Unable to fly to Busan (South Korea), where this recreation is presently on show, Iain Robertson found it hard to conceal his glee for a truly original approach by a major carmaker, which is pure flight of fantasy but underscores Pony’s relevance.
Hyundai knew precisely what it was doing in hiring a mostly British team to develop the very first car for the company. George Turnbull, a former British Leyland boss in 1974, was first to the table, inviting Ken Barnett (body engineering), John Simpson and Edward Chapman (auto engineers), John Crosthwaite (chassis engineer) and Peter Slater (chief development engineer) to join him. It was a talented team. George was able to use his knowledge of the Morris Marina project, admittedly a car that attracted much derision during its life, while engaging with Mitsubishi’s MAGMA engines and transmissions and utilising several Cortina components (as the Ford was being produced in Korea at the time). The overall styling came from the crafty pen of Giorgetto Guigiaro, of Italdesign, in Turin.
In that embryonic period of South Korea’s fast-growing motor industry, Hyundai needed a cost-effective package that could sell worldwide, even though its initial exports targeted South American territories, with European sales starting in 1979, with the second-generation Pony kickstarting UK interest in 1983. Commencing with a booted fastback, which soon changed to a hatchback, an estate car and a 380kg pick-up truck were soon added to the line-up. Turnbull was convinced by the reliability of the Mitsubishi running gear and, although essentially straightforward 1,238 and 1,439cc four-cylinder units, they developed a modest but dependable and frugal 52 and 65bhp respectively.
The Pony’s appearance was crisp and fresh and heavily influenced (inevitably) by styling work that Giugiaro had already carried out for Volkswagen Group. When you look at the recreation model, it even possesses hints of the Audi Coupe, perhaps even the shortened Quattro Sport version. The Pony in its original form was the first volume produced and exported model from South Korea and its production run lasted fifteen years from 1975 to 1990.
Now, over 45 years later, the timeless vision of the original Pony is explored in the Heritage model, shown as part of the ‘Heritage Series – PONY’ section of the ‘Reflections in Motion’ exhibition, being held in South Korea.
The Heritage Pony’s exterior is finished in a matte, shimmering surface of silver throughout, from front to the rear of the hatchback. Of course, as a show/concept car, Hyundai’s modern team has updated many of the stock features of the original, including camera-based, wing-mounted exterior mirrors ahead of the windshield. Naturally, we can allow them their little extravagances, which also include pixelated LED circular headlamps and U-shaped taillights constructed of LEDs, both of which are features of the Ioniq 5 and the most recent 45 Concept car.
I absolutely adore the updated but retrospective interior that boasts a string of both chic and modern accoutrements, including doors made of high-end materials that exude a classic feel, incorporate a cabin lighting system and a speed-gauging instrument panel produced with lighted vacuum tubes that give the Pony a ‘Metropolis’ appearance alongside other stylish and retro design elements. Yet, it is not all a harking back exercise and modern features abound, such as the digital ‘touch’ transmission shifter, a cradle space for mobile-phone and a voice-activated steering wheel, which convey a modern tactility and sensibility that is certain to catch observers by surprise.
In the boot is placed a ‘last-mile’ mobility device, contained within a stainless-steel case, which represents Hyundai Motor’s human-centred design commitment. There are only two high-backed leather seats fitted to the show Pony, which also signify the retrospective approach to the overall styling of the company’s important automotive progenitor.
Although Hyundai uses the word ‘series’ in naming its one-off, that is with due deference to a run of ‘classics’ that Hyundai’s team is contemplating. Yet, it is highly unlikely that either the parts, or the revisited model, will be productionised. If anything, the Treser-type full-dish alloy wheels look terribly over-endowed, the car assuming a tiptoe-like, stiletto-heel stance, which makes it seem a little odd, from certain angles.
However, I cannot fail to applaud Hyundai for its enterprise. A mass-market model from 1975 is only on the bottom rung of the classic car stepladder but, with just 33 original examples remaining alive and well in the UK, the Pony’s values are sure to harden somewhat as a direct result of rarity, if nothing else. The original model was a lightweight (870kgs) but outstandingly sturdy little thing. It could be described as ‘agricultural’ but that was a quality essential to the bargain basement end of the new car industry at the time. Its main rivals were rear-engined Skodas and the remnants of the Eastern Bloc, Moskvitch and Wartburg, all of which were markedly cheaper but occupied a well-defined segment of the new car scene in the UK.
To Hyundai, Pony is the car that started its transition from baseline to where it is today. There is no point seeking cues from Pony in any of the latest Hyundais, there are none. Yet, it is an highly important model in the company’s timeline and, while it may seem a little frivolous to modernise it, it does demonstrate that Hyundai is a company young enough to drive positively into an all-new era of motoring, while unfailingly able to recall its past, with corporate tongue firmly in cheek.
Conclusion: Those cheeky blighters at Hyundai have produced a one-off showpiece, exercising their talents by creating an entirely new version of the company’s first-ever mass production model. It works! A guaranteed head turner, an updated Pony could find a wholly new customer base for the firm.