At this moment, everyone is losing their lettuce about Hyundai’s new battery and hydrogen fuel cell EV, the Hyundai N Vision 74. You yourself may be experiencing feelings of complicated arousal, and I think that’s healthy. But you may be slightly confused as well: Why the “74?” Where does this oddly retro design language and wedgy shape come from? Is there some history here I should be made more aware of? The answer is yes, and that’s why I’m here, so relax. I got this. Meet Goigetto Giugiaro’s under-appreciated 1974 masterpiece of straight-edge ’70s design, The Hyundai Pony Coupé.
Before we can get into the Hyundai Pony Coupé show car, we need to take a quick look at the far less exciting production car that followed it, the Hyundai Pony. The Pony was South Korea’s first real mass-produced car, the first car they exported, and, really, the car upon which all of the massive Korean auto industry owes its existence to.
Built between 1975 and 1990, the Pony was a pretty unremarkable car technically, even for the time. During a period where many carmakers were looking to transverse engines and front-wheel drive for their mass-market family cars, like the Volkswagen Golf or (with a longitudinal engine) the Renault 5, Hyundai went with a more traditional front engine/rear drive layout for the Pony.
Perhaps it was because Hyundai had experience building British Ford Cortinas under license, Hyundai hired almost exclusively British car engineers to help engineer and design the car, engineers that had experience designing cars for Austin Morris and British Leyland, including the Morris Marina.
Now, to our car-besotted, cynical brains, hiring the minds behind the Marina likely doesn’t seem like the absolute best plan, but it worked out fine, with Mitsubishi drivetrains and a simple but handsome body styled by Italdesign, the company founded in part by legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.
Here’s a great little interview with Giugiaro about the restrictions and challenges of designing the Pony:
Giugiaro already had some good experience designing this sort of modern-looking practical car, having designed the Golf for Volkswagen. The Pony worked within the same basic design vocabulary of straight lines, dramatic angles, crisp creases, and minimal adornment.
The result didn’t feel like last-generation thinking, thanks largely to Giugiaro’s design. To introduce this design before the launch of the car in 1975, Hyundai decided to have Giugiaro do something a bit more exciting: make a concept car version of the Pony, but something sportier and more dramatic, taking the design inspirations of the production car to their more extreme forms, and show off this version of the Pony at the 1974 Turin Auto Show.
This car was the Hyundai Pony Coupé.
The Pony Coupé kept the same general shape and form of the production Pony, but exaggerated the proportions to make something longer and lower and wider and hungrier and sleeker. The blunt front end with its simple grille and quad round headlamps was allowed to be recessed into a tapered end, changing the feeling of the face dramatically.
Without the large bumpers, the underside could recede rapidly, emphasizing the arrow-like point of the car, a sharpness that continued in all of the crisp lines and details throughout, and was echoed at the rear, which had a similar lean, undercut profile.
The Pony Coupé’s lines were compared to origami, full of flat planes and crisp folds, sharp corners and a certain purity. It was a great-looking car, somehow feeling both fast and practical, and the car was said to have influenced the DeLorean DMC-12, and echoes of these design ideas were used by Giugiaro in cars like the VW Scirocco and Lancia Delta.
If we look at the new Hyundai N Vision 74 concept car in the context of this 1974 show car, the inspiration is pretty obvious:
Hyundai has re-cast the silhouette and basic design vocabulary of lines and creases but updated it significantly. The roofline comes through almost untouched, but the front and rear lighting is recast in a modern-yet-retro dot-matrix LED style, though the quad-lamp graphic still remains.
The basic elements are all there, down to the long and narrow indicator lamps inset into that black bumper bar. Only on the modern version everything is widened, exaggerated, enhanced, the grille unified into the lamps, the fenders getting bulges and arches, the front lip and airdam growing – essentially, the same type of techniques used to re-cast the original production Hyundai Pony design into the 1974 concept car, just done again, almost 50 years later.
The Pony Coupé is a design icon that doesn’t often get the attention it deserves. I’m delighted that Hyundai was wise enough to dig into their own history and give it such an enthusiastic and exciting tribute.
Is there an inside joke on this site regarding how many different ways we can misspell Geoghetto’s first name while still knowing who we’re talking about? Because it definitely seems like it and I’m on it.
Love how Giugiaro, in addition to creating beautiful designs across the decades, helped usher in the modernist look for scifi.
Cars, certainly, but even more. Like how 35 years later, the Seiko chronos in Aliens still look amazingly futuristic.
In the World of Star Trek, Qo’noS (pronounced Chronos) is more futuristic than that.
From having seen a talk with him about his life’s work, I also love how Giugaro is responsible for some of the most iconic sports cars of the 70’s and 80’s, but is far more proud of the work he’s done on affordable cars.
