This is the BAW Leichi, a Chinese variant of the Jeep Cherokee XJ, looking beautiful in black in what seems to be a holiday village. And check those front fenders! What was the Leichi, and how did she come to exist..?
The Cherokee XJ was made in China from 1985 until 2009 by the Beijing-Jeep Corporation (BJC), a joint venture between American Motors Corporation (AMC) and Beijing Automobile Works (BAW). AMC’s part of the joint venture became Chrysler after the latter took over AMC in 1987.
It is well known that BAW continued to manufacture the Cherokee XJ under their own name after the joint venture ended.
What is lesser known however is that BAW used the Cherokee XJ platform for some of their own cars when the joint venture was still active, and one of those cars was the Leiche, or Thunder Gallop.
First a little bit more background:
The Chinese Cherokee XJ was available with a standard and with a long-wheelbase. The standard wheelbase was 2576 mm, this is the same wheelbase as on the U.S. Cherokee XJ. Most of these standard-wheelbase cars were powered by the 2.5 liter four, most had a five-speed manual, and most were real-wheel drive.
The 2678 mm long-wheelbase version was unique for China. It was most famously used for the top end Cherokee XJ ‘Superspace’ series. The Super Space was also fitted with a heightened roof and roof rails. Most of these long-wheelbase cars were powered by the 4.0 liter six-in line, most had a four-speed automatic, and most were four wheel drive. The 111 hp 2.5 and 170 hp 4.0 engines were made locally at BJC.
As you may have noticed I am using the word ‘most’ a lot. That is because BJC made so many variants of the Cherokee that there just isn’t any universal truth. Yes, most LWB cars had the high roof, the 4.0, and an automatic. But BJC also made short-wheelbase cars with the 4.0 and a manual, and long-wheelbase cars with the 2.5 and an automatic. And on it went and on it went. So ‘most’ is the most accurate description I can use.
The BAW Leichi used the Chinese long-wheelbase Cherokee XJ platform, in 4×2 and in 4×2 forms. BAW didn’t touch any of the hard points, nor did they change the angle of the windscreen.
Therefore the proportions are still very recognizable as the Cherokee XJ, but the new design is just… different. Pretty? Well…
BAW added a Nissan-like front with big lights and a small shiny grille. They completely redesigned the front fenders with wild ‘flame surfacing’, the rear was new too and the interior was partially XJ and partially new. The only thing that didn’t change was the front door, which is completely similar to the XJ’s, bar for the handle.
The Leichi engines were a mix of American and Chinese units. The earliest models used the BJC 2.5 liter four, and later models used engines made by the Liuzhou Machinery Factory, a subsidiary of Liuzhou Wuling Automobile. The Liuzhou Machinery Factory provided two engines: a 102 hp 2.2 liter four and a 127 hp 2.3 liter four.
Side note: this Wuling Automobile is the same Wuling as in SAIC-GM-Wuling, the mega-successful joint venture that makes all sorts of minivans and mini MPVs.
The factory desgnations were: BJ2025H for the 2.5, BJ2025F for the 2.2, and BJ2025G for the 2.3.
Dashboard came straight out of the 2003 version of the Beijing-Jeep Cherokee XJ, but BAW added a new center stack with tasteful plastic wood and a new steering wheel. The car on this photo is a 4×2.
The biggest difference with the Cherokee XJ can be found at the rear door, which is hinged on the right side instead of on the top. The right side is in any way an odd choice as China is a left-hand drive country. So whenever you park along the curb, the door is always in the way.
The BAW Leichi debuted in 2003 and was made until 2008. In that year price ranged from 76.800 yuan to 99.800 yuan in 2008 (11.200 USD – 14.600 USD in period exchange rates).
So how about BJC? Were they happy with the Leichi, or not? First of all: there was nothing they could do to stop BAW. The Chinese were ‘partner’ in the joint venture but not a very good one.
Whenever they could they found ways to earn extra money out of the Americans. Get the hell out? No option. In China’s misty joint-venture world you cannot just choose your partners, you just got to go along, especially when the mighty Beijing municipal government owns the place.
But there was some good too: BJC also earned some money on the Leichi, by selling the platform and engines to BAW. Sadly, that was largely undone again by the price of the Leichi, which undercut the price of the BJC Cherokee by about 20.000 yuan, and price was very important in those days. BJC’s earnings dropped even further when BAW switched to Liuzhou Machinery Factory for the engines. So all in all; BJC likely wasn’t very happy at all.
But we are!, because the BAW Leichi is yet again an interesting vehicle of China’s crazy car history. And there is more, much more. BJC (the joint venture) developed several designs for a ‘modern’ Cherokee XJ, and BAW worked on many other of its own versions. More on all that in later stories.
Cherokee XJ still very visible at the windshield, but less so on those manic front fenders…