This week’s chosen car is the first generation Hyundai Pony. Like the Citroen Visa featured two weeks ago, you’re much more likely to see the commercial variant of the Pony than the car. Hence why it is a perfect candidate for the feature. The usual quick trawl of Auto Trader, Pistonheads and eBay has once again revealed that there isn’t one solitary first gen Pony for sale in the UK. This just about makes it rarer than a buyer for the Aston Martin Cygnet. But unlike the Cygnet, the Pony was a new car from the ground up. In fact, it was Korea’s first ever foray into the automotive sector. A giant international conglomerate, Hyundai had started out in 1946 and made a living working on civil engineering projects, such as bridges.
In 1974 however, Hyundai dipped a toe in the automotive water and built their first car – the Pony. It wasn’t until 1976 that the Pony was exported around the world, signalling the start of what would eventually lead to global domination.
Before I go any further, I guess I should start with a confession. This isn’t easy, so please bear with me. I distinctly remember asking my Dad if we could buy a Hyundai Pony. I know this puts me in a select group of one, but it actually feels good to get the confession out into the open. Exactly when I approached my Dad with such a shocking and humiliating question, I can’t remember, but I’m guessing it would have been 1981, as this was the first time you could buy the Pony in the UK. Not that that makes the revelation any less shocking.
Looking back some 30 years later, I have two theories for this lapse in concentration. Firstly, I was a big fan of the MK3 Capri 2.8 injection and the twin headlights of the Pony were, to my young eyes, remarkably similar to those of the Capri. OK, so you’re not buying that reasoning.
The second reason is more believable. The Hyundai Pony actually looked exactly like the cars I’d doodle in my bedroom. From an early age, I knew my automotive career wouldn’t culminate in me designing the Lotus Elise or Fiat Coupe. But looking back on the evidence, I think I actually did pen the first drawing for the Hyundai Pony. Spot the difference:
OK, so maybe I didn’t pen the first sketch of the Pony. In fact, it was none other than Italian designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro. Famed for his work on the likes of the Alfasud, Brera, Esprit, numerous Maseratis, the Mk1 Golf and Lancia Delta, the Pony is perhaps not one of the models he tends to cite during his after dinner speeches.
Some 360,000 Ponies were produced, each powered by either a 1.2 or 1.4 litre engine, which could propel the Pony to a racehorse challenging speed of 91mph. It could be sat on your driveway for just £3k, making it incredibly ‘good’ value against rival European and Japanese motors. It was also going to be a very reliable Pony, not that the boydwork would let the car live to an old age where it could be put out to pasture to enjoy a long retirement.
There was an estate version of the car which, despite being incredibly ugly, did remove the boxiness of the saloon version. British buyers were saved the estate version, but they could buy the pick-up if they so desired.
Today, it is easy to mock the Pony. It is also easy to mock me following my confession. But for all it’s faults, it did give Hyundai a small foothold in the UK market and once established, they haven’t looked back.
But enough positivity. The Pony is perhaps the only car to make the Morris Marina look svelte and desirable. Maybe Clarkson should be dropping a piano on a Pony in the new series of Top Gear. Give the Marina a break! In the meantime, I leave you with this very rare TV footage of the Pony. Listen out for a very eerie and somewhat sinister Cold War-like Korean voiceover, coupled with a strange switch to English for the name “Pony”.