Fun Stuff

Hyundai is Heading Back to the Future – Literally

The Hyundai N Vision 74 is more than a retro-inspired prototype showcasing the brand’s outlook for the future of performance.

Instead, it’s more like an homage to Hyundai’s earliest days as a Korean company battling xenophobia on the biggest stage. Back then, its warhorse wasn’t a horse at all. It was a pony, as in the sleek and stylish Hyundai Pony Coupe concept penned by renowned designer Giorgetto Giugiaro.

It debuted in 1974 at Italy’s Turin Motor Show, shown alongside a hatchback concept that would go on to become the brand’s first car of its own, which was also called the Pony. (Prior to production of the Pony, Hyundai built the Cortina under licence from Ford.) And while plans for a production coupe were in the works all the way up until 1981, economic conditions saw it lost forever.

Well, almost. Because while plans for a Hyundai-branded coupe were shelved, the man who designed the concept leaned on it heavily when he later drew up the DMC DeLorean. It’s why Hyundai’s N Vision 74 prototype had so much Back to the Future buzz when it was unveiled earlier this year, even if most people didn’t actually know about the two cars’ intertwined histories.

SangYup Lee, who leads Hyundai’s Global Design Center, spoke excitedly at the Los Angeles auto show about the discovery of archived images and blueprints of the original Pony Coupe concept and how they laid the foundation not just for the N Vision 74, but for the brand itself over the past five decades.

“It’s all about a beautiful 55 years,” Lee said of Hyundai’s history. “The past (got us) to where we are in the present.”

Getting back to the Pony Coupe concept in particular, Lee had press day attendees at the auto show hanging on his every word as he told the tale of a lost history. It wasn’t just a concept, as previously thought, but a car with actual engineering and production plans that went well beyond the empty shell of a concept car typically seen at auto shows.

As photos of a trio of prototypes from the late 1970s, along with engineering drawings, were discovered deep in Hyundai’s archives, Lee said it was important to pay tribute to a past that turned the brand into the success story it has become in what’s a short amount of time by auto industry standards.

“Why can’t we bring back the dream the (team) had in the ’70s that didn’t come true,” he asked rhetorically, “and make this happen in a very futuristic way?”

The result is a prototype that’s even easier to appreciate now, with the N Vision 74 representing what Hyundai sees as the future for its N performance sub-brand. As what the brand calls a “hydrogen hybrid rolling lab,” the N Vision 74 “keeps the promise” Hyundai made at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show where it debuted a hydrogen-powered performance concept.

The car is a drivable prototype that’s powered by both a hydrogen fuel cell and a 62.4-kWh battery pack. Apparently, it uses the same 800-volt architecture as the Hyundai Ioniq 5 – which itself is something of a styling tribute to the Pony hatchback that was built for the better part of 15 years – and produces something in the neighbourhood of 670 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque.

And if that wasn’t enough, just a week after Lee told the story of the lost Pony Coupe, Hyundai announced plans to work with Giugiaro and his design firm, GFG Style, to rebuild the wedge-shaped concept. It plans to reveal the finished product sometime next spring.

“I felt very proud that I was in charge of creating a vehicle for a company and country that was about to take on a fiercely competitive global market,” Giugiaro said in a statement released by the automaker. “Now, I’m deeply honoured that Hyundai has asked me to rebuild it for posterity and as a celebration of the brand’s heritage.”