Imagine a world where luxury, status, and technological sophistication weren’t wrapped up in far-reaching futuristic forms. Instead, the most elevated examples of a particular genre were defined by the longevity of a design, regardless of shifts in fashion. That’s the thinking behind the Hyundai Heritage Series Grandeur, a one-off retro fit of a big saloon from the company’s past.
The original Hyundai Grandeur debuted in 1986, the result of a collaboration with Japanese firm Mitsubishi to build a luxury car for the fast-growing South Korean market. Boxy and strait-laced in a way that now seems thrillingly unconventional, the Grandeur became the country’s best-selling car – it wasn’t available to buy anywhere else. Thanks to an appearance on the hugely popular 90s TV drama Sandglass, the Grandeur not only became a symbol of corporate success but was also the wheels of choice for South Korea’s aspiring criminal classes.
35 years later, and the company’s design team continues its radical reassessment of times gone by with the Hyundai Heritage Series Grandeur, an electrified rebuild that ramps up the 80s references and dovetails the sharp creases and straight lines with modern technology. The all-new digital dashboard is the most notable addition, but Hyundai’s current-gen ‘Parametric Pixel’ design language is also evident on the exterior overhaul, with pixel-style LED headlights.
The company describes the interior as ‘Newtro (newness + retro),’ and the copious use of brown (or bronze, depending on how charitable you’re feeling) is evident throughout, with burgundy velvet front seats finished off with Napa leather seat backs.
A cigar storage compartment, aircraft-style gear selector and general all-round retro ambience complete the picture. Out of sight but definitely not out of mind is the 18-speaker sound system developed in collaboration with South Korean sound designer Guk-il Yu.
The centre console even has a touchscreen piano function you can use when the car is parked, presumably to emphasise the vibe of a smoky cocktail bar. Hyundai is practically alone in its enthusiastic mining of old school designs. The company has already revisited the 1975 Hyundai Pony, which in turn inspired the lines of the current, much praised IONIQ 5. Other remixes are in the works, although sadly there are no plans to put this machine into production.
That said, if the reappraisal of 80s style tickles your fancy, there is one current production car that retains a defiantly old-fashioned approach to luxury design. You’ll have to travel to Japan to appreciate it, though, for the Toyota Century is not sold in any other market. The third-generation model is still largely hand-built at Toyota Motor East Japan's Higashi-Fuji Plant, exactly where the first-ever Century rolled off the production line in 1967.
Designed to be chauffeur-driven from the outset, the Century is often referred to as ‘Japan’s Rolls-Royce’. Generation one remained in production for a remarkable 30 years, with the second Century turning up in 1997. For twenty years, it marked the muted high point in Toyota’s range, little known outside Japan. Powered by the company’s only V12 engine, the Century contained numerous subtle touches like crystal glass and Jacquard wool fabric seats.
The latest iteration of the Century was first shown in 2017 and moves the game on, albeit only slightly. With a 5.0-litre V8 hybrid system – the only one of its kind in the world – it’s longer than before but the basic three-box saloon car architecture is unchanged.
Like Hyundai’s Grandeur, the Century represents design evolution at a glacial pace, and is all the better for it. Almost all Centuries come in with rich black bodywork, hand-polished to a mirror shine. Remarkably, those razor-sharp chamfered lines on the bodywork are also shaped and finished by hand.
The vast rear compartment can be expanded still further by folding the front passenger forwards, and while it doesn’t quite match the screen-filled interiors of contemporary cars, there’s still plenty of tech to keep you busy, from massage seats to an 11.6” screen, 20-speaker entertainment system.
The Toyota Century offers old school style yet with a very modern price. Tick every box and specify every option, and the Century Limousine will set you back around ¥60,000,000 (nearly £400,000). The Rolls-Royce comparisons might be apt, but this is luxury from another generation.
This article is part of The T3 Edit, a collaboration between T3 and Wallpaper* which explores the very best blends of design, craft, and technology. Wallpaper* magazine is the world’s leading authority on contemporary design and The T3 Edit is your essential guide to what’s new and what’s next.