Behind Hyundai’s new Pony Coupe there is a remarkable car design story

Almost 50 years later, the carmaker pays homage to the concept that marked the beginning of the automobile industry in Korea. For the occasion, Giorgetto Giugiaro, who designed the original, returns.

The original Pony Coupe Concept first appeared at the 1974 Turin Motor Show, and it was lost as Hyundai’s push to move the brand forward. But that car from the seventies was a significant milestone as the very first model designed by the Korean automaker and rose to the status of a niche classic.

The recreated Pony Coupe showcases Hyundai’s vision in collaboration with the renowned car designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. Its wedge-style nose, circular headlamps, and origami-like geometric lines exude a sense of retro or classic nostalgia. The sleek roofline, clean surfaces, and distinctive proportions, including the uniquely shaped B pillar, all embody the daring spirit of this two-door sports car.

Step inside the car, and you’ll find an interior that features the iconic Giugiaro monocoque design and a driver-centered floating architecture. Interestingly, the original concept also served as a significant inspiration for Giugiaro’s work on the DeLorean DMC 12, famously featured in the Back to the Future movies.

Italian Design Infused into Hyundai’s DNA

In the 50s, the Korean automotive sector focused mainly on the import and assembly of foreign automotive brands. The industry’s inception dates back to when Korea was still trying to heal its wounds from the war and rebuild itself as a proper country. 

Having no local car design talent, the then-emerging automaker Hyundai turned to the expertise of Giorgetto Giugiaro to design its first independent model and Korea’s inaugural mass-produced car. Giugiaro was entrusted with creating blueprints and building five prototypes, including a coupe. Hyundai’s decision to debut the Pony and Pony Coupe at the Turin Motor Show marked its foray into the global market.

Hyundai Pony Coupe Concept 1973

Lee Chung Goo, now the former President of Hyundai Motor’s R&D Center, was sent to Italy to document and learn from Giugiaro’s ItalDesign. His notes about his time in Italy have been dubbed the “Notebook of Deputy Section Chief Lee”. They meticulously document the early development process of Korea’s first mass-produced original model, the Pony. 

“I still remember the date of my departure – Feb 4th, 1974”, said Lee during the ‘Design Reunion’ held at Lake Como last week, reflecting on those early days. “I was completely focused on observing and diligently took notes on the process every day. Despite my lack of knowledge about car design, I meticulously recorded everything to explore it further later.” 

Lee’s notebook even detailed drafting supplies and paperweights, along with the progress made in the design room and the master model production room. These notes served as a valuable reference for Hyundai’s design process in Korea and provided on-the-job training for new engineers. He firmly believes his Notebook “laid the foundation for developing new vehicles at Hyundai Motor today.”

Technical drawings issues

One of the most crucial lessons learned during this design process was the incompatibility between the assembly drawings from ItalDesign and the technical drawings from Mitsubishi. Mitsubishi’s engine, transmission, and chassis drawings were based on Japanese standards, while Hyundai needed a solution tailored to the Korean situation, where most roads were unpaved.

With Japan’s transportation infrastructure evolving at a similar pace to Korea’s, both countries faced the challenge of paving their roads. This requirement led Hyundai to choose Mitsubishi over Ford, with whom they had previously collaborated in manufacturing cars for Korea. Ford’s withdrawal from the Korean market due to its vehicles being designed specifically for paved roads served as one of the catalysts for Hyundai’s decision to design its own car.

Rebuilding History: The Pony Coupe Launches as a Tribute to Giorgietto Giugiaro’s Timeless Design

Hyundai Pony Coupe Concept 1973

“I designed the Hyundai Pony when I was still a young designer at the start of my career. I felt immensely proud to be entrusted with creating a vehicle for a company and country that was about to take on a fiercely competitive global market”, Giorgetto Giugiaro shared, reflecting on his original design.

“Now, I’m deeply honored that Hyundai has approached me to rebuild it for posterity and as a celebration of the brand’s heritage.” Looking back on the 1974 launch, the great Italian car designer remembers being concerned about the Pony’s similarity to the yet unreleased Volkswagen Golf, which was due to make an appearance at the same show.

“We thought the Pony’s structure had some similarities to the Golf. We knew that the Hyundai Pony and Volkswagen Golf weren’t similar at all, but we didn’t have a reliable way to prove it. Fortunately, our concerns were wholly gone when Volkswagen officially announced at the auto show that - the Pony and the Golf are different,” he said, laughing. 

Angular yet unaggressive

The Pony Coupe’s angular yet unaggressive appearance embodies Giugiaro’s signature origami-like geometries, characterized by clean lines and sharp contours. By carefully preserving the essence of the original design while incorporating modern touches, the new Pony Coupe captures the spirit of its predecessor while meeting the expectations of contemporary enthusiasts.

The rebuilt Pony Coupe will feature a sleek, low roofline and a sporty, aerodynamic profile. The interior will be updated with modern materials and technology while maintaining the original design language. Furthermore, the car will be equipped with a new powertrain featuring a more efficient and environmentally friendly engine. This ambitious project serves as a testament to the enduring relevance of Giugiaro’s design philosophy and the importance of preserving automotive heritage.

All images courtesy Hyundai

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