Hyundai had been building the Ford Cortina and Taunus under license for a number of years (since 1967) when they decided they would develop their own car. The first step was to recruit George Turnbull who had recently left British Leyland. Turnbull immediately hired a few good men (Kenneth Barnett, John Simpson, Edward Chapman, John Crosthwaite and Peter Slater) from Britain. Turnbull also bought with him a pair of Morris Marinas to examine. The resulting Pony is an interesting mix with Marina influence on the body structure and rear leaf spring suspension, Ford Cortina MacPherson strut front suspension and live rear axle, Mitsubishi engine and transmissions. The styling was done by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign in Italy. Power train options where limited to either a 1.2L or 1.4L Mitsubishi overhead cam four cylinder engine.
The Pony was revealed to the world at the October 1974 Turin Motor Show. Starting 1975 the Pony was sold only in the home market but then overseas in 1976. The year 1978 was when the Pony was introduced to various European markets and by 1981 had found its way to the UK. By this time the Pony was offered in a variety of body styles from three and five door hatchbacks, pickup and station wagon.
An interesting side bar is the 1974 Hyundai Pony Coupé also by Italdesign which was meant to raise the profile of Hyundai and their upcoming Pony on which it was based.
The MkII Pony came about for 1982 and it was a mostly a styling update that brought it into the 80s with integrated impact bumpers, square headlamps, and a plastic grill. Body styles where reduced to just a five door hatchback with a two door pickup in available in some markets.
In 1984 Hyundai brought the Pony to Canada where it was a hit in the low priced segment populated previously by East European cars. There where a few changes from the Canadian market like beefier bumpers and the use of sealed beam headlights instead of the flush lights. While mechanically crude in someways with manual choke, points ignition and live axle it became Canada’s best selling car that year. A cut rate price Chevrolet Chevette is probably an accurate assessment. Canada never did get the 1.2L engine but started off with the 70hp 1.4L engine paired with four speed manual or a five speed manual in higher trim levels and optional three speed automatic. All Ponys had front disc and rear drum brakes. In 1985 a 74hp 1.6L engine from the larger Stellar became available and with the bigger capacity engine A/C was offered for the first time. Trim lines included L, GL and GLS. The L being base with GL offering five speed transmission, uprated trim, tinted windows, clock, rear wiper/washer. GLS added even better trim including cloth seats and a AM/FM/tape stereo. Power steering available as an extra as well as A/C (with the 1.6L). Dealer add-ons included rear window louvres, air dams, spoilers, and fog lamps. Canadian sales went right through 1987 with it even being sold side by side with the front wheel drive Excel for a time. The early cars can be identified by the “HD” logo on the grill with later ones (after mid 1985) with the Hyundai lettering on the driver’s side of the grill.
The Pony was never sold in the US due to it not meeting emission standards. The US Excel was initially going to be called the Hyundai Pony Excel but the Pony name was dropped before the first US sales. In Europe the Excel replaced the Pony and even continued with the Pony name. South Korea was the last market to offer the classic Pony and sales finally ended in 1990.