The Carchive: The Hyundai Stellar

So far The Carchive series has never visited Korea, an apalling oversight when one considers how much impact that nation has had on global car buying habits.
In the enormous elementary school that is the worldwide car industry, Korea can feel proud of its “Most improved student” rosette. But they had to start somewhere, and some of their early essays didn’t always score top marks. The first Hyundai Pony, for example, which we’ll visit some day, would have earnt a frank “could do better” and would almost certainly lead to Hyundai being kept in after lessons.
Today, though, we check out the Stellar.

“A Star Is Born”
Clearly even more keen than me to employ a pun where one is painfully obvious, Hyundai made good use of their new cars’ astronomical appellation. “Destined for stardom” they went on, but thankfully got bored of this theme and abandoned it by the second double spread. Here they change tack and instead begin to act all confident and bolshy.
“A car to challenge every other car in its class, and win”
Okay…We’ll come back to this point a little later on. The question is, we must remember, exactly what class was this car was supposed to compete in anyway?
“A stylish concept, built with flair, engineered to perfection”
An anvil is engineered to perfection, but that doesn’t imply much in the way of sophistication. Beauty is very definitely in the eye of the beholder, and we’ll address that later, too. Flair? Well, unquestionably the Italians had it in the mid ’80s, the French did to a lesser extent, and there were certain cars from the English speaking nations that exuded a certain something. Were the Koreans displaying flair yet? This brochure reckons they were.
“A saloon to set new motoring standards in performance, comfort and safety. Stellar.”
It’s probably worth mentioning about the origins of the Stellar here. The Stellar, from the axles upwards was pretty much brand new in 1983. The oily bits, though; the chassis design was a bit more of a hand-me-down, being essentially the same as that of the Ford Cortina that Hyundai had assembled under license until 1982. The Cortina was a perfectly competent machine, albeit one that was severely outclassed by the end of its production run. It didn’t make for a promising foundation for a class-leading, epoch-defining new car.
“Its low profile and aerodynamic design make stellar a car to change your ideas about everyday driving”.
Here’s where I make a major admission; I really like the way these things look, low profile and aerodynamics be damned. Of course, the mastermind behind the styling of these was one Giorgietto Guigiaro, and it’s not entirely coincidental that, if you dim the lights a bit and squint quite hard, there’s more than a passing resemblance to the Maserati Quattroporte III. This, in my book, is A Good Thing. From some angles, the front and rear three-quarter views for example, the Stellar looks somewhat more expensive a car than it was.
Viewed from side on, though, things didn’t work out quite so well. The high ground clearance with those little wheels dangling from big wheelarches gave the game away slightly that there was an old Cortina lurking underneath. The proportions were slightly odd, too. It was a bit like a tramp wearing a stolen Armani suit.
“Stellar is built for speed as well as comfort”
Partial credit. To be honest, if I was building a car for comfort, I probably wouldn’t start with the chassis of a Ford Cortina, a vehicle never imbued with hovercraft ride dexterity. Furthermore, if I was aiming for speed, I might choose something other than the old Mitsubishi Saturn engine.
“The Mitsubishi designed, overhead camshaft engine has already proved its reliability in the many thousands of Hyundai Ponies it powers throughout the world”
In the UK this throbbing powerhouse was initially offered in 1.6 litre flavour, good for a less-than-athletic 76 horsepower. Heaven knows how miserable the 1.4 litre variants one could enjoy in other lands would have been.
“Built for speed”, I can only deduce, was an utter lie.
Comfort-wise, well, assuming the car was stationary so that state-of-the-ark suspension didn’t disgrace itself, things were probably rather better. Assume you puked up the cash for the GSL model, or SL at the very least, you had a pretty healthy roster of standard equipment, running to electric windows, central locking, various seat adjustments, headlamp washers and courtesy lamps aplenty. Tantalisingly, though the option doesn’t appear in this brochure, the car in the photos clearly says “air con” on the HVAC control panel.
You were shit out of luck, though, if your meagre purse only allowed you “L” status, a trim level which positively shouted IMPOVERISHMENT at the top of its voice. But few people bought the L, though. In fact, I can only ever remember seeing GSLs, with those distinctive spoked alloy wheels. And that all makes sense. Earlier we were asking what class the Stellar fitted into and, well, it really didn’t fit into a class at all. It was always an alternative to the establishment.
Say you wanted a Sierra sized car. You were actually a little suspicious of the new Ford; it was a bit swoopy, a bit leftfield looking for your sensibilities. You could buy a Vauxhall Cavalier or a Nissan Bluebird, but oh, hey, look at this; for a bit less money you could buy this impressive-looking car with a funny sounding name, and all this lovely equipment. The Stellar made a lot of sense for a lot of people. It was impressive looking, robust and well priced. The Canadians loved it, though emissions saw it excluded from creeping south of the Border. It would take the Sonata to continue the Stellars stellar work before that would happen.
I’d like to see a Stellar renaissance. I think a lowered, big-wheeled, re-trimmed, updated ’86 Stellar would make quite a handsome beast. It would need to be up-engined a tad too, to make better use of that lovely rear-wheel-driveness. I’d certainly like to experience one of these before they’re all gone. An old neighbour of mine, a guy called Dennis who I believe passed away a good fifteen years ago, had one and it always intrigued me. In fact, Den, this episode of The Carchive is dedicated to you.
You’re welcome.
(Disclaimer: All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed while walking around the Rusty country estate. All copyright remains the property of Hyundai, who have moved on so far as to be scarcely recognisable, said I, and without a gun to my head)

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29 responses to “The Carchive: The Hyundai Stellar”

  1. Devin Avatar

    What says flair more than a shiny silver cassette player that doesn't match any other surface in the car? Or power window switches that appear to be spaced differently on either side of the shifter? Or an analog clock?

