24 September 2008

Samsung Transportation Museum

My last post described my day at Everland Resort, part of the Samsung neoliberal empire. Samsung's founder was a noted car enthusiast (so much so, Samsung itself entered the automotive business in the 1990s, though the Asian Financial Crisis forced Samsung to sell it to Renault in 2000), and the cars that he collected over the years are now seen at Samsung Transportation Museum, just outside Everland Resort and run by Samsung Fire Insurance Company. One reason for my trip to Everland was so that I could visit this fine place and visit the automotive history of both South Korea and the rest of the world.

Due to regulations prohibiting flash photography, some photos will be blurry.

The first batch will describe the first three decades of South Korean automotive history, with explanations based on the museum's caption boards.

In 1955, three brothers founded Gukje Motor Company, with the ambitious goal of producing South Korea's first automobile. They took the chassis of used American military Jeeps (very common at that time, in the aftermath of the war), built imitation American engines of their own, refurbished American 3-speed transmissions, hand-built the bodies, and came up with this: the Shibal ("Beginning"). Ugly, heavy, and expensive, initial sales were slow, but when President Syngman Rhee rewarded Gukje Motor with an industrial award, sales took off. Nearly all Shibals were used as taxicabs due to their durability, and even to this day most people refer to Shibals as "Shibal Taxi."

No Shibals are in existence today, and this example is a replica built by the museum, using historical records, original engineering specifications, and the same hand-crafting techniques used by Gukje Motor. This body style was used on the very first Shibal.

This is a Shibal built by another museum. It's got a different body, and is a mass-produced version from the later years.

Shibal sales remained strong into the early 1960s, but after the introduction of Datsun Bluebird (known in South Korea as "Saenara") in 1962, sales plummeted, and Gukje Motor folded in 1964 without ever developing a successor model.

In 1962, South Korea, now under the meticulous planning of the Park Chung-hee military dictatorship, banned all automobile imports. The only way for foreign automakers to enter South Korea was to have a Korean partner company do the final assembly. Toyota came to South Korea, and teamed up with Shinjin, which manufactured several models, including this air-cooled 1967 Publica. Although the Publica was underpowered and prone to overheating (leading to a common South Korean rule-of-thumb of taking a rest break every 2 hours during a road trip, something still observed today), a young woman in white gloves driving this red Publica would've been someone to look up to and admire.

Shinjin also built other Toyota models, including the Crown luxury sedan, the Corona midsize sedan, and the Land Cruiser utility. Toyota severed its ties to Shinjin and withdrew from South Korea in 1972, to concentrate on the Chinese market instead.

In the late 1960s, Hyundai started its automotive division, and started building European-spec Ford automobiles, starting with the Cortina. This is a 1969 Taunus 20M (not to be confused with the American Ford Taurus), the luxury offering. Hyundai-built Fords were able to showcase their high performance, when Expressway 1 from Seoul to Busan was completed in 1970. Production of the Taunus ran from 1969 to 1973, totalling 2,406 (remember that demand for cars in South Korea was negligible at that time).

Shinjin, after being abandoned by Toyota, teamed up with General Motors, and became General Motors Korea (GMK). It initially offered models from Holden and Opel under the Chevrolet brand, but the oil shock of 1973 killed demand. GMK saw a demand for the more practical pickup truck, used parts from the Holden and Opel models, and added its own body, to come up with the Saemaul (New Village), named after the "New Village" movement that the Park Chung-hee government had started in 1971 to modernize South Korea's countryside. Due to high maintenance costs, sales remained slow, however, and production stopped in 1979 after only 2,000 units.

This is the 1976 Kia Brisa. The Brisa was introduced in 1974, based on the Mazda Familia (known as Mazda 323 in some markets). Kia had spent the 1960s building 3-wheeled light trucks, and using the technology therefore gathered, was able to build the Brisa with initially 63% South Korean content, later raising that to 90%. Kia built 31,017 Brisas, before production had to end in 1981, due to the Chun Doo-hwan military government requiring Kia to concentrate on light trucks (and its competitors on cars), to reduce redundancy and waste in South Korean industries. The Brisa was a popular taxicab.

Hyundai decided to be even more ambitious than Kia; it decided to design its own car from scratch, in order to save on the royalty payments to foreign manufacturers (and also be able to export, as South Korea was still a very small market). As I blogged earlier, Hyundai used bits and pieces of the Ford Cortina and the Morris Marina, added a Mitsubishi powertrain, and topped the car off with an Italdesign body, resulting in the Pony. Introduced in 1975, it was indeed exported - to Ecuador - in 1976. The Pony was extremely successful, selling a whopping 297,903 copies before the 1982 redesign; its strengths were adoption to Korean bodies, relative agility, and durability.

This is a 1979 model with 1.2-liter 80hp engine and 4-speed manual transmission, capable of 155 km/h. My father had a 1979 as well, though his was red, with black vinyl top (an option very common on the first-generation Pony, but never again seen on any other Hyundai since then).

Another look at the 1979 Pony. I really lingered around this car for a while; this is my first look at the first-generation Pony since my father sold his 20 years ago.

The Pony was so popular that it pretty much drove the Brisa to extinction in the taxicab market, and about half of all cars in South Korea around 1980 were Ponys. Just like the Ford Model T put America on wheels, and the VW Beetle did the same for Germany, the Pony finally made private car ownership a common occurrence in South Korea.

