Kandi has been selling off-road machinery in the United States for quite some time, generating occasional talk about building affordable EVs here in recent years. Yes, Kandi-badged golf karts, dirt bikes, dune buggies, karts and other non-highway-legal machines have been commonplace in North America for decades… but today’s Kandi-built Junkyard Gem is a something a bit different.
I found this mysterious vehicle at a boneyard just south of Denver, and it appears that somebody bought the whole thing within days of it showing up in the inventory.
This car—yes, it qualifies as a true car, as we’ll see—was built when Kandi was run by the Zhejiang Kangdi Vehicles Company in China. The company appears to have gone through some mergers and/or ownership changes since then, but an Internet Archive Wayback Machine search for 2006 brings up this page from the company’s old website, describing a KD-970GKE-2 “Go Kart” with a 1,000cc engine.
The engine is a Lifan SOHC straight-four, with old-fashioned distributor ignition and what appears to be extremely simple throttle-body fuel injection.
The whole thing looks very much like a 970cc Suzuki F10 engine, and the “970” in the model name suggests that this could be one of the many license-built F10s built in China by various manufacturers.
The power goes to the rear wheels via an old-fashioned four-speed manual transmission.
In back, there’s a solid rear axle with an extremely simple coil-spring suspension with two hefty-looking control arms.
There’s even a Panhard rod, to make the handling a bit less scary.
The front suspension uses MacPherson struts, and there are manual hydraulic drum brakes all around.
So it’s a very simple, very cheap vehicle made to drive a couple of people and a bit of cargo over to the next village, e.g., Jiufengsi to Zhangjiaden. Not great for serious off-road use but it should do just fine on washboardy dirt roads, and there’s very little to go mechanically wrong. It occurred to me that this is the mid-2000s Chinese-market version of the original Willys-Overland Jeepster, which had a very similar general layout (though the ’48 Jeepster had a flathead engine and a three-on-the-floor manual).
It has a 1980s-style gauge cluster, though that 30-amp ammeter would be more familiar to drivers of 1960s Detroit machinery. The odometer shows just 57 kilometers, indicating either a broken cable or just a vehicle that was several kinds of illegal for use on public roads in the United States. Perhaps the original American buyer had it shipped over here for farm use and then didn’t do much with it.
There’s even what appears to be a factory-installed cassette deck in the dash.
The sun has not been kind to the front seats, but we can see that they’re more car-like than the cruelly hard dune-buggy one-piece units you’d expect in such an application. Note the inertia-reel shoulder belts. This thing even has a heater!
A Chinese Jeepster would be useful on the farm, or for use by maintenance workers at a facility with big parking lots.
It has an identification number using the US 17-character VIN format (the “L” first character means it’s from China), but there’s no way this car could have been made street-legal here (at least not prior to 2031, when it turns 25).