By on January 17, 2018

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyToday’s Rare Ride is a small-medium sized five-door hatchback, and you’d be forgiven if you had no idea what it was upon first glance. It was only available to the fine people of Canada, and only for a short time.

It’s the Hyundai Pony, and it’s a beauty.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyThe rear-drive Pony model debuted in Hyundai’s lineup all the way back in 1975. As the first mass-produced car from South Korea the Pony project was particularly important, and Hyundai wanted to get it just right. So they called British Leyland.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyNot joking! Hyundai hired the former director of Austin-Morris, John Turnbull, in 1974. They put him to work on their new car with relative carte blanche. He immediately hired five other British car engineers, including the car’s body engineer. It should be noted here that Turnbull was responsible for the development of the Morris Marina, old Top Gear’s favorite vehicle ever.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyThe engineering group sent their desires to Italdesign Giugiaro, and somehow Giorgetto Giugiaro approved this first generation five-door hatchback. Hyundai also borrowed innards from the Ford Cortina, and engines from Mitsubishi.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyImmediate international success followed, in areas outside of North America. The second-generation Pony debuted in 1982, and became the first Korean car sold in the United Kingdom. By then, the Pony range had expanded into a pickup truck, three- and five-door hatches, a four-door sedan, and a five-door wagon.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyConfident in their brand new Pony, Hyundai decided to ship it to Canada for a test run. The nation’s lax emissions laws intrigued Hyundai, as the Pony did not meet the more stringent Malaise-era United States standards.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyBefore it went on sale in the north, the Pony’s bumpers were swapped, the headlamps became sealed-beam units, and side-marker lamps were added. Hyundai wanted to be cautious with a new market, and estimated 5,000 annual sales for the introductory year of 1984. Canadians had other ideas.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonySales in that first year totaled over 25,000, as Canada proved to have an insatiable appetite for one of the cheapest cars on their market. One of the best selling cars that year, Hyundai continued to market the Pony in Canada until 1987. Interesting when one considers the Pony’s replacement, the Excel, was available starting in 1986.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyThe Pony continued on in various markets, dwindling until its final year in 1990, where it was sold only in South Korea. That would spell the end of rear-drive for Hyundai for quite some time.

Image: 1986 Hyundai PonyThis dishwater-colored Pony is located in Québec, and is asking the princely sum of $14,995 loonies. However, as the pictures indicate, it’s nearly new, and has just over 22,000 kilometers on la horloge. Think that price is too high, or just reasonable enough for a collector? This Pony would seem an example of “If you can find another in this condition, go buy it.”

It’s growing on me.

Addendum: Our own Matthew Guy brought a Canadian Pony ad to my attention. Check out the sweet discounts and boom mic!

[Images via seller]

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65 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Hyundai Pony From 1986, Which Delighted all of Canada...”


  • avatar
    IHateCars

    Pony….The official car of Canadian high school students in 1987-88! Even by then they were clapped out. I remember that a friend of mine’s Mom had bought a brand new one in ’85. Despite issues, they liked it so much (because it was cheap) that they bought a Hyundai Stellar “Executive” the following year.

  • avatar
    scott25

    I remember these were everywhere (along with Excels, and VW Foxes(!)) in the early-mid 90s growing up, but all three of those cars suddenly disappeared from the road. I think I’ve seen one Pony in the last 5 years. That said, the nicest one in existence isn’t worth more than $7,500 CAD.

  • avatar

    These were certainly popular here in Saskatchewan. I recall riding in the back seat of one from Regina to Saskatoon, at age 16… it was pretty cramped, but not awful.

    The biggest issue with these cars was the anemic motor. The same problem was an issue with the first-generation Excel that was sold here. The 1990 version replaced that engine with a Mitsubishi one with electronic fuel injection, and was a lot, lot better.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Was this car less-bad than the 1st-gen Excel of legendary horribleness? (I think it’s a testament to Hyundai’s management that they gave the US market another go after that fiasco. The more short-term oriented corporate types in the US would have pulled the plug.)

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Until 2016, I used to see a red Pony, in excellent condition, nearly every nice Saturday in the summer, driven by an ‘older’ gentleman, in or driving through the local plaza in our part of the north-east GTA.

    Worked with a single mother on a strict budget who against my advice decided to buy one new, rather than the recommended Honda Civic hatchback as the Pony was ‘less expensive’.

