Chinese Car Brands That Time Forgot: Shijiazhuang Automobile Works – Zhengtian

Shijiazhuang Automobile Works
Photo by Erik van Ingen Schenau

Today in Chinese Car Brands That Time Forgot (CCBTTF): Zhengtian, a fascinating brand that made a series of station wagons and pickup trucks in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Zhengtian was a brand under Shijiazhuang Automobile Works (SAW), a car maker based in the great city of Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei Province.

Shijiazhuang SQ145, based on Dongfeng EQ140, with an unique front-end design.

The company was founded in 1969 and started out with building licensed Dongfeng trucks, some with an unique design by SAW. Later on they built a series of licensed Beijing 130 light-trucks.

In 1988 they moved into passenger cars with the new Zhengtian brand, building wagons, a wagon-pickup truck, and pickup trucks.

Just as with so many of those smaller brands of the time Zhengtian sourced platform and engines from other, larger, automakers. Zhengtian went shopping at Beijing Auto Works (BAW) and at First Auto Works (FAW). At BAW they got the BJ212 and BJ2023C chassis, at FAW they got a complete pickup truck; the CA1020PLF.

It is as always very hard to find any useful information about production numbers, but we have at least something: In a 1992 catalog the company proudly stated (in English):

“The Works [SAW] produces 20.000 sets of the Zhengtian Series light bus and chassis model 6450 per year and is one of 14 auto makers which reach this capacity in this country.” One of fourteen!

The term “light bus” actually refers to the wagons. It was, and still is, very hard for a car maker to obtain a government license to produce passenger cars. It was however not that hard to get a license to build commercial vehicles and buses, which the government thought were more important. Many smaller automakers used this loophole: building passenger cars while classifying them as buses.

The term “chassis model 6450” refers to the fact that Zhengtian was also re-selling BAW chassis to other small automakers. That was rather special, as BAW mostly didn’t allow re-sales of their chassis.

On to the cars:

Zhengtian SQ6470Y

The Zhengtian SQ6470 was a large 4×4 based on the BAW 212, fitted with an unique body designed by Zhengtian. It has a heightened roof called the “super roof”.   It debuted in 1988 and was powered by the BAW 492 engine, here rated at 78 horsepower.

BAW 212

This engine was largely based on a Soviet design by Zavolzhye Engine Factory ( ZMZ). BAW had used it since the mid 1960’s for powering and endless range of cars, trucks, and buses.

All SQ6470’s differ on details. The car on the first photo has a single fog light, this one here has two, and the one below has none. Perhaps customers could choose how many fog lights they wanted… The striping is different on each car too. And, interestingly, the position of the word ‘Super Roof’ is different on each car as well.

It is a huge car, just under five meters long, and it was rated as a seven-seater. It has huge mirrors, truck-style, and a red dot on the center of the front wheels.

A base variant of the SQ7470Y without the heightened roof and with smaller mirrors. Different striping yet again!

Zhengtian SQ6450

In 1990 Zhengtian launched the SQ6450 wagon. It has a single fog light, a shiny grille, surprisingly stylish wheel covers and incredible tiny mirrors.

It was based on the BJ2032C, a long-wheelbase two-door pickup truck-version of the BJ212. Many smaller Chinese automakers used BAW pickup chassis as a base for wagons, trucks, and even sedans.

The SQ6470 was also powered by the BAW 492 engine, now rated at 84 horsepower. It was available with rear0wheel driver or with four-wheel drive. Size: 4840/1770/1860, and wheelbase was 2750.

This appears to be a base model with steel wheels and without any fog lights.

SQ1020S

The SQ1020S is an interesting car. It might look like a sedan but it is a four-door pickup truck based on the SQ6450 wagon (which, it should be remembered, was based on a two-door pickup truck. Almost-full circle).

The ‘1020’ designation was a government-mandated designation for pickup trucks, so you see this designation used for pickup trucks of every brand. Confusingly, brands also used the same designation for different pickup trucks. So if one pickup truck was retired, they would use the same designation for its successor. This practise continues until today.

The bed looks very small, but the handlebars are cool. Engine was the same 84 hp unit as in the SQ6450.

SQ6450 chassis

Zhengtian offered the SQ6450 chassis to other small Chinese automakers. It was sold complete with wheels, the engine, the drive train, and with a gear lever (!), but no steering wheel.

Factory hand book of the SQ6450 chassis. Zhengtian logo on the upper-left, Shijiazhuang Automobile Works logo on the lower-left.

Zhengtian SQ6470

1992 saw the coming of the Zhengtian SQ6470, a slightly updated version of the SQ6450. The headlights were new, and the high end versions got speedy stripes and new wheel covers.

The Zhengtian badge and Zhengtian name spelled out in Pinyin.

A period advertisement for the SQ6470, showing a beautiful red example with, again, different wheel covers and without fog lights.

A grey example on steel wheels. There is a fog light, fitted low in the bumper.

Every car maker of the time developed special versions for the authorities, this seems to be a road-assistance emergency vehicle, fitted with warning lights  and a siren.

SQ1020S

And here is the second of Zhengtian’s SQ1020S pickup truck models, a rather pretty double-cab truck with steel wheels and factory striping. There were two kinds: the S 4×2 and the SY 4×4. The SQ1020 debuted in 1994.

The SQ1020 was not based on anything from BAW, but on the FAW Jiefang CA1020PLF, which in turn was a clone of the fifth generation Toyota HiLux.

FAW sold the truck to many smaller Chinese car makers, including Beijing Xinhai, Zhongxing, and in this case to Shijiazhuang Automobile Works. There were no self-designed bodies here, it was just a rebadge operation. The engine was a FAW unit as well, the CA488 2.2 liter four-cylinder, rated at 87 hp.

This engine came originally from Chrysler, and was used in many FAW cars including in the Audi-based Hongqi limousine series.

Zhengtian also sold a juiced up variant, with Japanese-style mirrors on the fenders, a chromed front bumper, and painted in bright red.

Period advertisement.

Another version with a fixed top over the bed

One seen on the road in a beautiful period setting with a white Nissan on the left. The stripes are the same as on the factory photo. Green plates are of Hebei Province.

And with that this story ends. After 1995 the Shijiazhuang Automobile Works went through turbulent times with many mergers and takeovers. Later on they would launch a series of mini cars under the Tongtian name and a series of Cherokee-XJ clones under the Xiangyang name. More on all those in later posts!

Many thanks to Erik for all the street photos. Other sources: Automobile Technical Parameter Handbook (1993), and the Handbook of Chinese Automobiles (1994).