The 2011 Shanghai car show that recently closed its doors has become one of the most important car event in the world. Car brands bring their new flagship models to show them to China and the world with a deluge of modernity, design and high tech under the roof of Pudong’s Shanghai Exhibition Center. The show could seem as distant from Old Shanghai as possible, but some links can still be found. Some of the car makers, willing to bring history with them brought vintage cars, just like some of the ones that drove the streets of Old Shanghai.
One of the most beautiful old car on show was the 1935 Renault Viva Grand Sport convertible. Launched in 1934 at the Paris auto show, the car won the “Grand Prix de la Baule” in the same year. The car really has an art deco and streamline style, typical of the period. I am not sure that any of those actually made it to Old Shanghai but it would have been a stylish drive on Avenue Joffre, along with the Buicks, Chryslers, British and American cars that were imported in high numbers. Delage, a now extinct luxury car brand made it to Old Shanghai with a few car being actually imported.
Further on in the car show, another French car brand was exhibiting a classic old French car, the Citroen Traction Avant. The car was a massive technological and commercial success. As the name in French suggests it was the first car with front wheel drive, a technological breakthrough at the time. Some were probably imported in Shanghai as they were used as the French official car in the late 1930’s. This also appears in most films about WWII in France, as it really became a symbol of this period. I actually rode in one of those vintage cars in Dalat, Vietnam where the local Sofitel keeps one running for tourist (I think there is the same service available in Hanoi as well). Driving this 60 years old lady was around colonial villas was like a time travel. It would be fantastic to have the same in Shanghai, but as far as I know there is no way such a old car can be registered here. The nearest thing is probably riding a Changjiang sidecar, copied from 1930’s BMW R71 as used for tours from Shanghai Sideways.
Both brands used old cars to show there history, but one of them seem to tried and make a link to Shanghai. This could have been really interesting in term of local branding as the 1930’s is becoming really popular with Shanghainese (see post “Somebody finally got it” and “Brands of Old Shanghai” for more information). The only brand that used the local marketing was Citroen with a full display and a vintage 1931 vehicle from the “Croisiere Jaune” (the yellow journey). Citroen cars drove from Beyrouth to Beijing going over the himalayan mountains and Tashkurgan pass going to XinJiang. I think using the trip as a link between Citroen and China was very smart and a great marketing tool. Not as flashy as the concept cars, but Chinese visitors who looked at the display were really interested.