The aquisition of production rights for the Maestro by Etsong was intended to signal the beginning of a new venture.
Following the ill-fated Bulgarian adventure, the Maestro/Montego found a new home in China. Etsong is an important Chinese tobacco company, but they also have an industrial division, a construction group, a travel agency, and own a football club and gymnasium.
Having acquired the production rights and tooling for the Maestro and Montego, Etsong embarked on the construction of a factory to produce these models in March 1998. Costing around 500 million Yen, the completed factory occupied a site of some 640 acres, and was operational by the end of 2000. Two prototype Maestro vans were built in December that year, having Toyota engines and Nissan-sourced dashboards. Etsong went on to produce Maestro-based models in both hatchback and van form, designated QE6400 and QE6440 respectively.
The fact that the numerical part of these model designations is in the 6000 range reveals that the vehicles were officially classed as buses – a popular expedient amongst Chinese manufacturers. The remaining digits indicate that the hatchback was classed as being 4 metres long, and the van 4.4 metres. Incidentally, a visit to the website of Etsong retailer QE Autosales reveals that the page which features the QE6400 is named “Ruby”, while that which features the QE6440 is named “Laird”; could it be that these traditional Austin/Leyland names were revived for these models in China? Translating the text on another Chinese dealership’s website reveals that the QE6400 is referred to as the “Land Leopard”…
The prototype Maestro-based QE6440 vans, as shown in the Chinese media. These vehicles both bear Qingdao test registration plates, and show the Etsong company logos on their sides.
In April 2001, MG Rover executive John Dalton recalled: “I was aware that the Maestro had gone into production in China from a contact in the Rover parts business. Etsong has built a new factory for car production to diversify its activities. The units produced should not be classed as semi-knocked-down (SKD), as built-up (BU) units to base them on have not been made for five years. Rover sold the tooling to a third party a couple of years ago and this company has supplied it to Etsong. Etsong should now have all the body tooling for Maestro and Montego and should be in a position to build four body types: Maestro van, Maestro 5-door hatchback, Montego 4-door saloon and Montego 5-door estate.
It may also be possible to produce a Maestro pickup from the van body. Vendor tooling for components is being transferred to China to support the project while guaranteeing the supply of parts needed by Rover. The Maestro van was the first model to be produced back in December (pre-production/prototypes). It would appear they have now started producing Maestro hatchbacks. The comment that Etsong does not have a licence to build cars intrigues me; as I understand it this is part of the 5-year plan to diversify the business which has government approval.”
|Specifications, as produced by YIZHONG (ETSONG)|
|Engine type:||Toyota 8A-FE 4-cylinder|
|Maximum Power:||63KW at 6000rpm|
|Maximum Torque:||110Nm between 5000 and 5400rpm|
|Top speed:||145 km/h (91 mph)|
|Acceleration (0-60mph):||22 seconds|
|Fuel consumption:||5.5 l/100km|
The rights to build the Maestro and Montego were later acquired by China’s giant First Auto Works group, who launched their own take on the hatchback – the Lubao CA6410 in May 2003. The extra 10 in the numeric part of the model designation reveals that FAW’s version was effectively 10cm longer than the original, thanks to it’s Montego-sourced front end…
With thanks to:
Juan Cheng of AUTOCAR China and Erik van Ingen Schenau for providing much of the above information;
Neil Turner for providing some of the photos;
Graham Arnold for his general assistance with this feature.
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.