By on September 13, 2012

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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13 Comments on “No Credit? No Problem! Uncle Ho’s Used Cars Has a Low-Mile ZIS For You!...”

  • avatar

    I wonder if the chrome is all origonal.

    I know you can get stainless steel bumpers for VWs from Saigon, and I’ve seen on maybe bringatrailer? a stainless steel bodied jeep a few weeks ago.

  • avatar

    I think they can make anything. Sort of like we were before we outsourced all the mundane things we needed.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    I have Veitnamese stainless bumpers on two my cars and they amazing,all hand beaten in really thick stainless steel then polished, they look better than the originals which were all dinged and rusted and the cost including shipping was cheaper than chroming. The Veitnamese are very industrious people as has been shown by the rebuilding of their economy.

  • avatar

    Yes, but can these cars get 300 hectares on a single tank of kerosene?

    “Put it in H!”

  • avatar

    The ZIS was undoubtedly a status symbol, Stalin, Mao, Tito and even Krushchev rode in one (we darenot say they ‘owned’ them). There never seemed to be a big enough Marxist/Leninist stick to beat the vanity out of the dear leaders. Of course Stalin had several Packards and Krushchev hand Lincolns and other luxury cars given to curry favor.

  • avatar

    Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh… NLF is gonna’ win.

    USA veterans frequently return to Vietnam to visit.

    I have not heard of ANY problems. No Vietnamese folks harassing or shouting or whatever any of those guys who had been doing whatever in that country those few decades ago.

    Envision the future.

    Will a veteran of one of the recent and/or ongoing middle east forays be able to visit in 20 to 30 years and wander around with nary a problem?

    I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if decades from now the same Toyota pick-ups a wandering around the place.

    • 0 avatar

      “Will a veteran of one of the recent and/or ongoing middle east forays be able to visit in 20 to 30 years and wander around with nary a problem?” I doubt it on two counts, 1) the current areas of middleastern unpleasantness will not be peaceful enough for an American veteran to walk the streets unmolested in the next two decades and 2) that many would really want to.

    • 0 avatar

      Most of the people in Vietnam are under 30, so they don’t remember what they call “the American war.” I didn’t get any hostility from anyone for being an American, but they don’t seem to like the French and Chinese. Also, there’s a lot of north-south loathing– the southerners don’t like the northerners’ food, accent, attitudes, etc.

      • 0 avatar

        I studied the Vietnamese language for 35 weeks in El Paso of all places. If you read it you pretty much have one language. I studied the Saigon dialect. If you spoke it, it was not the same language. Without expressing any political leanings – we did not do a good job at nation building after WW2. With Vietnam and Korea leading the pack, those nations we split do not/did not love each other.

        I expect it’s still, as you say, a matter of present tense.

  • avatar

    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?

  • avatar

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

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