BEFORE that love child can be born, Koreans need to fall in love with the car first.
If they don’t fall in love with cars, they will not have a vibrant car scene and without that, there is no hope of a Korean Classic.
In the early days of anything, the first few products were created by people who loved tinkering and just wanted to see what they could do with a few bits and bobs and a lot of time alone in a shed.
That was how the first trains and the first light bulb was born.
Cars were the same, icons that are famous now like Henry Ford, Karl Benz, Walter Owen Bentley, Enzo Ferrari, Ferdinand Porsche, Ettore Bugatti , Walter. P. Chrysler and even William Jeep lent their names to the cars that they made.
Yes, that last one was put there to make sure that you’re paying attention.
The original Jeep was produced by John Willys’ Willys-Overland Motor Company which began life as Overland Automotive of the Standard Wheel Company, they were the second biggest manufacturer of cars in the United States between 1912 and 1918. Only Uncle Henry’s Detroit operations was
During the second wave of the automotive industry, Japan got on the bandwagon and began churning out cars that were cheap and functional purely as a tool for economic development and industrial progress but Japan was lucky that Soichiro Honda was a racer first.
Somehow Japan developed a car culture really quickly with race series being run regularly and their brands going out to take part in international motorsports events, sometimes with surprising results.
Being bitten by the car bug early helped Japan to start creating interesting cars quite early on and most of them were based on homologation specials but there were also cars that were made for the fun of it.
Korea, which rode into the auto scene in the late 1970s never really caught the car craze.
This is a very weird thing, considering that they are now probably in the top five nations of car producers.
Those who have gone to Korea can tell you that there is hardly any car culture there. You do get pockets of car modders but the numbers are so small.
The easiest way to measure the vibrancy of any country’s car culture is to look at the kinds of modifications and styles that are available. The more diverse and the more extreme types of mods, the more vibrant the scene is.
In Korea, extreme usually means a loud paintjob and some bodykits.
Nearly 40 years after they got into the car game, Seoul is still a desert for car culture.
Sadly, until this situation changes, we are not likely to get interesting Korean cars that will be worthy classics.
It doesn’t really matter who they get as chief designers, the end result will be some nice looking cars that will sell well because it has good features and competitive price.
A worthy classic needs to be, at least, slightly ridiculous in order to be interesting. Or at least good enough to drive that people would do weird and wonderful things to them.
The Toyota AE86 is a minor classic despite being a C-average in nearly every aspect, but the fact that it was cheap and rear-wheel drive, meant it was perfect for hooliganism that gave birth to drifting.
The AE86 is a classic by association with a particular genre of car culture, if drift never caught on, they would have just been ignored as a cheap marketing attempt at injecting excitement into a range of otherwise sedate family cars.
Before the Formula One Circuit in Yeongnam was built, there was no real motorsports in Korea. There is hardly any now. Nothing that commensurate with the millions of cars being churned out by Hyundai-Kia, LG, Samsung, and others.
I do hope that the Koreans find their automotive heart soon, otherwise it will be some time before we can start looking at collectible Korean cars.
Without genuine passion, Korean cars will never be able to compete on passion and that means they will have to continue fighting on price and that is never a good thing.
Just look at Samsung, they make great phones but Apple can sell their products at three or four times the price and still people buy. This despite the fact that Samsung supplies Apple with that all-important screen that we look at.
Here is to the hope that soon, a Korean brand will produce a compact sports car with proper front-engine rear-wheel drive configuration that is cheeky and fun, like the Mazda Miata but oh so Korean.
So when will the first Korean classic be born? My guess is that it will be 10 years before that happens, five at the earliest.