Triangle Motors (合眾汽車) – from Shanghai to HK and from Opel to Isuzu
York Lo: Triangle Motors (合眾汽車) – from Shanghai to HK and from Opel to Isuzu
Leon Zigal and the first Opel in Hong Kong (Eagles and Dragons)
Founded in Shanghai in 1931 by Leon Zigal (1900-1962) and relocated to HK in the late 1940s, Triangle Motors has been an important player in the distribution of automobiles and trucks in HK and China for over seven decades, first as the distributor of Oldsmobile, Opel, Pontiac and GMC trucks and later Isuzu, all related to the American auto giant General Motors. The firm has been a subsidiary of Dah Chong Hong since 1962.
Triangle Motors in Shanghai – Success through Sales, Service and Satisfaction
Left: Ad announcing the opening of Triangle Motors in Shanghai in 1931 (China Press 29 May 1931: 2); Right: Triangle Motors’ showroom in the French concession in old Shanghai in 1931
Leon Zigal, whose original name was Leon E. Zigalnitsky (which he still went by in the 1930s but shortened in the 1940s), was a Russian Jew who escaped from Russia to Shanghai in 1918 when the Bolsheviks seized power. In Shanghai, Zigal worked for the German firm Hartzenbusch Motor (亞德洋行), which was the distributor of General Motor’s Chevrolet in Shanghai and founded in 1924 by J.H. Hartzenbusch, a former employee of Dragon Motor Car Co (飛龍洋行).
In 1931, Zigal struck out on his own and established Triangle Motors in partnership with Nelson E. Lurton (1883-1956), judge of the US Court of China in Shanghai for 21 years. At launch, he managed to secure the dealership of General Motors’ Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Oakland cars in Shanghai and opened Triangle’s showroom and service department at 99 Route Cardinal Mercier (now South Maoming Road) in the French concession. News reports at the time reported that “the opening of Triangle Motors during May brought into being one of the most modernly equipped garage service stations in the city”. The same year, General Motors acquired 100% of Opel, the largest auto exporter in Germany at the time and Triangle introduced the brand to the Shanghai market and instantly captured significant market share with its stylish designs and competitive pricing. In 1932, the head of Opel – Dr. Wilhelm von Opel visited Shanghai to open Triangle Motors’ new office in Shanghai at 310 Bubbling Well Road.
Right: News report of Herbert Hagenbeck, the son of the owner of Hagenbeck circus buying Oldsmobile Six in Shanghai from Leon Zigal at Triangle Motors. Noticed the elephant in the top right panel (The China Press: 22 Oct 1933: 12)
The logo of Triangle was a triangle with its three key elements highlighted on each side – sales, service and satisfaction. For sales, Zigal recruited a team of professional salesmen from multiple nationalities and highlighted them in newspapers. For service, he hired American mechanic R.M. McDonald as his first service manager. An organizer of Chinese Society of Automotive Engineers, McDonald did not work for Triangle for long and returned to the US in 1933. However, the firm increased its level of service next year (1934) by launching roadside assistance service on the new highway between Shanghai and Hangzhou. The combination of the first two S resulted in high customer satisfaction and sales success such as order from the Hagenbeck circus highlighted in above article in 1933 and in 1935, Triangle opened a branch in the capital at the time – Nanking at 149 Kwo Fu Road.
In 1940, Triangle Motors became a China Trade Act corporation and was incorporated with the US government as Triangle Trading Co Federal Inc USA. Unfortunately, this was insufficient to protect the firm as the Japanese launched its attack on Pearl Harbor in late 1941 and business was suspended.
Triangle’s ad for the 1947 Pontiac in HK (The China Mail 1947-8-16)
Triangle Motors in Hong Kong
In the late 1940s, Triangle Motors relocated from Shanghai to Hong Kong as the Civil War situation in the mainland deteriorated. After the War in HK, General Motors awarded the distribution of their different auto brands – Chevrolet and Cadillac were handled by their pre-war distributor Far East Motors, Buick and Vauxhall were handled by the newly formed China International Motors (see related articles on these two firms) and Triangle was given Oldsmobile, Pontiac, GMC trucks and Opel. The three firms were friendly with each other and in fact organized friendly soccer matches between its staff.
