Credit: Mohenic Garages
Hyundai: How to turn a used car into an $80,000 luxury ride
A 20-year-old beat up Hyundai SUV isn't anyone's idea of a dream car. But used Hyundai Gallopers, priced between $2,000 to $3,000 at second-hand car markets, are making a comeback -- reborn as upwards $80,000 luxury vehicles at the hand of former furniture designer Henie Kim.
Kim -- now the CEO of Mohenic Garages, a car rebuilding company based in Paju -- has transformed the boxy classic into one of South Korea's most highly-desired cars.
"As a former designer, I wanted make everything perfect."
The remade "Mohenic G", as they're known, take their design cues from the 1990s and come in a variety of custom colors from "mint racing green" to "midnight cerulean blue".
Demand for the "Mohenic G" has steadily risen, and the waitlist is long. Since 2013, only 43 cars have been rebuilt and 48 customers are on a waiting list.
Production is slow -- though since the company expanded, they're able to produce 30 cars a year, or about 2 cars a month. A team of two dozen workers transform each car in a meticulous process that includes prying the car cabin from its frame, sanding, removing corrosive substances, polishing and painting.
South Korean radio host Bae Chil-soo sold his Mercedes Benz G-class and bought a rebuilt 1993 Hyundai from Mohenic Garages for $70,000.
"The G-class was a great car. In fact, it was an awesome car," Bae told CNN. "But, what I bought wasn't just a car. I bought into 90s nostalgia."
The Hyundai retains its angular touches and boxy frame -- indicative of the decade from when it was manufactured -- and compared to the smoother, more rounded lines of more modern designs.
More exceptional than the car's shell perhaps, is its interior -- handcrafted with wooden dashboards and transmission sticks, as well as car gauges and buttons.
The combination is reminiscent of a classic airplane cockpit.
Bae appreciates the detailing: "You can actually hear the gauge needles ticking when I step on the accelerator."
Another customer, South Korean factory operator Kim Jeong-hun says when he bought one 4 years ago, the car seat felt like expensive furniture.
"The first time I got into my car, I could smell the scent of freshly cut wood. It felt like I had gone into a carpenter's shop.
"I thought I bought a time-machine that brought me back in time".
The idea behind the "Mohenic G" came from a camping trip. Four years ago, Kim was searching for a roomier vehicle to go camping in, but found those on the market too dull.
So he decided to custom restore one.
"I was looking for a car that could set me free. When I found an old Hyundai Galloper, I remembered how much I loved the car as a college student," he said.
The Hyundai Galloper was an SUV first produced in 1991, in cooperation with Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi.
Kim researched for months, traveled across the country in search for parts, jumped from one car repair shop to another and posted photo essays of the process on his personal blog.
"I restored every nook and cranny in that car. It felt like I was liberated from being a slave of time," Kim said.
After 6 months of painstaking efforts, a fully restored, ivory Hyundai Galloper was revealed.
His efforts didn't go unnoticed. Requests to restore Gallopers mounted and in 2013, Kim decided to kick off the nation's first car rebuilding company with the help of investment and crowd funding from social media platforms.
As for the future, Kim is looking beyond the "Mohenic G."
"Perhaps one day I will be able to make an electric four-wheel vehicle."