No Credit? No Problem! Uncle Ho's Used Cars Has a Low-Mile ZIS For You!

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
no credit no problem uncle hos used cars has a low mile zis for you

Ho Chi Minh was a mysterious guy; even after reading the definitive biography of the revolutionary schemer who changed pseudonyms as often most of us change our socks, I still couldn’t tell you much about the man who is now his country’s equivalent of all of America’s Founding Fathers rolled into one. However, I can tell you what Ho Chi Minh drove!

I spent a couple of weeks in Vietnam earlier this year (some of you may recall my rant about Honda Super Cubs in Vietnam), and I visited the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi. I wasn’t too keen to visit the creepy embalmed corpse of Ho (whose body got the Lenin/Mao-style waxworks treatment in spite of his dying request to be cremated), but I had heard that his old Peugeot 404 could be found somewhere nearby and I definitely wanted to check that out. Sure enough, there were signs indicating “GARAGE OF HOCHIMINH’S USED CARS” on the museum grounds.

The place is full of soldiers in snazzy uniforms marching in aimless patterns among groups of bored Hanoi schoolkids on what was no doubt their 50th trip to look at dusty 1920s French Communist newspaper articles written by Uncle Ho. Thanks to the “GARAGE OF HOCHIMINH’S USED CARS” signs, however, all I could think about was an alternate-history scenario in which Ho Chi Minh (known as Nguyễn Sinh Cung at the time) stayed in the United States after working in New York for a few years in the 1910s (instead of moving on to Europe, which is what he really did) and then went on to found a chain of used-car dealerships in California: Crazy Uncle Ho’s Quality Pre-Owned Vehicles! He’s givin’ away those Model Ts! Imagine the TV commercials in alternate-history Los Angeles of the 1950s, in which elder statesman of used-car sales Ho Chi Minh offers unbelievable deals in a Kaiser Manhattan. Even Cal Worthington would have grown a long goatee, in order to follow in Crazy Uncle Ho’s footsteps. Oh yes, things would have been different.

Right. So, the Ho Chi Minh Museum has three of Ho’s cars behind glass in what was once his garage, and tourists— most of whom probably have Super Cubs as daily drivers— shoot thousands of photos of them.

Here’s his 1964 Peugeot 404, which (according to the sign next to the car) “was given by Vietnamese residents in New Caledonia (France).” By this time, Ho was in very poor health (he was more or less a figurehead by the middle 1950s) and probably didn’t do much cruising of the avenues of Hanoi in his new Peugeot.

Then there’s this ’55 GAZ-M20 Pobeda, given to Ho Chi Minh by his friends in Moscow. In those days, if you were a Communist revolutionary in a Third World country, you had to choose between China and the USSR as your patron. The Chinese were closer (and Vietnam’s traditional enemy), but the Soviets had better cars.

Ho probably saw this stately 1954 ZIS-110 (allegedly based on the Packard Super Eight) as his payback for all those years as a starving radical in Parisian hot-sheet flophouses.

It doesn’t quite pass the Proletariat Test, but who cares? Look at this ZIS!

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3 of 13 comments
  • Sector 5 Sector 5 on Sep 13, 2012

    404 a Farina-styled frog. Snap with BMC Austin Cambridge/Morris Oxford toadies. 404 was a good car for the day. Quality reputation and good mileage. Peugeot ended up keeping it around for a while despite the more modern 504. Many of the revolutionaries were pissed at France because they had to toil for free in her factories in exchange for education. Perhaps would have been more relevant to send Ho a Peugeot bicycle?

    • Panzerfaust Panzerfaust on Sep 13, 2012

      It would have been more relevant to give this man of the people a 'cyclo.'

  • Lurker Lurker on Sep 14, 2012

    LUV the 404 with that 4 speed shift on the steering column. I had three of them, including a British racing green wagon.

  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers. 
  • ToolGuy 2019 had better comments than 2023 😉
  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down.
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro today's vehicles?