Cars of a Lifetime: 1986 Hyundai Stellar GSL

1986 Hyundai Stellar

This Hyundai Stellar was purchased as a parts donor for my Locost Seven roadster project, but it is an interesting enough car that I think it deserves its own COAL post.

The Hyundai Stellar story has to start with the Ford Cortina. In fact, the entire Hyundai Motor Company story has to start with the Ford Cortina. Hyundai got its start building license built copies of the Mk II Cortina as well as the Taunus, and license built Fords were built right into the mid-1970s.

The Pony was Hyundai’s first car they could rightfully call their own. It used Mitsubishi engines and transmissions as well as a chassis design inspired by either the Mitsubishi Lancer, the Morris Marina or the Ford Cortina, depending on which version of the story you believe. It was a conventional rear-wheel-drive design with struts up front and a leaf-sprung live rear axle out back. Canada saw a variant of the second generation Pony starting in 1984.

1983 Hyundai Stellar

The Ford-licensed cars were eventually phased out, so Hyundai found themselves without a larger car to sell. The solution they came up with was largely based off a vehicle they were already familiar with, the MkIV Ford Cortina. The chassis of these first-generation Stellars is all Cortina, but for the engines, Hyundai looked again to Mitsubishi. The 1.4L 4G33 and 1.6L 4G32 motors found in the Pony were now fitted as base engines for the Stellar. Buyers could choose from either a five-speed manual or a three-speed BorgWarner automatic transmission. Those desiring a bit more oomph could opt for the larger 2.0L 4G63 inline four cylinder engine. The styling, like the Pony, was done by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

1986 Hyundai Stellar interior

My Stellar was a GSL, meaning such luxuries as power windows, full instrumentation, power locks and upgraded audio were fitted.

1986 Hyundai Stellar engine

It was equipped with the 1.6L four cylinder engine, the base motor in Canada, which was hooked to a Mitsubishi KM119 five-speed manual gearbox. North American buyers could have also found this same basic engine in various Mitsubishis, as well as in Dodge Colts and base model Plymouth Arrows. It could also be found in turbocharged form (but not in the Stellar).

1986 Hyundai Stellar rear

A shot from the rear next to my Rx-7: the wheels were the same thirteen-inch steel rims fitted to the Pony. They still used a British Ford 4x108mm bolt pattern.


The Stellar was actually in reasonably solid shape with only some front fender rust appearing. Quite remarkable given that these were enthusiastic rusters.


I didn’t have an engine crane at the time but needed to extract the drive train and dispose of the shell, so I placed a stand underneath the engine and cut away the rest of the car.


Rear suspension out and the roof comes off.


I went through quite a few reciprocating saw blades.


The engine free at last. Stellar no more. I wound up going another direction for the Locost Seven project and ultimately used very little of this Stellar. So my apologies to any Hyundai Stellar fans out there.

Hyundai Stellar 2.0

While that was the end of my Stellar, the story for the model doesn’t quite end there. A Stellar II or Stellar 2.0 depending on the market was introduced in 1987. The Cortina double wishbone front suspension was replaced by a MacPherson strut design, along with updated brakes. For Canada, this updated version was now only available with the larger 2.0L engine. Flush headlights and a new grill modernized the front styling a tad.

1987 Hyundai Stellar 2.0 rear

At the rear, tail light lenses but were upgraded with a new, but still familiar, look. The Sonata nameplate appeared on this car for the Korean domestic market. The front-wheel-drive Sonata replaced the Stellar in 1992 for the Canadian market and we’d have to wait until the unveiling of the Genesis for another rear-drive Hyundai to make the trip over to North America.

Related reading: Hyundai Origin Myth Revealed