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Oriental Pony Cars

 

Ford forever changed the automotive world in 1964 with the introduction of the Ford Mustang. It created a new segment called the “pony” car, a term that was coined by automotive journalists at the time after the Mustang.

A pony car is essentially a small, front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-door coupe or convertible. They are also cheap to buy and maintain as they are targeted to younger people who don’t have the funds to buy big, expensive cars and are more apt to do their own maintenance. Most importantly, they provide a fun and exciting driving experience that can’t be matched by any other vehicle. This combination proved to be highly successful for Ford, as it sold more than 2.5 million Mustangs in only 5 and a half years.

Other manufacturers quickly recognized the success of the Mustang and created pony cars of their own. Examples include the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger and the AMC Javelin.

These cars were also successful on the race track with a new series called the Trans Am series that was dominated in the ‘60s and ‘70s by special editions of the pony car, like the Mustang BOSS 302 and Challenger T/A.

Then a gas crisis hit, and insurance premiums skyrocketed — thanks to the young buyers who liked to street-race them. So, by the 1980s almost all the pony cars were gone except the Mustang and Camaro (and its derivative, the Pontiac Firebird). Then the final nail went in the coffin of pony cars in 2002 when GM canceled production of the Camaro and Firebird, leaving the Mustang as the sole pony car left.

Then, in 2005 Ford revolutionized the pony car again with the introduction of a new “retro”-styled Mustang, made to look like the Mustangs of the ‘60s. Then, once again, Chevrolet and Dodge jumped on board and came out with “retro”-styled pony cars, the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger.

But, can we really call these reincarnations pony cars? After all, they are much larger and are priced well above what the original target market of 20- to 30-year-olds can afford. Granted, the new 305-hp Mustang V-6, priced at an affordable $22,995, is an excellent value, which is why it is a two-time Best Buy winner. But this is for a bare-bones Mustang, for which most buyers will not opt.

This is where the Japanese and Koreans come in. The Japanese had a short bout with pony cars in the early ‘90s with cars such as the Mazda RX-7 and Toyota Supra. But these cars suffered increased costs, which led to higher pricing that put them out of their target market and were eventually canceled.

Hyundai had a small sports car called the Tiburon for many years, but it was front-wheel drive and didn’t have any performance of which to speak. But then in 2008 they got rid of the Tiburon and came out with the new Genesis Coupe. The Genesis Coupe is a small, front-engine, rear-wheel drive coupe that is priced in the lower $20K range. The Genesis Coupe is also a blast to drive and for 2013 will come with either a 274-hp turbocharged four-cylinder or a new 348-hp V-6, plenty of power for any auto enthusiast.  The Genesis Coupe is also a more manageable size and is closer to the original pony cars.

Then the Japanese decided they would give the pony car another try. So for the 2013 model year they will release the Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S, both of which are front-engine, rear-wheel drive coupes that are about half the size of a new Dodge Challenger. They too are expected to be priced in the lower $20K range and are marketed to younger buyers.

All three of these foreign cars embody the characteristics of a pony car. I would even say they are more related, at least in spirit, to the original pony cars of the ‘60s. Many might say they can’t be pony cars because they don’t come with a V-8 engine. But is a V-8 engine necessary? Sure, you don’t have that distinct V-8 growl, but the modern engines in these cars will outrun all but the biggest V-8 engines of yesteryear, while getting fuel economy that only the Pacer was capable of getting back then.

Then the final argument comes up: “Well, it’s just not American.” It is true that the pony car is an American icon, but is the title “pony car” reserved only for American-made vehicles? I’ll let you decide.