    Hyundai in Canada went through a serious boom and bust cycle. Based on Pony sales they expanded rapidly in Canada and even constructed an assembly plant in Bromont Quebec which closed in 1994 after only 4 years of operation. They had to heavily retrench at that time.

    Ponies were perhaps less robust than Ladas, but still relatively easy to work on, and with cheap and easy parts accessibility, so if you were handy you could keep them ‘running’ for a long time, if willing to be seen driving one.

    In retrospect, to my eye, both the interior and the exterior looks have aged better than many other vehicles of that era. And a 5 door hatch with lots of ‘greenhouse’ could still be a useful design.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I test drove one of these, and passed on it, in early 1993 when I was cheap used car shopping. It was a manual with the 1.6 (the lower engine was a 1.4) and it “was what it was,” cheap transportation. I would be willing to bet it had the giant-clock-instead-of-tachometer, same feature as this Rare Ride. I don’t remember what model year the car was, perhaps an ’85. I do remember the first gear synchro seemed weak- maybe just a clutch adjustment, maybe not, who knows…

    I gotta hand it to Hyundai for their long term plan getting into the American market. First trying out the Pony in the Canadian market was a really smart step along the way. Thirty years later people now associated the brand with good value.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      That giant clock in the dash fools me every time. When I saw it in the background of the HVAC pod, I thought “damn! That sucker is idling pretty high!”

      Same thing happened when I was first looking at that glorious VW Fox I posted above.

  • avatar
    Broo

    Oh the memories… These cars were very popular in Quebec. Back then, and still true today, compacts and subcompacts sell a LOT here since everything is so darn expensive.

    From what I remember, the Pony rusted as fast as a ’70s japanese car if not faster.

    By the mid ’90s, 99% of them were gone.

  • avatar
    vvk

    Modern cars are so ugly compared to this!

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    Decent styling thanks to Giugiaro, but everything else about them was primitive and cheap. Even had points ignition IIRC. But they sold like crazy for a few years because Canadians traditionally love cheap cars, regardless of how they drive, until their reputation for rust and crude mechanicals got to them. Even today you see lots of Accents on the roads for the sole reason of being cheap. The Excel that followed was of newer design but not a good car by any measure. By the mid-90s Hyundai Motor was in big trouble.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Decent user interface on that car – no touch screens.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Automotive history footnote: I believe the Pony was the last car on the Canadian market to be sold with breaker points ignition and a manual choke. It’s an easy target to pooh-pooh the manual choke, but if you drove a malaise-era carbureted automobile that was more than a few years old, slightly worn out and with emissions controls slightly out of adjustment, in a climate with a *real* winter, stall-o-matic while warming up… then a manual choke was an amazing blessing!

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Our ’81 Honda Civic (base model) had a manual choke, as did many Hondas of that and earlier generations. You are correct, used properly it was a bit of a ‘blessing’.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I prefer a manual choke. Would have been extremely handy on my 1983 Tercel.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        It was quite unusual but not completely unheard of for handy people to rig a Bowden cable to convert an automatic choke to a manual one. Sort of Canadian redneck engineering.

        Does anyone remember if the Canadian market Pony was unleaded fuel only? Leaded gas stopped being sold before the Pony came to market so it would be a moot point, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their fuel fillers didn’t include an unleaded nozzle restrictor under the gas cap. A few Volvos were still sold without them up until 1984.

        • 0 avatar
          TCragg

          Leaded gas in Canada (at least in Southern Ontario) was available up until around 1990. I remember commercials for the early Ponys that touted the fact that they ran on “cheaper leaded gas” (leaded gas was a couple of cents per litre less).

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Ah, thanks for the correction TCragg, I remembered things wrong. I see now the exact same year on (credible) sites that Google pulls up.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike-NB

      Can confirm the need for a manual choke. I had a ’78 Accord with a manual choke and it was so much more reliable then friend’s cars where the carb ‘interpreted’ kicking the pedal down. Ah, the carburetor! I miss a lot from my younger days but this I do not miss.

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    Pony definitely shook the market up… Reliability was less then perfect as noted here already, but if my memory serves me correct, I think the base started at $4,995 Cdn plus tax ?

  • avatar
    Brumus

    Wrong website, but an utter crack pipe at that price.

    Even after knocking off the “5” at the end of the price this would be CP, as for $1,499 this thing would survive one winter of (utterly miserable) driving in Montreal before disintegrating into a heap of rust and sundry fluids.

