Prototypes : Zhonghua 75-800

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

It is well known that Rover and China Brilliance were in talks regarding the co-development of a next-generation of executive cars, but as things had gone quiet, and with BMW stepping into the fray, the deal was called off.

However, according to Erik van Ingen Schenau, a rather interesting ‘Rover 75’ appeared in China in 2004 wearing the Huachen (or Brilliance) logo…

The Brilliance Rover 75

The proposed China Brilliance-Rover tie-up was to have led to an interesting arrangement: a joint executive car and far Eastern production of the 25 and 45 ranges. Sadly, because the tie-up never progressed much further than the press announcement, all these promising plans went out of the window.

Unveiled on the Guangzhou commodity group’s automobile trading company’s stand at a Chinese exhibition show, the 75-800 was a surprise to all those attending. The power unit for the car was the 2497cc KV6 engine, and apart from the new badges, it was identical to all other Euro-spec 75s.

However, according to a source close to the company, the car was produced when MG Rover and China Brilliance were in negotiation, and its role was to woo the Chinese and help secure a collaborative deal. Another source confirms this: ‘This particular car was one of two dozen evaluation cars shipped to Brilliance in late 2001. They were complete LHD export specification Rover 75s built at Longbridge with one or two modifications (like an MG number plate plinth to take a round Brilliance badge fitted in China).’

MG Rover people went out to China with a view to setting up CKD assembly of 75, transfer 45 production, and start up production of a four-door notchback version of the RDX60 – which was the plan before the deal floundered.

The reason for the sudden pullout by China Brilliance was the upcoming Joint Venture agreement with German car manufacturer BMW. The MoU signed between Brilliance Auto and BMW clearly stated that Brilliance Auto was not allowed to form partnership with other car manufacturers. BMW and Brilliance Auto only got to know each other after a failed joint venture attempt by – then BMW owned – Land Rover and JinBei, part of the Brilliance Auto Group, with planed to produce the Land Rover Defender on a CKD basis in northern China.

A detailed look at the front end - one of about 20 that were produced...
A detailed look at the front end – one of about 20 that were produced…

Timeline of the MG Rover-Brilliance talks

April 2001
Brilliance announces plans to buy the BMW owned Powertrain engine plant at Longbridge. The Chinese company would buy K- and KV6-series Rover 75 engines. The intention would be to fit these engines to a car based on the Rover 600 platform, which Brilliance had bought some time previously. There were also discussions regarding the expansion of the Brilliance range to encompass cars based on the Rover 25 and 45.
December 2001
MG Rover announced that Brilliance senior executives had attended negotiations with MG Rover’s chief executive Kevin Howe, concerning joint model and engine development. Also discussed were a proposed joint research and development centre, and a common component supplier base. The first collaborative venture would be one to develop an all-new car to replace the 25/ZR, which is due for replacement in 2005.
March 2002
MG Rover announced that it and Brilliance will create a joint venture to develop and produce automobiles. The partners will jointly own the company; equity being split 50-50. The alliance will enable MG Rover cars to be produced in China, and MG Rover will be able to develop vehicles based on Brilliance models. The jointly developed cars include a new medium-sized car, for which the styling direction was previewed by the TCV concept. The deal would result in jointly developed Rover 25 and 45 replacements, with the potential for an off-roader and people carrier. Respective company’s delegations were headed up by Kevin Howe and Dr Brian X Sun.
July 2002
MG Rover parent, Phoenix Venture Holding Group, claimed that the alliance between MG Rover and Brilliance was solid, despite the sudden departure to the US of the Chinese firm’s chairman Mr Yang Rong; wanted in China for alleged involvement in “economic crimes”.
December 2002
MG Rover announces talks early in 2003 to rescue its joint venture deal with Brilliance. But Rover has also been approached by other Chinese companies and may look for new partners if talks fail.
Where the Rover longship should reside sits the Huachen badge - Details of the proposed agreement have yet to filter through, but this car's existence remains proof that MGR perhaps had amitions of an Eastern expansion of the range.
Where the Rover longship should reside sits the Huachen badge – Details of the proposed agreement have yet to filter through, but this car’s existence remains proof that MGR perhaps had amitions of an Eastern expansion of the range.

With thanks to: Erik van Ingen Schenau for providing the pictures and Graham Arnold for his general assistance with this feature.

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)


  1. I remember a Brilliance car being seen at Longbridge. I could never understand the attraction of the company – previously only made cloned minibuses? Judging by their notorious 1 star NCAP performance they had a lot to learn;

    while BMW might be embarrassed by some of the copyright infringement their partner is still apparently doing?

  2. @4

    I’m surprised they haven’t put a BMW grille on a Citroen ZX yet.

    Every other Chinese car company has tried – there are variants that look like Skodas, Audis and Mercedes!

  3. Just the other day I saw an 04 plate Rover 75 facelft, with the full depth square grille (a’la V8 model). However looking closer, it had a Roewe badge on it, but the rest of the car was Rover branded and RH drive, with forked spoke alloys.

    Someone must have been tinkering with its identity?

Add to the debate: leave a comment