Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cambodian Cars

Back in the early part of the 20th century, Cambodia was a French protectorate, which in reality meant a colony. As could be imagined, most cars were imported from France, Citroens being the most common. Very few of these remain, the climate is not kind to body-work or steel, and unless kept in a good shelter and maintained machines decay very fast. One friend of mine owned a late 1930s Citroen, which was lovely to be driven around in. It had an engine from a modern Toyota, and odd-looking chrome hubcaps, but otherwise was an original colonial-era ride.
In the late days of the French era, a couple of assembly plants were set up in Cambodia, one at the new Sihanoukville port, and another on street 80 near the Phnom Penh Port. The Sihanoukville one assembled a box-van variant of the well-known 2CV model. The 2CV’s name came from French, the Deux Chevalle, or two horse power, and was a very low-powered but affordable little workhorse, born from the austerity of the post WWII years. As you can see from the pictures, it had a pick-up back with a canvas covering. The Citroen showroom which is shown in one picture was on Norodom Boulevard.
After independence, there were some notable achievements in creating industry in Cambodia. The SONATRAC (Societe National Des Tracteurs) plant in Sihanoukville fabricated and manufactured trucks, tractors, motorcycles and also motors for other industrial uses. Later, after the refusal of U.S. aid, a local style jeep was also manufactured. I have only seen pictures of these, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any surviving models.
The first picture is of a Citroen at Angkor Wat in 1910, and the next shows the Postal Car that ran the route between Phnom Penh and Saigon in the late 1920s, the picture looks like it was taken in Saigon. The next three are of the assembly plant and publicity shots of the Cambodian 2CV variant in the 1950s. The seventh picture is a Citroen sign on a wall above the old plant on street 80. Second last is the Citroen showroom on Norodom Boulevard, and the last is of a burnt out Simca in the early 1970s war.


humphrey said...

Very good stuff.
i knew that the building in st 80 was a car factory but didnt know about the norodom building.
Did the KR melt down all the old cars or what?

phnompenhpast said...

I don't think they did too much scrapping because there were still huge piles of cars on side streets around the city after 1979. Since then most have probably been exported for scrap, I don't know if they have any smelter here.

pierre said...

Very interesting; in fact I make some research about the history of Citroen in SE Asia, the "DS" model in particular, and I have close to nothing concerning Cambodia. Is there any other info or document you could share with me ?

phnompenhpast said...

I'll have a look, I can't remember where I got those pictures. I've edited the original post as the Citroen Showroom on closer examination is not the same as the Beeline HQ on Norodom.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you're right, that building was the Citroen show-room built in Saigon in 1927 by local importer Emile Bainier, see here:

Anonymous said...

On photo number 2 we can see Saigon cathedral on back.
Photo must have been taken on the corner of Cong Xa Paris and Nguyen Van Binh streets.

Photo 7 seems to be etablissements Bainier d indochine on Nguyen Hue Street, Saigon/HCMC.

Rangsey Tith said...

Very nice pictures there. I hope I get to see more from you. Anyway, I am having my own blog for car enthusiast in Cambodia. And your pictures look very interesting in our blog. So, could I use it as the front page background of our blog?

Much much appreciation