Having spent a fair amount of time in South Korea, I have been very interested in their automotive industry. For decades, Korean cars had a terrible reputation for reliability in international markets that was ultimately solved in two steps: the first was to improve the overall quality and the second was to offer a very long warranty. Today, some of the nicer designs now come from the peninsular thanks to European designers being lured to the country.
Hyundai and Kia are the most well known brands and started out buying designs from Ford and General Motors. With a collapsing economy, Hyundai and Kai merged and another marque, Daewoo was gobbled up by General Motors and ultimately became an engine supplier – a large number of four cylinder motors are shipped out of Korea to other factories. SsangYong survived until the early 2000s before being acquired by Mahindra from India.
A lesser known marque was Samsung. Today, we think mobile phones or electronics when we think of Samsung, however, they are a chaebol, a large intricately structured conglomerate that produces a wide variety of products. The quick way into a market is to buy an existing player, and Samsung went after Kia – and failed. So they created Samsung Motors to build cars with a big injection of help from Nissan. They had a desire to take a major share of the local market, so they needed a show car to get the juices flowing.
In 1997, Samsung surprised everyone by showing the SSC-1 sports coupe at the Seoul Motor Show. The car was a swoopy two door, four seater in the style of a Nissan 300ZX, Toyota MR2 or any mid range sports coupe from a myriad of manufacturers. The relationship with Nissan did provide a large parts bin to add to the car, hence it looking like a Nissan although many reports suggested that it was a rebadged Venturi Atlantique because of similar design features. It is quite possible that in their haste to get something for the show, a car was shipped in with modifications done locally. It was powered by Nissan’s 2.5 litre V6 producing a respectable 190hp with a 5-speed gearbox and premium brakes and suspension. The prototype actually worked!
There is speculation as to how many were actually built: one or two, because it never made it into series production. A yellow one was shown at the 1997 Seoul Show and a silver one was seen a few years later. Now, it could have been that the original car was resprayed, however it is also possible that several vehicles were built or modified for testing purposes.
Getting into the automotive industry is an expensive function and a year after originally showing the SSC-1, Samsung sold a chunk of the business to Renault to form Renault-Samsung. This gave Samsung a big boost in getting technology to market for their saloons and mid-price vehicles, however it did nothing for their aspirations to develop a halo sports car. Soon after this tie-up, Renault then signed an alliance with Nissan to share more tech.
Renault-Samsung concentrated on saloons and sadly the SSC-1 never evolved into another vehicle. Several of the cars sold locally by Samsung were rebadged Renaults or Nissans and it may have been decided that importing a premium sports car with a foreign badge would be more profitable. Today Renault owns 80% of the business with Samsung’s credit card business owning the rest – which in turn is owned by Samsung Life Insurance!