In early May I wrote an article on the strange and interesting cars from Dongfanghong, which were sold under the Dongfanghong-brand and Yituo-brand. The article caused quite a stir. Readers said the cars were in fact based on the FSO Polonez. Articles linking back to my article appeared on Polish and French websites, saying the same thing. Time therefore, for an update…
FSO is an automaker from Poland. The Polonez was based on the Polski Fiat 125p which was built by FSO under license from Fiat. The Polonez was made from 1978 until 2002. The car’s name comes from a Polish dance, the polonaise.
According to comments on the first article, and the articles that appeared on other websites, FSO exported a few thousand Polonez’ to China in the early 1980’s. Chinese companies started first to produce copied spare parts for the Polonez, when they got that under control they copied the whole car.
Somewhere in that process Dongfanghong became involved and took charge of the operations. Dongfanghong however was not able to copy the engines so those were bought from two Chinese engine makers, the Beijing Engine Factory and the Dong’an Engine Manufacturing Company. Donfanghong then started production of the FSO-copies.
Sounds all very plausible, but is it true? Let’s compare! Fortunately we have the exact dimensions of most Dongfanghong, Yituo and Polonez cars.
First up the Yituo-branded car pictured on top of this article. It is a sedan of an unknown type and was seen by Erik from ChineseCars.net in southern China in 1993. The first FSO Polonez sedan, the Polonez Atu, appeared as a prototype in 1994 and production started in 1996. The Yituo therefore cannot be based on the Atu but can still be a Dongfanghong-made sedan based on the Polonez hatchback. Sadly, this is the only Yituo-branded car we don’t know the dimensions of. We let it rest and continue with the Yituo LT5022:
Yituo LT5022. We know production started in the early 1990’s but don’t know the exact year. Production of the Polonez Atu, again, started in 1996. FSO exported to China, again, in the early 1980’s.
1996 FSO Polonez Atu sedan.
Size of the LT5022: 4445/1650/1420, wheelbase is 2509. Size of the Polonez Atu: 4318/1650/1420, wheelbase is 2509. I say we have a match! Well, almost. The Yituo LT5022 sedan is still longer than the Atu and the years don’t match at all, which makes it more likely the Yituo LT5022 sedan was actually based on the Polonez hatchback. This seems even more likely when you look at the black plastic ornament on the C-pillar on the LT5022. The Polonez Atu sedan never had such an ornament there, but the Polonez hatchback did. Size of the Polonez hatchback: 4272/1650/1420, wheelbase is 2509. Pic of an early 1980’s car:
1983 Polonez hatchback, note license plate. Seems we have a match again and this time a good one. Cars are basically the same until the C-pillar. See ornament, see door-handles. Dongfanghong however did make it a sedan, changed the front a bit and added rubber strips on the side. As you can see up front the lights are also different, more on that below.
The Yituo LT5021, the wagon-version of the LT5022. Size is exactly the same as the LT5022. This again is most likely based on the FSO Polonez hatchback. FSO didn’t sell a comparable wagon at the time and FSO-based wagons that appeared later don’t look like the LT5021 at all. See the 1988 FSO Polonez Truck and the 1998 Daewoo-Polonez Kombi, child from an ill-fated joint venture between Daewoo and Polonez.
Score so far: the Yituo LT5022 sedan and LT5021 wagon were both copies of the early 1980’s FSO Polonez hatchback. Body-style and engines however were different. There is one more car to discuss; the Dongfanghong LT6390:
The LT6390 only came as a wagon, it is a much smaller car than the Yituo LT5022/21. Size: 3920/1600/1450, wheelbase is 2330. Polonez hatchback: 4272/1650/1420, wheelbase is 2509. Numbers are too different, I say we don’t have a match here. FSO didn’t sell any other and smaller cars that match the dimensions either. It is sure still possible that Dongfanghong used components and parts from the LT5022/21 for the LT6930, but I can’t say for sure.
Back now to the headlights! Some comments pointed out that the headlights from the Yituo LT 5021/2 came from the Shanghai-Volkswagen Santana and that the headlights from the Dongfanghong LT6390 came from the Wuling LZW7100. This is very well possible. Shanghai-Volkswagen and Wuling got their headlights from local Chinese suppliers, I am sure these wouldn’t mind earning a few extra bucks by selling some units to Dongfanghong. This sort of business practices are unheard of in the West but until today perfectly normal in China.
Shanghai-Volkswagen Santana. Compare with LT5022/21. Headlights are a match. More on the Santana in China, see here for a history.
Time for a conclusion, the question was: were the Dongfanghong Yituo cars copies of the FSO Polonez? Yes, the LT5022 and LT5021 were based on a copy of the early 1980’s FSO Polonez hatchback. It was however not a 1:1 copy, Dongfanghong never made the hatchback-style Polonez and instead ‘designed’ its own sedan and wagon. The smaller Dongfanghong LT6390 was not a copy of any FSO. It was likely based on some other small Chinese car or van, but that indeed is something for another story.
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