the officers from the government, at that time sitting in a Redflag meant politic power and high level in society. The same story to the Russian brand ZIM and ZIS too. That’s why many Chinese collectors love Redflag (most popular) and Russian cars. Of course there were also some European cars running on the street of China many years ago, for example Mercedes-Benz and Citroen, they are also welcome by Chinese collectors now.

Which time period has the most interest?

There is no clear preference. Any period is OK. If it’s popular depends on the condition and the price of the car.

Do Chinese people like other types of classic cars like hotrods, muscle cars, replicas?

It’s hard to say, different people have different preference. But general speaking, Chinese people like classic cars with unique shapes. It must be different from other cars. For instance American cabriolet from 1960’s with hyperbolic wings in the back.

Are there Chinese oldtimers? Which ones? Are people still driving them?

Yes, there are some Chinese makes, for example: Redflag, Shanghai, Phoenix, Dongfanghong, etc. Other brands like some Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac and Volga also exist in China. Most of them can not be driven although they are technically fit, because they don’t have plate number anymore.
About more than 10 years ago, China had a law that all the cars older than 10 years old must be rejected whether the condition is fit for driving or not. This meant that those cars lost their license plates. In recent 10 years, this law is no longer valid, people can drive their cars as long as they wish, their cars just need to pass the inspection (technical and enviromental) regularly according to the age of the cars.

Do Chinese people know Western classic cars? Do they know the makes and types?

Yes, most of the enthusiasts have certain knowledge about western classic cars. Many of them have read a lot of relevant literature and even done some research to some makes’ history.

If Chinese people see Western classic cars, how do they react?  What is there feeling about it?

They will be surprised to see such cars which can not been seen in normal life. They will surround the classic cars, take pictures and talk about it with their family and friends.

What do you think what will happen if Chinese authorities accept classic cars as exceptional means of transport? Do you think there will be a boom to drive a classic car? Will it be “cool” & fashionable to have and drive one or will it stay more an exceptional issue?

We do believe that classic cars will be a huge market in future in China! Because Chinese people want to make themselves different from others. Classic car is a perfect tool to make them look noble and high-leveled in society.

Which western classic cars makes & types are the most popular? What would Chinese people buy?

There isn’t specific makes or types for Chinese enthusiasts.  From our experiences it seems that many Chinese collectors like luxury and high-end classic cars such as Rolls-Royce or Bentley.

Buying classic cars and ownership in China

Are the rich Chinese people already buying classic cars?

Yes, they are. But they have to keep those classic cars in other countries because Chinese customs don’t allow the import of used cars, including classic cars. That’s why some rich people buy & drive classic cars abroad. They can’t bring them back to China.

Is this going to change?

We are cooperating with FIVA and FASC trying to persuade our government to change their mind to open the door to classic vehicles. Singapore and United Emirates had almost the same problem as we have now. With the help from FIVA, they convinced their government to change the regulations. Now they have no problem whatsoever with that issue in their countries. We hope this day will come in China soon.

What is your opinion about the future - if or when Chinese authorities will accept import and use of classic cars?

Yes, we believe that this day will come soon. We will persuade the Chinese authorities to accept the opinion that classic cars in an important heritage of our industry and even our society, which should not be ignored anymore.

What's the government’s attitude versus classic cars?

No license plate can be issued to classic cars, which means they are not allowed to be driven on public streets legally. However, when there is an event such as a rally or a tour, temporary license plate can be given and is valid until the event is finished. General speaking, classic cars gained more and more sympathy from the Chinese government as the relevant laws are under revision.

Is pollution a problem for them?

Yes, but it’s not the first element that government cares. Safety is the most important problem.

Will there be a day that rich Chinese people will come to the west to buy classic cars?

This day has already begun. Some auction companies have already noticed this fact.

How can foreign classic car dealers sell cars in China?

They can contact us and we can help and inform them.

Does it make sense for western classic car dealers to advertise for classic cars in China?

Not really. If a dealer wants to advertise in China, we may give some advice to make the promotion more specifically to the potential clients.

Are there classic car shows in China? Is it possible for foreign dealers to participate?

Yes, we organize more than 10 different shows in China every year. But there is no show specifically for classic cars. There are more than 300 car shows in China every year. Some of them have classic car area where some classic cars can be displayed to the visitors. Yes, foreign dealers can participate; we can help them do it.

Are there already classic car auctions in China? Would it be permitted to organize such an auction in China?

Yes, but not often. Small amount too.

Auctions for Chinese classic cars will be no problem. If it’s related to foreign classic cars (or related to import) it’s still impossible. We are now trying to find a special way to get the permit of classic car auction in China, hopefully in near future.

