The little car with big go power

A little Hyundai Accent that tore up the track and left others in its dust at the monthly auto cross races in Cayman in the mid-90s holds a fond place in the heart of Danny O’Hara.

The managing director of Prestige Motors credits that car and its incredible success on the old race track in the Industrial Park as one of the saviours of his company.

Finding sales in a major slump during the first Gulf War and its aftermath, the company found itself in desperate need to boost sales.

Gary Huggins, Prestige’s then parts manager and salesman, was an avid supporter of the Cayman Islands Auto Cross Association and had repeatedly tried to get Mr. O’Hara to put a Hyundai in a race.

‘One of our rental cars had a crash and was a write off. We decided to make a project out of it. We got together and eventually rebuilt the car and turned it into a little race car.

‘We stripped it down and replaced the parts that needed to be replaced. We did some work on the engine to get more power out of it, put in a new carburettor, etc.

‘It was the original car, all the parts were Hyundai. The engine was modified but it was still a Hyundai engine. One of my criteria was that everything about the car had to be Hyundai, 100 per cent,’ Mr. O’Hara said.

Expecting that the car might win the occasional race, they took it to the track where, with Mr. Huggins behind the wheel, it blew the competitors away for three years.

‘We won nearly every race consecutively and we were the champions for three years in a row,’ he said.

That success was exactly the shot in the arm the company needed and sales took off, as the name Hyundai became synonymous with speed and performance and was a household name in Cayman.

‘I was afraid to drive it myself,’ Mr. O’ Hara recalled of the vehicle he describes as ‘a super little car’.

Photos of the car, and its successor, hold pride of place on the wall of the showroom at Prestige’s new headquarters. Next to photos of the car surrounded by the O’Hara family and the team that worked on the car, is a photo of famed Italian race car driver Mario Andretti in the Hyundai’s driving seat.

‘He was visiting Cayman and came to the race. He didn’t drive it, he just sat in it,’ Mr. O’Hara said.

The car, as well as becoming famous in Cayman, even got a write up in a motoring magazine in Britain.

‘People started to look at the cars in a different light. People would be proud to be seen driving a Hyundai,’ Mr. O’Hara said.

The Auto Cross races are no longer held – the site, behind CUC, has been developed.

‘Auto Cross died a natural death… but it used to be a great day out for the family,’ Mr. O’Hara recalled.

Photos of the car, and its successor, hold pride of place on the wall of the showroom at Prestige’s new headquarters. Next to photos of the car surrounded by the O’Hara family and the team that worked on the car, is a photo of famed Italian race car driver Mario Andretti in the Hyundai’s driving seat.

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