Decades before automotive design superstars Peter Schreyer, Luc Donckerwolke, and SangYup Lee aligned with Hyundai, the brand was a nobody. The carmaker seemingly materialized from thin air in 1967, a period when the nation was still struggling to recover from the fallout of the Korean War. Desperate to debut on the global stage, founding chairman Ju-yung Chung formulated how to make a grand entrance: by building a striking concept and introducing it at a pivotal motor show.
Leaving nothing to chance, Chung reached out to the hottest living automotive designer: Giorgetto Giugiaro. It took some persuading to sway the man responsible for the Iso Grifo and DeTomaso Mangusta, but once Giugiaro came on board, he quickly got down to brass tacks in his suburban Turin studio. Working out the design while coordinating with Hyundai staff that had temporarily relocated to Italy for the project, Giugiaro penned a vehicle that would be avant-garde enough to turn heads, but relatable enough to portend a realistic future direction for the fledgling startup.
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What emerged from Giugiaro’s studio was a sleek, angular coupé with clean, flush surfaces but just enough jauntiness to lend it some attitude. Though design details flirted with whimsy, like the spaceship-like seats and a rear hatch that pivoted open like Pac Man’s mouth, the vehicle was real enough to actually be driven. The Pony Coupé Concept debuted at the 1974 Turin Motor Show, achieving exactly what chairman Chung was hoping for. Though the forward-thinking one-off never met production, it did manage to set the tone for what would become a design-driven philosophy for the nascent automaker.
As often occurs in the auto industry, the show car wasn’t treated with the reverence it now deserves, perhaps because the forward momentum of advancement often outpaces the care required to preserve the past. It wasn’t until Donckerwolke joined Hyundai that the Pony Coupé Concept re-entered the conversation.
“There’s nothing more fascinating than just digging into the archives,” Donckerwolke recalls of the research he began when he joined the company seven years ago. “We had read about these cars and wanted to see them, and there was one car missing that triggered our journey until now.” Donckerwolke, the man known for penning the Bentley Flying Spur and the Lamborghini Murcielago, searched high and low. “And believe me,” he asserts, “we looked everywhere to find this lost icon.”
The Pony Coupé Concept has since inspired attention-grabbing concepts like the wild, hydrogen-hybrid electric N Vision 74 concept. With the original Pony Coupé Concept missing but the designer still around, the decision was made to commission Giugiaro to recreate the concept. Production and fabrication have advanced considerably since his heyday (Giugiaro since designed everything from the Lotus Esprit to BMW M1), so the legend enlisted his son Fabrizio to support on the technical end. The recreated concept was debuted at a private event in Lake Como, Italy, on the eve of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, the annual event famous for serving as the venue for high-profile concept unveils.
In the flesh, the ’73 concept holds up remarkably well considering its 50-year-old age. Sure, there is a distinct of-the-period feeling to its proportions and dimensionality, from the relatively small wheel arches to the prevailing naïveté of its presence. But there’s also a freshness in the familiarity of the everything-old-is-new-again sense; what was once radical becomes approachable, and then eventually nostalgic.
Elements of this car have become revitalized in the N Vision 74 Concept. SangYup Lee says, “We wanted to create something futuristic that has the essence of the Pony Coupe. That was a big challenge for us and I think that is something we always keep in mind—creating the future by respecting the past.”
But the redux version of the original also represents more than merely a springboard for the carmaker’s future design language. “My father and I are very proud to have created the prototype of the Pony Coupé,” says Fabrizio Giugiaro. “It represents not only a symbol of collaboration between two companies, but also a bridge between East and West at a time when globalization was not a mass phenomenon.”
Click here for more photos of the recreated 1973 Hyundai Pony Coupé Concept.
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