A Car-lovers' Paradise in Fengtai

By Brian Salter
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Today, September 22, 2017
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It would be an understatement to suggest that the Chinese as a nation are besotted with cars. So it is no surprise that the government-run Beijing Auto Museum (not to be confused with the privately-run Beijing Classic Car Museum in Huairou District) was originally planned in 2001 as one of five major museums to be built in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. It rapidly fell behind schedule and ground was only broken in 2006, two years late, with a projected opening date of 2010. It finally opened its doors in September 2011, at what is now just a few minutes' walk from Fengtai Science Park station on Beijing Subway Line 9.

A Dongfeng CA7I. 

With an exhibition area of nearly 50,000 square meters and housing over 80 vintage cars from China and abroad, the auto museum is China's first government-funded public museum for automobiles, with its collection spread out over five floors. Although the exhibits are geared more toward casual car lovers and kids rather than die-hard enthusiasts, if you're a fan of cars, a visit to the Beijing Auto Museum is also a must.

The vehicle collection includes a replica of a three-wheeled 1885 Benz Motorwagen, a copy of the 1901 Duryea owned by Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), a 1902 Oldsmobile Curved Dash, a ZIS-101 given to Chairman Mao by the Soviet Union, plus Hongqi limousines, Shanghai sedans, and Beijing Jeeps. There's also a crop of blue-chip classics such as a Ferrari Dino GT, a Jaguar XK120, a Lincoln V12 Phaeton and a Bugatti Type 38A.

An Enthusiastic Latecomer

China, we are assured, was one of the earliest countries to have introduced wheels; and so from a history of wheels, we are led to specimens of horse-drawn carriages from ancient times. For instance, there's a model of the Yellow Emperor's South-pointing vehicle. Unlike a compass which uses a magnetic needle, a south-pointing vehicle was based on the principle of differential gears. No matter where the wheel turns, the figure on board always points south. Also on display is a working model of perhaps the world's first odometer. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 220), this device travelled in a cart with the emperor's caravan. Two ornate figurines were mounted next to a drum; the gears turned and, every 500 meters, one of the figurines beat the drum.

The ticket office is in an 1898-vintage train. 

After this, one moves on to what probably everyone has come to this museum to see – real vintage cars (albeit with a few reproductions). Among the authentic vintage cars are a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost Coupe, and an Oldsmobile Curved Dash which was built in 1902 and still, we are told, works over a century later.

A few years earlier – in 1885, to be exact – the world's first petrol-driven automobile put in an appearance. It was widely ridiculed because it went even slower than a horse drawn carriage. The Benz Patent Motor Wagon on display is a replica of an original in Stuttgart. To convince the public of the vehicle's capability for travel, inventor Karl Benz's wife Bertha drove it 106 km to visit her parents, becoming the world's first female driver, and making the first long-distance road-trip at one and the same time. As they say, the rest is history!

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