Do Chinese people also like other stuff from the classic car industry? Like:

  1. Classic model cars
  2. Literature about classic cars
  3. Retro Lifestyle (old suitcases, juke box, retro stuff for decoration, automotive art, etc)


  1. Many people love them.
  2. As far as I know, some people love them
  3. Yes. Especially some military fans love retro military lifestyle.

Can these be sold in China by western companies?

Yes, that will be no problem.


Maybe an important update.

We received lots of reactions, comments & compliments regarding this article.

It seems that there is a way to import classic cars into china by importing them first into Korea or Japan.
So for those of you who are interested to export, it's worth to find out.

One thing we learned from the comments we got from Chinese and Western people who live in China: China is definitely the new market to sell classic cars!


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I hope you enjoyed reading this article
Guy Evens

Comments : 1 2 > >>

Frank Didik - Electric Car Society, United States

I would say, no. China will not gravitate to our "classic cars", as the Japanese or Germans did. The reason for this is simple. Germany and Japan were exposed to American movies and automobiles since the end of world war 2 and thus American Cars were a part of their 1950's-1960's history and they have warm feelings towards this period. The Chinese people were not exposed to American culture till after the political thawing period of 1977-1983, thus the majority of Chinese do not view early American Cars with any particular feelings. China will probably be similar to Russia in American Classic Car buying. Russians buy their own classics from the 1950's through the 1970's. Interestingly, there is also a huge market in Russia for early Russian cameras, watches, coins and stamps. The bottom line is that there will not be a particularly large market, percentage wise, for American Cars in China. Then again, we can not even accurately determine the weather tomorrow, so who can really predict the future car market? Frank Didik

Mark Tii, United States

"Redflag meant politic power and high level in society. The same story to the Russian brand ZIM and ZIS." Be still, my beating heart, for my lust for Redflag, ZIM, and ZIS continues to run unabated. Uh-huh . . . sure. This is a very sick (or evil) PRC joke.

jp van de Bundt /, United States

aving exported all kinds of Classic cars all over the Globe for more than 35 years , I believe that in time , also the Chinese people will be buyers of Classic cars , just like for instance the East Europeans , who - although at a limited number - became interested in buying from the US , whether American classic or not. I did a classic car rally in Prague last year with a Bentley Le Mans Speed six , and people were all over that car. THINGS OF MECHANICAL BEAUTY WILL ALWAYS INTEREST PEOPLE ANYWHERE.. I remember being in the South of France in the 70's with a Corvette , and it would always draw quite a crowd of curious folks who had never seen one at the time. ( " c'est un quoi ? un Corvette ? " Made me feel like I owned a 12 cyl. Ferrari , haha !) I respectfully disagree with mr. Didik simply because of that fact. I agree that a Chinese fella will not have the same feelings towards them , but there's still a lot of Classic cars here in the US that are of a foreign make that eventually will interest those folks in China also. In the end , it's also about taste..If you look at say a Delahaye or Bugatti with French coachwork like Figoni et Falaschi , one does not have to have known or owned one at earlier times to be melting on the spot. I say it's all a matter of time.( maybe more than us merchants are hoping for ) Let's hope some of the government people in power will " get bitten by the bug " !! After all ,a lot of these older cars can be real works of rolling art , and if they're willing to open their eyes to that , they will hopefully work towards easing the import regulations and having their people share these products of interesting foreign cultures..

Jim Bryant, China

Hi Guy, Living in China for the past 29 years, I was pleasantly surprised to read your latest article. Here' I've had to switch my passion for classic cars to motorcycles. I've forwarded your article to several friends who are long time residents here and who also follow the classic car scene. I think there is a pent up desire to own classic cars from the 1940s and 1950s as although Chinese have only been driving for the past 10-20 years even Chinese are after something other than the cookie cutter cars like Camry, Accord, et al. And best of all, less than 1 hour north of Beijing we have roads that are perfect for classic sports cars and sport bikes. Anyway, I'm looking forward to more articles about the scene here in China. No doubt you have heasrd that Russo & Steele have committed to hold a classic car auction in China next year. I', still wondering where they will get the cars to auction. Regards, Jim Bryant

Phil McKinnon, Canada

I think there is quite a bit of nostalgia now in China for things from the recent past, probablt including cars, based on my nearly 12 years living and working China. The movies from the Centralist era all show lots of WW2 Dodge sedans, usually along with the then requisite evilly corrupt Guomintang officer cruelly opprosing some poor peasant. Also, locally made Buick Regals have been a quite big seller in the Chinese market for about 10 years and the old hump-back Buicks also that era were often shown as part of high-level government officials such as the even more cruelly evil government Ministers. Thus to get one of these old "Boo-ika's" might really confer a lot of status and coolness!
Comments : 1 2 > >>