Once, Hyundai Was Bonkers

Long before Hyundai spun off their Genesis premium brand in 2015, they had long dreamed of making luxurious vehicles. I’m not even talking about the Hyundai Genesis models from 2003 or so and on, nor the Equus from 1999. I’m talking about a car from an era when Hyundai was a bit wilder, a bit crazier, a bit more, um, exuberant. I’m talking about 1997's Hyundai SLV concept car, arguably the craziest car Hyundai has ever built.

There’s not really all that much information out there about the SLV, which stood for Super Luxury Vehicle and was first shown at the 1997 Seoul Auto Show, but there are a number of pictures out there, and they tell a hell of a story.

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What is known is that the concept car was designed to be for the VIPs of the future, tycoons and royalty and dictators and celebrities and that sort of thing. This car was intended to be, as Hyundai described it,

“...the pinnacle of the automaker’s art and craft.”

... and was over 18 feet long, powered by a 4.5-liter DOHC V8 and with a body made of a fiber-reinforced polymer. Inside that body the interior was designed to be configured into an office or general relaxing and lounging space, with massive reclining seats that could face one another, along with small pop-up tables.

None of that is really all that odd, in context. It’s the styling of this thing that pushes it into the wonderfully bonkers territory. Instead of choosing a tired and predictable stately Lincon/Bentley/Rolls-Royce-like crisp, tailored three-box design, Hyundai engineers went all out and designed something wild and exuberant, if not, you know, really all that attractive.

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The SLV was an odd mix of late 1990s conventional luxury car design, which you can kind of see in the car’s face, and a certain unhinged take on the sweeping design of legendary cars from the 1930s, like, say, the famous Bugatti Atlantic.

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It’s like someone took a late ‘90s Lincoln and a Bugatti Atlantic and got them both drunk enough to mate, and while they were going at it shoved the whole writhing mess in a microwave and put it on high for, oh, 12 minutes.

The result is something that has some elegant lines here and there, but they’re all trapped in a strangely massive and bloated whole.

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Of course, the doors opened in exciting ways, because what’s the point of having both money and doors if they don’t, and the rear featured some interesting narrow-rear-window-and-flying-buttress styling, sort of like a Corvette from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

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Unsurprisingly, Hyundai rarely discusses the SLV, and I don’t see the Genesis stands clamoring to drag it out of storage for their auto shows. That’s sort of a shame, because, as strange and awkward as this thing was, it’s kind of delightfully non-boring, and if there’s any segment that can always use a good dose of that, it’s the big rich-guy car segment.

If your goal is to find something more reliable to replace your old Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan, then, well, I think your search is over.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)