Hyundai Pony. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Brendan McAleer
Once upon a time, there was a humble little Pony that journeyed long from a Far East land. It found a home here, in the wetlands of the West, where it worked hard, and was happy. One day, the Pony woke up and realized it had turned into a beautiful unicorn…
Well, “beautiful” might be a bit of a stretch.
So anyway, here’s something incredibly rare and practically mythical: the most perfect Hyundai Pony in all of Canada. I found it quite by accident. Seized by a whim to see if anybody actually still drove around in one of these things, I put out a number of feelers and eventually received a mysterious email. “I have one,” it said, “Good running condition. Meet at Glory Meats parking lot.”
Well, you only live once. “Honey! I have to go see a guy about a Pony. If I’m not back in an hour, avenge my death!”
“Okay, bye! Pick up milk, please!”
This year, Hyundai celebrates thirty years of sales in Canada, although it’s doing so rather quietly. Perhaps they’re simply trying not to draw too much attention to their very modest beginnings – but I think that might be a mistake.
The Hyundai Pony debuted in Canada in 1984, that Orwellian year, and it found a land where wearing an entire suit of denim was not just allowed, but actually encouraged. Thousands of people were listening to Bryan Adams, and they were doing so ON PURPOSE. Good Lord.
At the time, the cheapest transportation in the land included stuff like the Yugo. By this standard, the Pony wasn’t half bad – it also compared quite favourably next to cars like the Chevette. Other things that compare favourably to the Chevette of the 1980s include leprosy and punching yourself in the face.
Even so, the Pony was amazingly cheap, at just $5,900, and it actually sounded pretty decent. You got a 1.4L Mitsubishi-derived four-cylinder engine with good fuel economy, decently roomy hatchback construction, a manual choke, available options including air conditioning, and, um… some doors and a roof. Basically, all the car you need at a low, low price.
It’s a little-known fact that the original words to O Canada once contained the line, “…glorious and free, and if not free, then at least available at a reasonable price-point.” I don’t know if it’s the combined thrift of centuries of immigrant populations, but we dearly love a good deal in this country. While the Pony wasn’t as advanced as the Civic or the Corolla of the time, it was exactly as much car as the average person was looking for, and it was very inexpensive. Within two years, it was far and away the bestselling car in Canada.
And then they all promptly disintegrated. Like early Japanese efforts, Hyundai’s first cars used mostly recycled ship steel, and if it wasn’t properly cleaned periodically and weatherproofed, it just couldn’t stand up to Canadian winters. Within just a few years, most of the Ponys that once galloped across our proud land were small, conical piles of rust.
Hyundai Pony driver side controls & gauges. Click image to enlarge
That is, except for this one, which dragged a bad word out of my mouth the first moment I laid eyes on it. “Holy Snickerdoodles!” (let’s pretend) I said, “That’s gotta be the nicest Pony on the planet!”
This car was purchased in Vancouver in 1986, and has the small-displacement engine of the first batch of cars. It’s a stick shift, and has a scarcely believable 130,000 km on the odometer. It’s never been in an accident, was never registered outside the province, is in completely original condition, and had just one careful previous owner – a little old lady who drove the car on Sundays, and sold the car when she decided to stop driving. No really, I’m not making this up. It’s the original clichémobile.
The current owner is a Korean gent named Se Young Kim, and he also happens to own the 2014 Veloster you can see parked next to the Pony in these pictures. His father had a Pony as a first car back in Korea, and the car has many fond associations for him. I can’t believe I’m saying this – the Hyundai Pony is now a collectible classic.