Tuesday September 11, 2018
In 1997 Mat Fenwick passed his driving test so naturally, he was on the look-out for a set of wheels that was affordable yet reflected his youthful zest for motoring. And then he found the ideal car – a Hyundai Stellar 1.6 GSL:
“I was actually looking for a BX (that’s another story), but this caught my eye as being a lot of car for the money. My Dad owned a Stellar in the late ‘80s, and I remember being drawn to all the gadgets - electric windows, central locking, rear reading lights etc.”
And so, Mat went to see this fine car – ‘and the rest is history’. In the late 1990s, there was still quite a few examples of the Stellar on the road, and back in 1984 it was only the second Hyundai to be imported into the UK – the first was the Pony. At that time the sales material deliberately targeted Ford owners who regarded the Sierra as far too bold a design.
The South Korean company had commenced building the Cortina under licence in 1968, and when the Stellar made its bow in summer 1983, it employed the underpinning of the outgoing Mk. V. Its running gear may have been sourced via Mitsubishi, but the chassis and the overall appearance of the Stellar were definitely reminiscent of Dagenham’s finest, even if the two cars had no complements in common.
Mat’s Stellar is the flagship version fitted with alloy wheels, a stereo radio-cassette and headlamp washers as standard. Inside, the GSL boasted moquette upholstery that was in the Toyota Crown/Vauxhall Royale standards of chintz, and there was lumbar and tilt adjustment for the driver’s seat.
To say that these details would have amounted to considerable showroom appeal is an understatement, as 34 years ago a UK price of £5,494, which meant that it cost less than a basic-specification Austin Montego 1.6 or Ford Sierra 1.6 “Base”.
Motor tested a GSL in 1984, and they clearly understood its intended market – ‘It doesn’t pretend to be the ultimate in engineering sophistication, but for the average erstwhile Cortina or Ital buyer it is a car of great competence at a very attractive price…we were surprised how good it is ’.
The coachwork, by Giorgetto Giugiaro, looked substantial yet ‘conventional’, and the Stellar appealed to those motorists who craved ‘a real car’ as opposed to one of these FWD hatchbacks. It was also frequently used as a mini-cab; a Stellar taxi was soon as familiar a phenomenon of life in the provinces as punk rockers heading towards their 30th birthdays.
In 1987 the Stellar II offered slightly more svelte coachwork, modified front suspension and the option of a 2-litre engine. The original model became increasingly rare during the 1990s – indeed Mat did not realise how rare it was until it struck him that he hadn't seen another for ages.
The Hyundai amassed 100,000 miles during his first five years of ownership and in 2004 ‘the engine was getting tired’, so he fitted a Rover V8 unit. The Stellar then spent quite a time in temporary retirement but in 2014 it was back on the road, where it creates a stir almost everywhere it goes. Just don’t ask if it is ‘a Cortina’…