Being a petrolhead is really an awesome thing. Not so if you’re born in a country that has all the elements to contradict your passion for automobiles like the country I was born in, South Korea. Its only been 20 years when the car industry in my country started to accelerate with the rise of foreign marketing campaigns, as a result, the car scene before the late 80s was bleak and murky. Hell, for instance, only this year have they started to introduce Mazda into Korea introducing it with the Mazda 3 and the ND MX-5.
But I’m going to explain further on as you continue reading. I shall now begin to testify my 5 reasons on why being a Korean petrolhead isn’t so great.
1. The Car Scene is Black and White, Metaphorically and Literally
Doug DeMuro has pointed out in one of his vlogs in his trip to South Korea that you’ll get bored very quickly if you do car spotting there, and I have to agree.
Take a drive into any Korean city like Seoul or Gangnam or Daegu and hit the highway. Miles upon miles of cars, all black and white (with the exclusion of taxis and industrial cars, that are usually orange and blue, respectively). Almost all of them Hyundais, Kias and Ssangyongs, and these days, often BMWs and Audis. But in the end, they are all still either black or white, and here is the reason why.
A large percentage of car buyers in South Korea are most likely no-nonsense businessmen/women. Those people you often see with slick black hair, with their white office clothes and black leather shoes wearing glasses, hanging their coats on their shoulders and often on the phone talking about business and money matters, yeah, those people. Korean business workers are usually very mindful about efficiency and focus, as a result, they usually dislike things trivial to work, or distractions, and this includes fancy colors and flashy designs.
Only rarely do colored cars appear in Korean roads, and they are usually driven by the slightly newer generation that wants to break the monotony of color scheme in Korean car culture. These colored cars are most of the times your ordinary every-day city car, but thankfully, a considerable percentage of these colored cars are often times exotics. I have seen a blue Audi R8, a green Jaguar XK, and a red Porsche 997 911 Targa for starters. And there are even more than that (I heard of red Ferrari Enzos and green Lamborghini Countachs in there as well), but then again, the normal car scene in Korea is more often than not, boring in terms of color variety.
2. Japanese Cars are Unicorns
This one is a particularly hard one to take for those Japanese car enthusiasts such as myself. There are almost NO Japanese cars pre-2010s in South Korea. If you’re a Euro or a Korean car guy with money to spend on new cars, then Korea would be just as good as any other country for you in terms of the car scene because of the rise of German car sales.
Its mostly because of sociopolitical animosities between Korea and Japan mainly because of the cruelty the Japanese had inflicted upon us Koreans during the 19th century, and the older ones are rather bullheaded in standing for culture and history, and since the older people are in charge of commercial business, obviously, they still tend to retain this mentality, as a result, Japanese cars have almost never touched Korean soil.
The few exceptions are usually by importing which is actually illegal but somehow done bypassing import laws like how some people in the US import R34 Skylines without being snooped by the government, and as a result, law enforcement has no choice but to just leave it as it is because its already in the local area. I did see a Lancer Evo X (modified exhaust. The cammed noise it made was glorious) and a MX-5 (which was riced :( ), a handful of DSM Mitsubishi coupes, a Nissan 350Z, and a few others.
And yes, they were all black and white. With the exclusion of the MX-5 being painted a fire color scheme.
Only recently have they started drawing in Japanese cars, especially Lexus, Toyota and Nissan due to popular demand, but don’t expect too much like 370Zs and R35 GT-Rs and such because the Japanese cars you’d most likely be seeing in South Korea are Toyota Priuses, Camrys, Nissan Altimas, Lexus GS and etc.
3. Personal Performance Tuning is Illegal
Oddly enough, ricing is acceptable in Korea (I’ve seen a few), but modding the performance of your car is completely illegal (unless you got special permission from the government, which is still near damn impossible to do) because of many reasons we petrolheads hate to be inhibited by because of law; safety, mechanical issues, insurance, and emissions. That is why you cannot see even sleepers, because inevitably your car will be checked, and if it is, you’re screwed. Your car as well.
I’m very aware that this issue is not only in Korea but in other countries as well, but South Korea is a bit more tighter. Even subtle tuning mods such as whatever happens in #projectmx5 is considered illegal because of the already given reasons.
The lot of the younger generation of South Korea will probably never learn to understand why this is a sad thing for people like us.
4. No Chevrolet Corvettes
This one might disturb the American car lovers and Corvette fans. Among all the cars to kick out of Korea before launch, the Chevrolet Corvette was banned. They singled out the Corvette.
It was banned with the advent of plans to sell the C7 Corvette in Korea, but the Korean car market prohibited it because it was “too loud” to pass Korea’s rather strict engine noise regulations.
Yes, you heard me right. It was banned because the LT4 engine was too loud for South Korea. Of all the gloriously loud cars to ban, they singled out the Chevy Corvette. Never mind the screaming V12 Enzos and Lambos we have in this country and kick the American car out because it’s way too loud to safely resonate the streets of our high rise metropolises.
I know it goes against the South Korean law, but as a petrolhead, it is undeniable that I am baffled by it. I know that I’m not the only Korean petrolhead out there that has a thing for Corvettes, which is why I didn’t really understand why it was banned in the country that I love. But then, there are a lucky few who actually managed to import C7 Corvettes by special permissions, but unsurprisingly, they are all celebrities or multi-millionaire business tycoons.
5. Your Asian Parents will Never Understand
I know this is just stereotyping, but sadly most of the times, Asian parents are like this. Particularly the Chinese and Korean ones. Why? The answer should be easy.
Asian parents want nothing but the best of their children like any rational parent would, but they’d often shove the priority of school and studying down your throat whether you want it or not, which is why they’d usually scorn recreational activities, and yes, in my case, it would include car loving, as pointless daydreams and tell you to study.
Thankfully, my parents are lax in comparison to the stereotype Asian parent, but I repeat, the average Asian parent WILL do this to their children, and as a result, I believe car love sadly burns out for a lot of unfortunate Asian children who has a hidden love for cars because of being relentlessly told to be the best in academics.
So there you have it, some of the reasons why being a petrolhead in Korea sucks.
Then again, these are merely opinions I would like to state because this happens almost all the time.
Thank you for reading this article! I put a lot of effort into it.
Thug Bird, out B-).