The aquisition of production rights for the Maestro by Etsong intended to signal the beginning of a new venture. However, it was the First Auto Works (FAW), who took over the Etsong project.
This was not their first ex-BMC>Rover product…
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, but are not licensed for car production. Having acquired the production rights and tooling for the Maestro and Montego, they embarked on the construction of a factory to produce them in March 1998. These two Maestros vans are prototypes built in December 2000, having Toyota engines and Nissan-sourced dashboards. The prototype vehicles shown below 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 five-door hatchback, Montego four-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 five-year plan to diversify the business which has government approval.’
The Toyota-powered Maestro vans, as shown in the Chinese media.
|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|
Prototype hatchback versions of the Maestro were also produced, which differed cosmetically in minor ways (wheel trims, and the lack of black paint on the door frames). under the bonnet revealed the Toyota unit, and inside, the new steering wheel and in car entertainment differentiated the Etsong from any other Cowley built LHD Maestro.
Prototype van and hatchback – again, only minor cosmetic differences between these and the Cowley-built versions. The plastic front bumper on the van looks good.
However, it appears that Etsong revised the car between the first showing of its prototype, and the launch of the production version.
In May, 2003, a production version of what was the Etsong was revealed to the local press. According to Erik van Ingen Schenau, “Production will take place, as First Auto Works (FAW) took over the project. The new version is named ‘Lubao CA 6410’.” It is very interesting that FAW have acquired the rights to this car and Etsong, given their former production of the Ital-based CAC 6430. Like the re-cycled Morris, the re-born Maestro’s name means it is registered with Beijing as a “bus” (6000-Series) and is classified as 4.1-metres long (the “410” part of its name). One can only hope that given FAW’s previous record, it will sell in reasonable numbers in Western China, and that the Maestro’s long wheel travel and soft suspension will prove to be just the ticket on less than perfect roads.
|Lubao CA 6410|
|Pictures of the fascinating Maestro/Montego half-breed.More…|
According to an insider (speaking in 2002), the plans to produce Maestros overseas were always weighed down with problems – in Bulgaria they were blighted by other – human – problems, “Doing business with overseas parties always seemed to end in tears. Like the attempt to build Maestros in Bulgaria. I spoke to the guys running that project, and they said it was just impossible to work with the Bulgarians – they didn’t attend meetings, forgot what they’d promised to do and so on. Think there are still one or two Bulgarian kits awaiting assembly in garages over here [in the UK]!”
With thanks to Erik van Ingen Schenau and Juan Cheng of AUTOCAR China for the information, Graham Arnold for his assistance and Neil Turner for the photos.