  • avatar
    cbrworm

    That looks remarkably like my memory of the Mitsubishi Precis

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Ride the Pony, baby…

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Meh, I’ll take my chances with an Escort Pony. Even the fact that it’s RWD isn’t enough to sway me.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        lol – I knew someone who traded an Escort Pony on a Grand Am.

        They immediately amassed several speeding tickets because they Grand Am didn’t give them the “sensation of speed” like the Escort. Claimed they couldn’t tell how fast they were going because the Grand Am did it with very little drama.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          I used that excuse when I got popped for 71 in a 60 in a Duratec Sable. Told the judge that it had more power and was far smoother than my mom’s Vulcan-powered Sable (both 3rd gens). He said “it doesn’t have a speedometer?” I said yes sir it does, but I was not constantly staring at it.

          He reduced the ticket, but didn’t dismiss it.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          I swear I wasn’t looking for a Pony, just searching manual cars. But, I mention it, first time I’ve even thought of one in years, and then I find one randomly. Somebody threw a GT body kit on it.

          https://dallas.craigslist.org/dal/cto/d/1988-excellent-condition/6463339332.html

  • avatar
    Mike-NB

    These things were as thick as blackflies in southern New Brunswick. It really is hard to exaggerate how popular they were, mostly due to price. But they were also well-engineered and well liked. The problem is that living next to the ocean meant that they were rusty in a year or two. It seem odd to hear tales of people seeing these on the road in the past few years as I’ve not seen one around here for decades.

    • 0 avatar
      desertwanderer

      Also in southern New Brunswick, I had a lady friend who’s Pony I had the “pleasure” of riding in the back of. I made a remark about the rough ride and that the shock absorbers seemed to be making a lot of noise.

      She clearly noted my comment, because during a subsequent meeting she told me that she had questioned the dealer about what I noticed and was told “The shock absorbers haven’t broken in yet!”.

      LOL, Pony!

  • avatar
    gforce2002

    I test drove one of these while I still had my ‘78 AMC Gremlin, and remember thinking at the time that the Gremlin STILL felt about 10 years more advanced than one of these. Quality and driving “dynamics” were terrible. Within a couple of years, they were considered a “disposable” car – my understanding was that dealers would not take them on trade since they were of so little resale value.

    I still gave Hyundai a chance and test drove an ‘86 Excel a few years later. As terrible as it was, it was a quantum leap over the Pony.

  • avatar
    Buddy-Boy

    @Corey Lewis : Saskatoon has to be one of the best Canadian city names, right up there with Moose Jaw.

  • avatar
    TheEndlessEnigma

    Amazing this was such a good car….when the Excel was such an unmitigated piece of shit.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      It was sorta the other way ’round- except both were pretty bad. It was just that these were worse. Their redeeming grace was that they were so simple that there were fewer things to break.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Damn, that is a handsome vehicle. I love the all-blue interior and the fabric on those seats. Not kidding.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    At first I assumed this was an FSO Polonez that had somehow made it to North America and survived.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    This is how they sold them back in the day:

    https://youtu.be/3nmoHOnDbCw

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Another weird memory, and this might not have been referring to the Hyundai Pony (although I think it was…), but the Lemon-Aide Used Car guide of the late 80s/early 90s used the phrase “automotive trial balloon” to describe these. Kinda mean thing to say… lucky thing people’s feelings didn’t get hurt easily back then.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    And this is how they built them:

    https://youtu.be/cz3zJORvntE

  • avatar
    goacom

    The reason why these cars were reasonably reliable was that they had a long gestation time. The second gen Pony that arrived in Canada was a refresh of the first gen product. I lived in the middle east in the 70’s and 80’s and both Gen 1 and 2 were relatively popular there.
    When I took my driving course in Canada, my instructor showed up with a brand new Pony. The car was lethargic, but what did I know? It was the first car I drove! It was also very dicey on ice. Still, I passed my driving test and the rest is non-history.
    One thing I did notice was its new car smell. It had a terrible acrid smell. In contrast, my dad’s new Mercedes W123 (pre e-class) that had been purchased in 1983 had a wonderful new car smell to it. Unfortunately, I did not know how to drive a stick shift at that time.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Only one person mentioned the Hyundai Stellar, sold alongside the Mk2 Pony as slightly bigger and yes, luxurious. The thing about the Stellar was that it wasn’t. It was a complete load of rubbish instead of being only 85% crap.

