As embarrassing as it may be, for awhile in America, the K-Car was the high point of automotive fashion. What was the K-Car? It was one of the first mass produced front-wheel drive American cars built on a unibody chassis.
Front-wheel drive became a thing because of Alec Issigonis, the father of the original Mini that took the UK by storm in the 50s. Like the similarly minuscule original Fiat 500, the Mini was designed with one aim in mind — make an automobile that would seat 4 people (in theory) that was as small as possible. Making it as cheap as possible was part of the equation, too.
In the 80s, Chrysler Corporation was circling the drain. Sales were down, its customer satisfaction ratings were dismal, and it was getting slaughtered by competition from Japanese competitors who were flooding the market with compact front wheel drive cars.
Putting the engine up front and letting it power the front wheels has one major manufacturing advantage. It allows the entire powertrain and front suspension to be fitted to a sub-frame that can lifted into place from underneath the chassis on the assembly line and secured (usually) with just four bolts. No driveshaft, no rear axle with a differential in the middle. The cars were cheap to build and that’s what Chrysler was after in its quest to match the Japanese brands.
Electric cars today use a so-called skateboard — a core component that includes the battery, control systems, motor(s), and suspension in one unit. Plop a body on top of it, connect a few wires, and voila! Instant car. Those early front-wheel drive cars were similar, in that the engine/transmission package could be stuffed into almost any kind of automobile a manufacturer thought would appeal to buyers at any moment in time.
Chrysler came up with the K-Car, which was a variant of the L chassis used for the Plymouth Horizon/Dodge Omni twins. Eventually, that same basic chassis would become the basis for over 50 models, ranging from compacts likes like the Dodge Aries to larger sedans like the Chrysler LeBaron. In 1984, it also spawned the first mass produced minivan, the slyly named Dodge Caravan. There was even a minitruck built on that chassis called the Dodge Rampage.
Behold The Hyundai Grandeur!
This long preamble leads us to the latest throwback design from Hyundai, which is celebrating 50 years in the car business by creating modern show cars that pay homage to its roots. The first was the Pony, a concept that eventually lead, in a round about way, to the Ioniq 5. This week, the company unwrapped the Grandeur, a car that looks for all the world like a reincarnated Chrysler LeBaron from the 80s.
Back then, real cars had an engine in the front, a passenger compartment in the middle, and a trunk in the back. Since the American auto industry was the standard of the world, all those Asian upstarts did their best to emulate American tastes, which gave us the Crown and Cressida sedans from Toyota. It also spawned the Hyundai Grandeur.
No self respecting luxury car of that era would dare be seen in public without plush, crushed velvet seats and leather appointments. The Grandeur does not disappoint in that department. It also features intricate light displays that bathe the interior in a nostalgic glow. Modern electronics replace the gauges and switches of the original car, but there are proper stalks protruding from behind the period-correct single spoke steering wheel. An 18-speaker stereo system completes the interior ambiance.
Outside, real chrome accents and wheel covers mimic the 80s vibe while pixelated LED head lights and tail lights create a modern touch. And of course, under all the bumpf and bling, is a proper electric car powertrain to waft the car forward without the emissions that were so typical in cars 35 years ago.
The Hyundai Grandeur is not meant for production, yet this retro-mobile has elicited plenty of positive feedback from those old enough to remember the cars of that era. The Pony presaged the Ioniq 5. Might Hyundai have something similar in mind for the Grandeur? Stay tuned.
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