Last year, a film was made about the 1980 Gwangju pro-democracy uprising and massacre, and the producers needed Ponys to accurately portray the streets of that era. They couldn't find any - so they went to Egypt, where many Ponys still do taxicab duty, and imported four.

The rear end of the Pony. Although it slopes down like a hatchback, it's a sedan with a separate trunk.

The last car in the South Korean historical section. This is a 1982 Saehan Maepsy, which is based on the Opel Kadett - or rather, Isuzu's modified version of it. Saehan was the new name of GMK by that point. The standard Maepsy had an expensive, imported 1.5-liter engine; this car has a 1.3-liter Kia engine instead, which came about because of the economic recession of the early 1980s, and because Kia needed to get rid of surplus Brisa engines after being forced to shut down Brisa production in 1981. The Maepsy remained in production through 1989; later fuel-injected versions were named Maepsy-Na.

In 1983, Daewoo entered the automotive business by acquiring Saehan. Saehan was renamed Daewoo Motors shortly thereafter, and underwent massive European and American expansion in the 1990s. But when Daewoo went bankrupt, Daewoo Motors was sold to General Motors, becoming GM Daewoo.

And here are the rest of the photos from the museum visit.

The museum operates this shuttle van to Everland's parking lot. It's a 15-passenger Kia Bongo, the most popular commercial van in South Korea. The Bongo, in fact, was synonymous with "passenger van" for ages. The original Bongo came out in the early 1980s, and while later versions were renamed Besta and Pregio, the Bongo name stuck around for so long that it's recently been revived.

The only other way to travel to the museum is by private automobile. It's not possible to walk, due to lack of sidewalks on the way to the museum.

Korean-American artist, the late Paik Nam-June, had created an artwork consisting of 32 old cars painted in silver, and the entire set of 32 cars is outside the museum building. One of them is this Studebaker. Other cars I could identify were an Oldsmobile, a Nash, and a rare Ford Edsel.

British specialty sports car manufacturer Panther was owned by South Korea's Ssangyong in the early 1990s. This is a product of that relationship: the 1993 Ssangyong Kallista, built in South Korea. Only 78 were ever built.

The dashboard of a 1924 Buick, the only car in the entire museum that visitors are allowed to ride in.

This is a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado. General Motors built this car at a huge loss, but it showcased the company's advanced technologies and built the company image. This car has suicide doors.

This rusty VW Beetle was actually used in the original Herbie movie.

Nearby, there was also a 1982 DeLorean, the model featured in Back to the Future, though it wasn't the actual movie car; the movie props were installed by the museum.

The 1923 Ford Model T, with an enclosed body.

A 1949 Citroen Traction-Avant, one of the first front-wheel-drive cars. Over 300,000 were built between 1937 and 1957, before the DS replaced it. This is my first look at this model, which I had known of for a long time.

The only Chinese vehicle in the museum: 1994 Hongqi CA770 Limousine, built for Deng Xiaoping but never used.

The 1956 BMW Isetta. The only door is at the front.

1963 Datsun Bluebird. Although it was locally produced here in South Korea under the name Saenara, this example is the real Japanese version.

A 1977 VW Beetle. Total production: over 21 million.

Another car I had only heard of until now: the Trabant, East Germany's answer to West Germany's VWs. Many East Germans drove their Trabants to their freedoms in West Germany in 1989. Over 3 million Trabants were built.

This is a 1988 P601, a model first introduced in 1964 and produced unchanged until the end in 1991. It has a 26-hp 2-cycle 2-cylinder engine, as well as a fiberglass body.

A 1972 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman.

The 1937 Cadillac V12, a victim of the Great Depression.

A Corvette Callaway, a Porsche 911 convertible, and a 1994 Mazda RX-7.

Close-up of the 1990 Chevy Corvette Callaway convertible. Only 188 were ever built. It boasts twin turbochargers and a top speed of 307 km/h.

A 1958 Porsche 356 Cabriolet.

A 1960 Mercedes 190SL roadster and a 1963 Chevy Corvette Stingray split-window.

The museum also has some motorcycles, including this 1960 BMW R69S.

A 1950s Mercedes-Benz 300SL, with its gullwing doors.

Interior of the Mercedes gullwing.

This 2000 Hyundai Tiburon is used by the museum as its race car. In South Korea, auto racing is a new sport, started by auto enthusiasts in 1987 as opposed to manufacturers seeking to test new technologies.

1987 Ford Sierra RS Cosworth, one of 500 built in the UK for racing.

1984 Peugeot 205 Turbo 16, a rally car.

A Jaguar D-Type replica, using the chassis of the E-Type.

This McLaren race car won the Indy 500 in 1976.

The 1886 Mercedes-Benz Patent MotorWagen, the first modern gasoline-powered automobile. It has a single-cylinder engine producing 1 horsepower, and can travel at 16 km/h (10mph).

The gift shop had some toy cars and miniature cars, but I was looking for books; book selection was on the thin side, and only one book, Car of the Century (in English), was of any interest to me. I already have it at home, however.

I've now exited the museum to start my return to Seoul.

At the parking lot, I spotted this car, a very common sight these days. It is Hyundai's fourth-generation Grandeur luxury car, sold in the US as the Hyundai Azera. The earlier three generations (the third generation was known as the XG-series in the US) are also pretty common.

A not-so-common car, available in Europe but not in the US: the Hyundai Lavita wagon.