SEMA eNews Vol. 14, No. 10, March 10, 2011

Classic Car Collecting in China

  Classics in China

The whole concept of classic cars is new to China, but a burgeoning car
culture, rising wealth and an expanding awareness of the uniqueness of
classic cars is boosting the desire to own a classic car. Current laws
ban the importation of classic cars with the intent to resell, but
classic U.S., European, Chinese and Russian vehicles are finding their way
into the market.

*Photo courtesy of the Classic Vehicle Union of China

The Classic Vehicle Union of China (CVUC) has about 800 classic cars among its 400 members, but that is bound to grow, figures CVUC president Yang Li. There are up to 10,000 classic cars in China, he told SEMA.

The whole concept of classic cars is new to China, but a burgeoning car culture, rising wealth and an expanding awareness of the uniqueness of classic cars is boosting the desire to own a classic car.

There is a fairly major hurdle to growing the number of classic cars in China, however. Currently, it is illegal to import used cars in China for resale. Making the import of classic cars legal is one of the CVUC’s most important aims, said Li. Some of that involves educating customs officials in the difference between an ordinary used car and a classic used car.

“We want our government to realize the importance of our automotive heritage,” said Li.

Though he frequently gets inquiries from foreign companies interested in selling classic cars in China, the current restriction on imports makes that impossible. So personal trades are the main market mechanism for classic cars in China right now, said Li.

Interest in classic cars is a fairly new phenomenon in China, not surprising given that private-car ownership is also fairly new. Most cars in China were government-owned until early in the 21st century. Then, China’s entry into the World Trade Organization helped boost income levels, especially among private business owners. At the same time, the government was looking for ways to boost domestic demand—such as promoting car ownership.

As a car culture began to develop in China, the Chinese also began to travel overseas more and be exposed to classic cars there. Internet access is widespread in China, so someone who developed an interest in classic cars after seeing them abroad could learn more online.

“If you mentioned the term classic car to someone on the street about five years ago, the guy wouldn’t have even heard of it,” said Li. “People used to say ‘old car,’ or ‘scrap car.’ But nowadays, if you talk about ‘classic cars,’ many people may nod their heads.”

Owning a classic car is not a requirement to be a CVUC member.

Men (members are almost all male) join the CVUC to meet others who share their love of classic cars, said Li. “What you need is just a passion for classic cars or automotive history and stories,” said Li.

A typical member who does own a classic car is probably also a wealthy business owner.

Chinese brands that are favored by CVUC members include the Red Flag, Beijing and Jing Gangshan brands.

“I would say the Red Flag badge is very welcome among collectors if it’s not overpriced,” said Li. “Having an interesting background can make another Chinese-brand classic car very popular,” he added.

Russian brands, such as ZIM, ZIS, GAZ and LADA are also popular. China and the U.S.S.R. had close relations from the early ’50s until the early ’60s, and the cars in China now were often gifts from the U.S.S.R. government, said Li.

American and European brands that were brought into China before World War II, including Mercedes, Citroën, Ford and Plymouth are also popular, he said. Cadillac models with tail fins that party leaders used in the ’60s and ’70s are also hits, said Li.

To learn more about the specialty-equipment market in China, SEMA is sponsoring a members-only program in Beijing September 7–10, 2011. Meet one-on-one with Chinese buyers and participate in networking events all for one low-cost rate. More information is available at or by contacting Linda Spencer at

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