I’d love one of those original Pony’s but with the little Veloster Turbo motor stuffed in it. Now that would be a fun little run around!
The Pony was an important success in South Korea because they didn’t salt their roads and they were the biggest producer of coat hangers and duck tape, so spare parts were always cheap. Here in Canada, they were like traffic cones, always inexplicably blocking a lane until they mysteriously disappeared into the ground.
I’m curious how the production Pony was as actual transportation. Here at the edge of Appalachia, the ‘80s Hyundais were notoriously crap: every one over 3 years old or so had the black oil slick on the bumper. I don’t know what the issue actually was, but it wasn’t until they seemingly learned & applied some stuff from WRC that the black smudges went away and I started viewing them as actual cars.
I also realize that it could just have been the subset of cheap people who bought and neglected maintenance on them in this area: that’s why I asked the question up there
From what I remember, in the Canadian market they were considered a step up from Ladas and Yugos, but still not, you know, good. Looking it up, the one thing that everyone mentions is that it was very easy to start in winter, even though they were otherwise kind of fragile and disposable.
But I have noticed that Hyundais in general are absolutely superb when it comes to winter things – the heaters in the modern ones are absolutely fantastic, warm up fast and keep you toasty even in -40.
I’m very off topic here, but I love using -40 as a temperature without specifying degrees water or degrees human. You almost always have someone ask “is that C° or F°” and you can just say “Yes” 🙂
Which annoyed me about The Batman; the “secret” bar in the basement of the Iceberg Lounge was “44 Below”// missed it by that much..
The concept car is gorgeous. I would take the Pony Coupe with a v6 please.
I see why designs have a problem with the real world. Where is the front bumper? In 1976 it would show up as an I beam attached to the front with some crappy black rubber. See Nissan z or Ford Maverick
Ok, you got me. “Complicated arousal” is probably the best way to describe what I’m feeling.
I’d never realised Giugiaro ripped himself off, designing the FSO Polonez. He went with the exact same shape for both cars. For a moment there I was really confused by that full-page ad.
That’s typical of Italian design houses, they have a brand design language and apply it everywhere. It’s why 60s BMWs and Triumphs have a family resemblance because both hired Michelotti so a 700 sedan and a Herald have the same roofline and a Dolomite is knockoff Neue Classe. It’s the same with Pininfarina, a Fiat 1800, Austin A55 Cambridge, and Peugeot 404 are recognizably from the same studio.
That a Hyundai Pony and FSO Polonez resemble each other is expected and both probably have a bit of Alfasud and GTV in them as well
For some reason Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds has a Hyundai Pony Coupe, despite having no other real vehicles
Awesome article. Thank you.
Good to the brand heritage connection here, thanks!
Please explain I understand where hiring from failed British car makers is a bad idea. But apparently hiring people from failed Italian car makers is a good idea. From reading I get Gugiero got paid alot of money for designing a lot of cars loved by the industry but noone bought. Last I checked making money selling cars is what is defined as success. I can’t think of many car manufacturer until the Japanese started making cars that were successful in the US the largest car market. Some may have had a niche market but frankly if your car ain’t selling it ain’t a success. Same with TV. It doesn’t matter what some deusch experts see or proclaimed if you filed for bankruptcy it wasn’t a success.
These are the kinds of things.. that when I finished Architecture School and wanted to read Arch Digest and virtually every other Magazine about Architecture…
Ya wind up with a bunch of useless publications touting the rich and feckless with their million dollar cardboard boxes.
I spent years trying to get a floorplan, decent pictures, an isometric and no celebrity bullshit… (I wound up on curbed.com — which was fine for 5+yrs, then got bought and turned into a celebrity NY bag of shit.) In the end… its extremely difficult to find good architecture reads — thats purely about Architecture and the building.
We were presented with a beautiful 70s era, coke cutting with a razor blade design.. and it ended up being some.. O’rrible 4dr hatch in orange with all of the power of a exploded hairball.
If the N Vision 74 ever makes it to production, Id be THRILLED AS SHIT that this design made it through. As a Jewish person… Id have to convert to catholicism, ask for 20 hail mary’s, cause… trading in my 20+yr old Honda to a HOOOOONDAI place is enough for me to go straight to Hell.
But.. damn the N Vision 74 is one SLICK MOTHERFUCKER! I just hope to shit it doesnt turn out to be some.. jacked fwd CUV.
And there we go. No chin on the original, silhouette looks 1,000x better. I don’t care if it’s functional. Also, get off my lawn.
As a side note, PUBG’s “Taego” map features the Pony concept as the go-to vehicle to bomb around the Korean countryside. It is lovingly recreated in grand detail, down to the sheer funkiness of that steering wheel and selector buttons. I can’t hep but shout at my teammates “this is a one-of-a-kind priceless vehicle!’ as we drive-by an identical one with another team in it.