Jay Leno Has Never Heard Of the Hongqi CA770

But then, the rare Chinese limo does something he’ll never forget.

bySean Evans|
People photo

Today, Chinese-produced vehicles are decent enough to bring to American soil. Historically, though, China's domestic products have been less consistent. Case in point: the Hongqi CA770 stretch limo that rolled into Jay Leno’s Garage this week. Our denim-clad host admits it’s rare he happens across a car he’s unfamiliar with, but this Mercedes-Benz 600 ripoff fits that bill.

In fact, the Hongqi is based heavily off Merc’s vintage ultra-luxury limo: When designing the CA770, the First Automobile Works (FAW) company used one officer's abandoned 600 as a template. Owner Capa Ma explains that after General Lin Biao unsuccessfully tried to snuff out Chairman Mao Tse-tung via a bomb on Mao’s train, Biao fled China for Russia, leaving everything behind, including his Mercedes Grosser. After Biao’s plane was obliterated en route, FAW was given the keys to the 600, along with a Rolls-Royce Phantom IV, and homogenized both into the Hongqi's design.

The Hongqi—which translates into ‘red flag’—has 245 brothers, yet only one living stateside, Ma reveals. This particular vehicle spent most of its life at a Chinese hotel, at the beck and call of a Cambodian king. To quote Leno, it’s an odd vehicle: three tons heavy, 19 feet long and six and a half feet wide. Piloting this whale requires good arm strength, since there’s no power steering. After working up a sweat, the driver can cool off with the dashboard's two vents. Rear passengers? Keep broiling.

Under the bonnet is an American-made V8 from the late Fifties, that Leno (half-)identifies as a Ford Y-block. Ma claims that 5.7-liter makes 220 horsepower and generates 412 lb-ft of torque, though those numbers seem optimistic.

Inside the car, there are tiny fold-down seats for a security guard in the back, though they significantly diminish legroom. A healthy dose of redwood spruces (sorry) things up. Nothing is powered, meaning Dear Leader would’ve had to crank his windows down himself. Not very stately.

On the road, Leno says the steering isn’t as cumbersome as he would’ve assumed. Ma points out that the gold inlay on the wheel is allegedly made from actual gold. (Leno said he'd trade it for power steering.) Then, the car dies in the middle of a turn. Leno’s crew has to shove it out of the intersection and, after a quick montage of failed attempts to get it resuscitated, it’s trailered back to Leno’s warehouse. In a Hongqi, better hope the dissidents are slow walkers.