The original office of Triangle Motors in HK was located at Holland House in Central with F.G. Barros as office manager, H. Hui as parts manager and George Chan as sales manager in the late 1940s. By the 1950s, directors of the firm were Leo Zigal and J.F. Cahill Jr. and staff members include E. J. Noronha, S. F. Chao, D. M. Fung, E. A. G. Passos, C. W. Pang, S.S. Li, C.P. Sung, Thomas S.B. Wei (韋尚斌) and Y.Z. Stone. The Hong Kong showroom was located at Morrison Hill Road in Happy Valley while the Kowloon showroom was located at 69D Waterloo Road.
Outside of work, Leon Zigal was an active member of the American Club in Hong Kong and a bon vivant – even dressed up as a female nurse at one party. Both Leon and his wife were members of the Shanghai Jockey Club and the family’s racehorse ownership continued in Hong Kong. In 1962, he died in San Mateo, California and was survived by his wife Irene Zigal (1909-1993) and sons David and Daniel Zigal (鄧思高). The same year, the family decided to sell Triangle Motors to Dah Chong Hong (hereafter refer to as DCH), the trading firm affiliated with Hang Seng Bank. DCH retained most of Triangle’s staff including Thomas Wei, a graduate of St John’s University in Shanghai and scion of a prominent Cantonese comprador family, who was general sales manager of the firm. Wei was a co-founder of the Bayview Lions Club (香島獅子會) and served as its president from 1968-69 and 2003-04
Dah Chong Hong ad listing all the products the firm and its subsidiary Triangle Motors represented; An Open Kadett ad posted by Triangle Motors in 1963 touting the performance of Open racecars in the 10th Macau Grand Prix that year (KSDN, 1963-11-21)
Triangle Motors sales manager Thomas Wei (right) with Fourseas Bowling manager Pau King-yin at a promotional event in 1968 where the bowling champion win an Opel (WKYP, 1968-11-5)
Triangle Motors’ Kowloon showroom on Prince Edward Road in 1973 (KSEN, 1973-1-27)
In the 1960s, Triangle Motors built the Triangle Motors Building at 29 Tai Yau Street in San Po Kong. (This was re-developed by Henderson Land into Winning Centre in 1997) and a showroom was also added in the Hang Seng Bank Building in Central. In 1974, GM appointed Triangle Motors as the HK and Macau sole distributor of Isuzu (GM acquired 34% of Isuzu in 1971). By that time, DCH had four service centers in HK including showroom in 152 A-D Prince Edward Road which was added in 1973.
Triangle Motors’ Isuzu showroom in 1974 (left) and today (right)
Over time, Isuzu became the main brand for Triangle Motors and under the distributorship of Triangle Motors, Isuzu has been the truck market leader in Hong Kong and has consistently captured 40-60% of the market for the past four decades. The partnership also extended to Macau, mainland China and Taiwan and major fleet customers of Isuzu vehicles in HK include HKSAR Government, CLP Hong Kong, Hong Kong Electric, Kwoon Chung Bus, New Lantao Bus, Alliance Construction Materials, Wing Lee (Kong Shum) Transportation (possible connected with Cheung Kung-wing who used to work for Triangle – see article on Public Cars), China Travel Service, Maxim´s Caterers, The Garden Company, Federal Express, HAECO, Hong Kong Disneyland etc. With two strategically located showrooms in Hong Kong and a sales force of over 40 people, Triangle Motors has the largest commercial vehicle sales team in Hong Kong.
Sources (other than those quoted above):
Kung Sheung Daily News, 1974-5-11
Ta Kung Pao, 1962-5-3
HK Album, 1967
Universal Dictionary of Foreign Business in Modern China, Szechuan People’s Publishing House, 1995
This article was first posted on 3rd May 2019.
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