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[Photos] This Binh Duong Warehouse Is a Treasure Trove of Vietnam's Automotive Heritage

In a dusty Binh Duong warehouse lies one of the world’s largest collections of Citroën Traction Avants, a car commonly associated with Vietnam’s late colonial era. One might hazard a guess that the collection belongs to either a nostalgic Frenchman or a local history buff. However, the extensive fleet actually belongs to a soft-spoken Japanese man.

Norman Matoba’s home is located on a sleepy Binh Thanh street. Inside, we drink tea and talk about the journey that brought him to Vietnam and how his vast collection came to be. Fortunately for both of us, Norman has a solid grasp of English, the result of two years of university spent in the United States in the early 1980s.

Despite my assumption that cars had long been an interest of his, he explains that his hobby-turned-profession is fairly recent.

In 1998, while living in his native Japan, a fortuneteller told him to head southwest for a “good direction.” Matoba looked to Vietnam because at the time, the country seemed like an interesting place so he took the plunge and relocated.

He bought his first vintage vehicle, a BMW R25 not long after his arrival, finding the country flush with old motorcycles and cars. After hearing of interests for such items from Japan, he began to export what gems he could find and simultaneously built up his own collection, one that eventually came to include 24 Citroën Traction Avants. When prices began to soar a few years later, he stopped trading cars.

The Citroën Traction Avant was designed in the early 1930s as a pioneer in front-wheel traction and unitary structure. Over 750,000 of these were produced between 1934 and 1957, a number of which ended up in Vietnam and can be seen en masse in old photos.

Many still exist locally in private collections, museums to be rented out for tours and films. Matoba's fleet of Citroëns also serves the same purpose: they have appeared in numerous international films and TV shows shot in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Apart from providing Matoba with a form of regular income, the collection is also a source of immense pride: UNESCO has officially recognized the collection's values in preserving local heritage while other fans of classic cars have also expressed great interests in the vehicles.

Matoba tells me that he will never sell off these pieces of history, but instead wishes to pass them on to future Vietnamese generations. For Matoba, the local connection is represented by his Vietnamese wife and children, whom he hopes will help to preserve the cars that remain in his dark and dusty warehouse.

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