Raising the red flag


Welcome to the “biggest city you’ve never heard of” declared Jeremy Clarkson in last Friday’s episode of his Amazon Prime show The Grand Tour (which he co-hosts with fellow ex-Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond and James May). He was speaking of Chongqing, the southwestern municipality with a population of over 30 million.

Much of the threesome’s hour-long show was spent in Chongqing where Clarkson initially test-drove the Hongqi L5, a limousine with the hefty price tag of £880,000. His review of the 3.2 tonne Chinese vehicle (known as a Red Flag in English) was more upbeat than WiC had expected, though he did insist on wrongly pronouncing its name as a ‘honkie’.

“I only saw this thing for the first time a few moments ago and already I’m in love. I love the way each door weighs the same as a medium-sized mountain. I love the flagpoles. It’s like a cartoon baddie’s car. Hongqi won’t say how fast it will do 0-60 but I don’t care about any of that because it is just magnificent and evil,” he concluded, before adding the rejoinder: “The price is mad.”

At this point Clarkson cooked up an idea for how a Chinese executive could get more bang for their automotive buck. Just as richer Chinese love to shop for discounted luxury in England’s Bicester Village, he proposed they could also buy second-hand elite cars nearby and have them shipped to China. Even after taxes were paid it would still, said Clarkson, cost less than purchasing a new Honda Civic in China and be great for Britain’s balance of payments.

To this end he brought an old BMW 750IL (costing £8,400) to Chongqing to persuade the Chinese that this was a bargain – being about a hundredth of the cost of the Hongqi. The usual crazy road tests followed with all three presenters driving their cars and marvelling at a drive-thru factory. It sold doors – five million per year (Hammond revelled in the English translation of its corporate slogan: ‘If employee us angel overtime, it is not devil when they get salary.’)

There was another scene where some goose intestines were dipped in a spicy Chongqing hotpot, which Clarkson memorably described as “rubber hosepipe coated in napalm”.

During their trip through western China Clarkson admired the scale of the road network. “In 1988 China had no motorways at all, and now 30 years later it has 84,000 miles of them. That’s more than any other country in the world. Since 2011 they’ve been building 6,000 miles of motorway per year. It beggars belief and it’s not like the terrain is easy – but there aint no mountain high enough to stop them.” Spectacular footage followed of incredible infrastructure feats: “This bridge, for example, is 34 miles long. Then there is the Duge Beipanjiang Bridge, you could fit the London Shard underneath it twice over.”

Still there was a recognition at the end of the show that their mission to persuade the Chinese to buy cheaper second-hand German cars while shopping in Oxfordshire had a flaw. “It was a good idea except this programme is shown in every single country in the world, except one: China. So this entire show has been an entire waste of time.”

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