While the name has endured, the vehicles that bear the brand have been surprisingly varied. The erstwhile dignitary's car has become a taxi, a cut-rate businessman's sedan, and during the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China parade, returned to its roots and participated by carrying party leaders. If there is a common thread linking the disparate Hongqi cars besides brand name, it may be the fact that nearly all are based on modern technology. Today, party officials commonly prefer Audis.
The original Hongqi cars were a luxury item used for the transport of foreign dignitaries and the party elite. Although Chairman Mao claimed not to have been driven in a Hongqi until Nixon's 1972 visit, he did take a personal interest in the cars from the beginning.
Introduced on August 1, 1958, the first Hongqi was the CA72. By September, a convertible version intended to be used by dignitaries in National Day parades had appeared. The CA72's design was based on a 1955 Chrysler. From the beginning, the full-size Hongqi was equipped with a 147 kW (200 PS; 197 hp) V8 engine. The grille was based on a traditional design of a Chinese fan, and still remains in use on Hongqis today.
First introduced in 1963, the CA770 model remained in production until 1980 albeit in limited numbers. Around 1,600 of these V8-engined Hongqis were built in total, and over the years various versions were released including a 1965 long-wheelbase model with three rows of seats and a 1969 armored version (CA772).