How Hyundai plans to rebuild Giugiaro’s lost 1974 Pony Coupe Concept

Hyundai

If there is a single car that hit the road this year with a unique design statement, it’s the Ioniq 5. Like the Hyundai Concept N Vision 74, it is aggressive, angular and sprinkled with a 1970s and ’80s flavor of retrofuturism. As forward-thinking as this styling language looks, Hyundai is keen to reinforce its connection to an icon of automotive design: Giorgetto Giugiaro (84). Nowhere is that link stronger than in the company’s recently announced project to recreate the designer’s lost, one-off 1974 Hyundai Pony Coupe Concept.

Hyundai Ioniq 5 side profile driving action
Cameron Neveu
Hyundai NVision74
N Vision 74 Hyundai

Giugiaro, creator of the original VW Golf and a plethora of other trend-setting cars (DeLorean DMC-12, De Tomaso Mangusta, Iso Grifo, Fiat Dino, Alfa Giulia GT, among many others) is one of the greatest car designers ever to pick up a pen. It is no exaggeration to say that he has influenced and shaped automotive design like few other individuals.

What is not widely known is that Giugiaro helped to get Hyundai off the ground when the brand was launched. In the early 1970s, Giugiaro’s Audi Asso di Picche concept prompted Hyundai’s top management to seek out Giugiaro for a new design direction. He proceeded to pen the original Hyundai Pony, a compact rear-wheel-drive hatchback sedan. When the Pony was unveiled at the 1974 Turin auto show, it was accompanied by the handsome Pony Coupe Concept.

Hyundai history pony car
The original 1974 Hyundai Pony. Simon Martin/AFP/Getty Images
Hyundai Pony concept front
Hyundai’s Pony Coupe Concept. Hyundai

An aborted project

The Pony Coupe, with an entirely unique body, was slated for series production in the late 1970s. While the Pony did make it to production, the two-door project was eventually abandoned, not least because of the economic situation of the era. And as the project vaporized, the prototype vanished. The last traces were lost decades ago, and it is likely that it was simply crushed some time in the 1980s. Korea, for a long time, preferred to look only in one direction: forward.

Giugiaro and Hyundai kept close ties for a while. After the Pony and its facelift, Giugiaro designed its successor named Excel; in 1982, he designed the elegant Stellar sedan, and his final project was the 1988 Sonata. After that, the Koreans decided to bring styling in-house.

Hyundai Pony concept Giugiaro
(L-R) Giorgetto Giugiaro, Luc Donckerwolke, and SangYup Lee. Hyundai

It took Hyundai Motor Group design chief Luc Donckerwolke (formerly of Audi, Skoda, Lamborghini, and Bentley) and his right-hand man, Hyundai brand chief designer SangYup Lee (General Motors, VW, Audi, Bentley) to create a sense of heritage and legacy within the South Korean brand. And while Hyundai has had its share of unique and interesting designs, the Giugiaro models are the most compelling. It was ripe pickings as a root for a major design language change.

The 2019 Hyundai Concept 45, which led to the Ioniq 5 production car, was directly inspired by the Pony. Published sketches paid homage to Giugiaro’s illustrations of the time. In 2021, the design team converted a classic Pony into an EV in the form of a “restomod.” And, of course, the Concept N Vision 74 looks like a thoroughly modernized Pony Coupé concept.

Hyundai Pony concept drawing
Side renderings of Hyundai’s Pony (top), and Concept 45 (bottom). Hyundai

Built from scratch

The latest chapter in this story is that Hyundai has commissioned Giugiaro—more precisely, the consultancy GFG Style, which Giorgetto founded together with his son Fabrizio in 2015—to do a full and thorough recreation of the lost Pony Coupe concept. It is, unlike the Pony EV project, specifically not envisioned as a restomod; rather, it will accurately reflect the original model, which includes a combustion engine.

The project is similar to BMW’s 2019 recreation of the Bertone Garmisch concept, but while BMW had the Garmisch recreated with the help of modern tools, Hyundai has assigned GFG to employ only traditional methods to rebuild the Pony Coupe. Marching orders also include thorough documentation of the build process. The idea, ostensibly, is a scientific exercise melding the history of design, modeling, and concept production.

Though the project was just announced at a small media event in Seoul/Korea last week—with Donckerwolke, Lee, and Giugiaro in attendance—the parties have been talking about the project since 2019. It was only temporarily halted because of the pandemic. An early Pony sedan made its way to Italy months ago, slated for use as a donor car base for the recreated Pony Coupe. The finished product will be unveiled in the spring of 2023, surely filling a huge gap in the Hyundai’s corporate history.

Hyundai Pony concept Giugiaro
Hyundai

Design tidbits galore

During the event, a few more interesting details emerged. For one, Donckerwolke said that the partnership between GFG Style and Hyundai has the potential to grow. Keep in mind for such expanded collaboration that Hyundai also builds high-speed trains, one of Giugiaro’s areas of expertise, and is working on large drones as transportation devices. So don’t pin all your hopes on a new Giugiaro-designed Hyundai car.

Hyundai designers also hinted at a continuation of the EV restomod series, perhaps in the vein of the Grandeur EV that followed the Pony EV and also includes a Galloper restomod that has not been officially unveiled. Further restomods down the road seem likely.

Hyundai Pony
Simon Martin/AFP/Getty Images

And finally, Giugiaro shared a particularly interesting anecdote. He says that the VW Golf was originally supposed to be called VW Pony—and he is still in possession of the badge he was supposed to put on the car. In the ’70s, when VW found out from Giugiaro that Hyundai was working on a model with the same name, a frantic search for another moniker began.

One thing seems clear: Volkswagen can’t be pleased with this renewed Italo-Korean relationship. After all, it was Giugiaro that helped birth the ultra-successful Golf that hastened the end of the rear-engined era in Wolfsburg, and the connection between the two parties was so close that Giugiaro sold his original company, Ital Design, into the VW orbit in 2010. Hyundai meanwhile seems to have plenty of appetite to eat whatever lunch it can, and the design community is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see the Pony Concept in the flesh. A more public unveiling is set for May.

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    If you think VW isn’t pleased with Hyundai, that all too familiar badge on the grille of the original Pony should have Ford’s Intellectual Property legal team knocking on their door.

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