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      "Easy Access Interior Fuse Box" is a pretty sophisticated touch.

      1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

        That's definitely what I'm looking for in a car, as in: "you're gonna be able to swap them out while doing 70 on the interstate!"

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          There have been occasions when I would have welcomed that.

    2. topdeadcentre Avatar

      The casette player reminds me a lot of the units that Radio Shack was selling at the time…. The controls are super-familiar to me from the deck I bought for Pinto #1, moved to Pinto #2, then moved again to the safety orange AMC Hornet Sportabout Wagon. Even after almost 30 years, the shape and placement of the buttons and graphic equalizer sliders is burned into my memory!
      Before 1983 or so, "silver front" was in style for home stereos and aftermarket car audio.

  2. Jay_Ramey Avatar

    But hey, styled by Giugiaro and quite handsome looking. I definitely see a lot of Qporte III in the whole aft section.
    I don't see CDM manufacturers outsourcing design to Italian styling houses, or what's left of them, so Hyundai was already ahead of the curve back then. If they had only KEPT on doing that….

    1. Devin Avatar

      CDM outsource to the Italians all the time. The Italians aren't exactly doing their best work for them, but they're still doing it.
      Pininfarina: <img src=""&gt;
      Bertone: <img src=""&gt;
      Italdesign: <img src=""&gt;

  3. oldcarjunkie Avatar

    These were sold in Canada with a sealed beam front headlight arrangement. They were updated to strut front end half way through the run moving away from the Cortina SLA suspension. I owned a 1986 example for a while and it was actually a reasonably pleasant car.

    1. Kris_01 Avatar

      They sure were. I remember seeing them everywhere in the late 80s, early 90s, then they all disappeared by 95 or so.

  4. JayP2112 Avatar

    I see a little Topaz, maybe some Audi 5000 in the grille.
    A little Maser Biturbo in the rear?

    1. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

      Yeah, a bit of Tempo/Topaz, but mostly…
      <img src="; width=600>
      …oh, right, well, that makes sense, I guess.

  5. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar

    I see a lot of the Talbot Tagora in it, and that is not a good thing.
    <img src=""&gt;

  6. mdharrell Avatar

    "'Built for speed', I can only deduce, was an utter lie."
    Not at all. Those words merely fail to specify for which speed it was built.

  7. julkinen Avatar

    [youtube IfQLidmZAmg youtube]
    I find this infinitely entertaining.

    1. julkinen Avatar

      [youtube jdr7gbwGY3Q youtube]
      And who needs an European luxury car?

      1. Devin Avatar

        Eventually, Hyundai discovered the green screen.
        [youtube cij_2dl-RUY youtube]

  8. boostedlegowgn Avatar

    With respect to the idea of a tarted-up Stellar: Hyundais often licensed Japanese engines, so sometimes swaps are fairly easy. A 4g63 fits right in an Accent, for example, and the Sportage used to have essentially a Mazda Fe3 in it. I also think it's very stylish: isn't it a Giugiaro design?

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Yup; I believe I may have hinted at that in the text… but yeah, I can concieve that a Stellar VR-4 could be engineerable.

      1. Tim Odell Avatar
        Tim Odell

        If I ever have time I'll get into a series of Theoretically Possible Swaps that capitalize on shared engineering.
        Supra 7MGTE will basically bolt in wherever the 20/22R truck motors went.
        The Mitsubishi – Chrysler crossovers are endless. Evo-powered Jeep Liberty, anyone?
        There's some VW funkiness, too. Apparently the Corrado was engineered to be AWD. The guts from a similar-era Synchro van or Golf Country can make it so.

        1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

          It's thinking like this that got you where you are today.

          1. Kris_01 Avatar

            Here's an example – the ex-Daewoo Chevys/Suzukis use a version of the old Pontiac Sunbird 1.8/2.0L OHC Brazilian engine. Theoretically speaking, it's possible to swap a Sunbird Turbo engine into an Aveo.

  9. Piston Slap Yo Mama Avatar
    Piston Slap Yo Mama

    If you take a picture of something glossy like an auto brochure, try to have a black or dark coloured background behind you so the pages aren't reflecting glare. This greatly improves the contrast.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      You're saying Rusty needs to screen his backgrounds better so they mesh properly with his objective?

    2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Yeah, valid point, but I don't have a high-contrast rabbit hutch.

      1. Devin Avatar

        Then how on earth do you expect to raise high-contrast rabbits?

    3. Piston Slap Yo Mama Avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      You bunch of comedians! What I'm saying is – don't have a bright sky behind you because that reflects on the glossy pages so they look washed out in the photo. The rabbit hutch is otherwise perfectly fine.

  10. Maymar Avatar

    Really, how hard could it be to turn this;
    <img src="; width=500 /img>
    into this?
    <img src="; width=500 /img>
    Strangely though, as much as I remember Stellars existing enough to not be convinced they're a global conspiracy, I haven't seen one in decades. Ponys are a rare sight, but not in the same way as the Stellar. Also, between yesterday and today, I've seen a shockingly clean late run Excel and a Sonata virtually identical to the '90 my parents owned.

  11. Mat Avatar

    "I think a lowered, big-wheeled, re-trimmed, updated ’86 Stellar would make quite a handsome beast. It would need to be up-engined a tad too, to make better use of that lovely rear-wheel-driveness."
    Does this meet those criteria?

  12. Craig Bourne Avatar
    Craig Bourne

    have just got one with only…. 4453 miles on…………….