Hyundai’s Pony Coupe Concept might look like a corporate vanity project, but this painstaking recreation of a lost 1970s Hyundai concept by design legend Giorgetto Giugiaro has a real purpose. Among other things, it’s kickstarting serious discussions in Seoul about doing a limited production run of the brilliant N Vision 74, as well as three EVs based on the gorgeous Genesis X Trilogy concept cars. The Pony Coupe Concept reveals a confident Hyundai Motor Company embracing its past to chart a bold new future.
Automakers tend to be an unsentimental bunch. Especially when they’re in startup mode, where money is tight, and the risk of failure haunts every working hour. Back in the late 1970s Hyundai was very much in startup mode. It had only been making cars since 1967, in a country that was racing to enter the industrial age. So, when it was decided there wasn’t enough money to put Giugiaro’s pretty little Hyundai Pony Coupe concept into production, the car was quietly parked in a corner and forgotten. And lost forever.
If you’ve ever watched Orsen Welles’ classic film Citizen Kane, there’s a hint of Rosebud in the Hyundai Pony Coupe Concept recreation unveiled in Italy on the eve of the ritzy Concorso d’Eleganza Ville d’Este. Like the classic movie’s protagonist, Charles Foster Kane, Hyundai Motor Company is now immensely wealthy and successful. Just as Kane yearned for the simple Rosebud sled on which he’d played as a boy, Hyundai’s designers yearned for the car that in many ways expressed the spirit behind the company’s journey from hardscrabble startup to one of the world’s largest automakers.
So they had Giorgetto Giugiaro build them a brand new Pony Coupe Concept.
Created at GFG Style in Italy, the design company now owned by Giugiaro and his son Fabrizio, the reborn Hyundai Pony Coupe Concept is an almost exact replica of the original delivered to Hyundai nearly 50 years ago. All 1970s wedge and edge, with an airy greenhouse supported by thin pillars, and rolling on chunky four-spoke wheels with tall sidewall tires, it’s stunningly good-looking in the metal. Inside is an interior with a faintly 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe that still looks fresh and modern, with superbly rendered forms and lovely use of materials.
The only visible departure from the original Pony Coupe Concept’s specification is the 15 inch wheels, one inch larger in diameter than those fitted in 1974, made because the correct section 14 inch tires were no longer available, says Hyundai design chief SangYup Lee.
Impressively, the recreated Pony Coupe Concept is also a fully drivable runner. It’s built on the platform and mechanicals of a 1970s Hyundai Pony four-door hatch, just as the production version would have been had the 1979 oil crisis not triggered a major recession in the U.S., which was intended to be the main export market, prompting Hyundai to shelve plans to produce the car.
The fact that Hyundai seriously considered building a production version of the Pony Coupe Concept and using it to spearhead the company’s launch into one of the most competitive auto markets in the world, speaks volumes to the drive and ambition of an automaker that had started out building Korean-market Cortina sedans for Ford Motor Company barely a decade earlier.
To everyone’s surprise, Fabrizio Guigiaro fired up the Pony Coupe Concept shortly after its reveal at Villa Pliniana, just across the water from George Clooney’s Lake Como lair. A few minutes later Hyundai Motor Group executive chair Euisun Chung, our 2023 MotorTrend Person of the Year, was behind the wheel and revving the 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine with a smile as he sat alongside Giorgetto Giugiaro, the man who’d created the original for his grandfather, Ju-Yong Chung, a half century ago.
It may be a recreation, but the Hyundai Pony Coupe Concept could rightly be considered an authentic origin artifact, a Hyundai brand touchstone, because it was made by the same man who made the original, using the same design and fabrication techniques he used 50 years ago. The Giugiaro DNA in this car is just as real. But what does it all mean? Quite a lot, say senior Hyundai execs.
“The Hyundai Pony Coupe Concept connects the past, present, and future,” says Hyundai Motor Company CEO Jaehoon Chang. “We have the youngest design team of any brand,” notes Hyundai Motor Group and Genesis brand chief creative officer Luc Donckerwolke. “To look back is unusual for them but looking at the past means getting to know your heroes.” Echoes Hyundai design chief SangYup Lee: “We have to look at what we have achieved and use it to create the future.”
The most tangible expression of those sentiments could appear within the next few years in the form of a limited production run of the N Vision 74 concept, whose form and proportion were inspired by the Pony Coupe Concept.
If built, the production N Vision 74 will, like the concept, be a hydrogen electric hybrid vehicle, its powertrain using electricity from both the 85kW (net) hydrogen fuel cell used in the Hyundai Nexo and from a 62.4kWh battery that can be plugged in and recharged just as in any normal electric vehicle. In city driving or freeway cruising the fuel cell stack produces all the electricity needed to power two e-motors mounted at the rear wheels, one driving each wheel. On the track, under high load, high demand conditions, the battery pack will provide the bulk of the power to the e-motors.
A limited-production N Vision 74 would highlight Hyundai’s expertise in hydrogen fuel-cell powertrain technology. The Hyundai Nexo is currently the only fuel cell car on the market apart from Toyota’s Mirai, and Hyundai’s construction equipment division is already building hydrogen fuel-cell powered excavators. The company believes hydrogen will be a major transportation fuel by 2040, powering trucks, buses, and trams, as well as cars.
Another project that could come from a Hyundai energized by the thinking behind recreating the Pony Coupe Concept is a proposal to build limited numbers of the gorgeous Genesis X Trilogy concept cars. The cars—the X Coupe, the X Speedium, and the X Convertible—would all be EVs, with a near-600 horsepower dual-motor, all-wheel drive powertrain fed by the 99.8 kWh battery just unveiled in the Kia EV9 SUV, linked by the company’s fast-charging 800V electrical architecture.
“I wanted to push Hyundai to do something excessive,” Giorgetto Giugiaro recalls of his thinking behind creating the original Pony Coupe Concept. And half a century on, it looks as if he’s done exactly that.
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