    The Excel was one of those cockroach cars that sort of worked, for years. You could torture yourself for ever here on Earth for having been silly enough to buy one as they struggled along on one lung, a ruined liver and arthritic legs.

    The Bromont PQ factory made the first Sonata, distinguished by its rear shocks that froze solid, giving that special sporty ride. After 4 years, Hyundai fled back to Korea.

    The first decent Hyundai was the Scoupe. One of my engineers bought a new one on his credit card for $3500. Lasted for years, no problem. He made a fortune on company mileage. Like he said, it even didn’t rust out in 5 years like his ’84 Accord, which he had to junk just a year after he browbeat Honda into a $2200 body and paint job. We called it the blistered paint special and it had cost $11K new. Golfs and Jettas were then demonstrably better made cars in the body department. No comparison and not much rust.

    Fun times. Still, when those early Hyundais worked they drove more nicely than the crudely hammered together K cars, my all time low along with the Tempo – its engine was too unrefined for a tractor let alone a car. Nasty rubbish both of them, and usually found in ditches after a snowfall, their ex-Detroit-iron drivers impressed by FWD driving too fast for conditions until things went horribly wrong.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Huge numbers of these used to flood into Maine in the summer back in the day as the Quebecois headed to the beach. Then they were gone.

    The bank courier service I worked for in college was given an Excel to see if they would switch from Ford Escorts. It made the Escorts seem like luxury cars. Just completely execrable, I can only imagine how bad the even cruder Pony was. nut they were really cheap! And in dirt-poor Eastern Canada that has always had huge appeal.

  • avatar
    john66ny

    By today’s standards, these things were garbage. At the time, however, it was a bit of a different story. The price of new cars had been rising fairly quickly, and the introduction of some low-cost options (Lada, Dacia, Hyundai) to the Canadian market was opportune. Why buy used when you could get new for the same price?

    As a starving student back in ’85, I was actually still driving a ’73 Austin (AKA Morris) Marina. My mom’s friend had just replaced her Fiat 124 Spyder with a new Pony, and raved about how much more reliable the Pony was. LOL! Thus I had the opportunity to drive the Pony, and compared to the (albeit 12 year old) Marina it was a massive improvement, that’s for sure. It’s all about your terms of reference!

    She had that Pony for several years, and I remember her saying that it never left her stranded, although it was in the shop quite a lot for minor annoyances like trim falling off.

    I’d agree that $15K is crack-pipe territory though!

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Looks like an early Saab 900 stretched and converted to RWD.

  • avatar
    Mingo the dingo

    I remember when I was in high school when they came out out as I worked at a dealership that had a couple come in on trade.

    They were garbage no doubt about it

  • avatar
    tonyvancity

    as a canadian living in Vancouver, i remember these ”korean chevettes” very well. As in i couldnt stand them. Yes, they were very cheap to buy new. And they were of cheap quality, cheap interior, drove like a cheap pile of crap that it was. I knew a few people who bought them as a 4-5 year old used car and they even joked at what a miserable shitbox it was to own and drive. Honestly , a person could have bought a used 4-6 year old honda civic, toyota corolla, nissan sentra, ETC, and had a more reliable, fun to drive vehicle with a better resale value then a brand new Pony (or any hyundai) back then .

  • avatar
    CrystalEyes

    I was shopping for my first car when the Pony went on sale. I remember a salesman saying something along the lines of “Why buy used when you can get a new car with financing at the same monthly payment?” True enough, but even though I had never financed anything before I knew the difference between a loan and a lease. The same thing happened at a Subaru lot where they also sold Skodas. Drove them both and I’d have to say I would have chosen the Skoda over the Pony. Fortunately I was savvy enough to avoid them both so I bought a used MGB instead. I had friends with Ponies (Ponys?) tell me I was crazy. In fact that’s what pretty much everyone said, but I sold the MG fifteen years later for close to what I paid for it, and you couldn’t have said the same about a Pony (or Skoda). One family I knew loved their Pony, and bought an Excel as soon as they came out. It was gone within two years and they never bought another Hyundai. I still see the occasional Pony, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a first generation Excel. Or Skoda. Or Lada. Or any of the other new cars a used car buyer like myself might have been tempted by. Was the MG a good buy? No comment, but it was a hell of a lot of fun…

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