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Jeeps in South Korea


Sibal replica The first automobile produced in Korea was known as the Sibal, reportedly built on surplus Jeep frames from the Korean War, with bodies handmade from used oil drums. Gukje Motors produced 3,000 Sibals between 1955 and 1963, of which none are known to survive. The name means "beginning."

Shown here is a replica of the first Sibal, based on photographs and blueprints and built by the Samsung Transportation Museum. Does it remind you of anything?

Taxis Many of the rugged litle Sibals were used as taxis, and Gukje Motors was considered a success until 1962 when the Korean government passed the Automobile Industry Protection Act. This legislation required foreign car makers in the Korean market to form partnerships with Korean firms, and ironically the homegrown Sibal could no longer compete with Korean versions of brands like Datsun.

Shinjin CJ-5
Shinjin Motor reportedly produced some Jeeps beginning in 1969, with components supplied by Kaiser Jeep in the USA.

After American Motors bought Kaiser Jeep in 1970, they formed a partnership with Shinjin to build military Jeeps and the CJ-5, with a long-wheelbase version added in 1977, including a pickup (280K JPEG). The Shinjin Jeeps originally had a Korean-built AMC 258ci straight-six engine, and later an Isuzu diesel.

Keohwa M-5GA2 After AMC opted to end its arrangement with Shinjin in 1978, the company was taken over by Keohwa. The Keohwa M-5GA2 (right) seems to be largely a knock-off of Kaiser's M38A1, and the company apparently went back to the horizontal grille slots of the Sibal for a while, presumably to try to avoid legal problems with AMC.

In the early 1980s Keohwa's range was renamed "Korando," the company was absorbed by Dong-A Motors, and then it was integrated into SsangYong Motor Company.

Korando 1982 SsangYong Motor Company's legal relationship to AMC and after 1987 to Jeep's new owner Chrysler is unclear to me; its new Korando was clearly a clone of the CJ-7, but it was not badged as a Jeep, and the Jeep name was not used in Korando promotional literature.

Korandos were reportedly exported to Japan starting in 1986. It would be interesting to know how that went, in a market basically owned by Mitsubishi, who was still producing a range of Jeep models with styling descended from the CJ-3B.

An Isuzu gasoline engine was added as an alternative to the Isuzu diesel in 1985, but was gone by the early 90s.

Korando brochure SsangYong also tried exporting to Europe. Magnus Sigurjonsson says, "Korandos of the CJ-7 and CJ-8 clone types (with hardtops) were imported here in Iceland. I believe it was in the late eighties, shortly after AMC stopped producing the CJ-7. I think they were only imported for a short period, one or two years."

I have been told the Korando was also sold in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Spain. This glossy eight-page colour brochure from 1992 is printed in English, but its only reference to exports is a mention of victories in the 1990-92 Cyprus Rally Series.

Korando in Malta This Korando belonging to Ian Cilia Pisani on the island of Malta, was built in 1992 and is powered by an Isuzu diesel engine which has a Daewoo badge.

Finding a Korando in Malta is not all that unexpected, since they were imported to nearby Cyprus by a distributor, Reliable Motor Cars Ltd., who was offering to sell them elsewhere in Europe.

Korando 4
The brochure displays long (2880mm) and short (2390mm) wheelbase versions with soft top or steel hardtop in the Korando "R series". The K-4 (numbered according to seating) seen at right, has bucket seats in the rear. See the full R series range (100K JPEG) including an ambulance version.

Korando RVThe "RS" series sported trim packages and the "RV" series included a slightly larger 2.5-liter XD3P diesel engine. Both of these upscale models came with stainless steel bumpers (and air conditioning). See a larger version of the photo (100K JPEG).

See also Specifications from the brochure (230K JPEG) and Standard Equipment and Options (290K JPEG) from the brochure.

Korando rearThe rear photo in the brochure shows that the hardtop was available with or without rear door, which was side-opening. It also highlights some of the unique trim details, including side mirrors, lamps and tire cover.

Freewheeling front hubs were standard, as was a five-speed manual transmission and two-speed transfer case. See a body-off photo (80K JPEG) showing the frame and drivetrain.

New KorandoAs of 1998, SsangYong Motor became part of Daewoo Motor, and the 2001 Korando line is a newly-designed small sport-utility which nevertheless echoes the Jeep grille design strongly enough that I assume there may still have been some kind of licensing arrangement with Jeep.

Page 3 of the brochure (100K JPEG) includes a small photo and brief mention of Korando's background in Jeep-building.

Page 4 of the brochure (200K JPEG) describes the new vehicle in terms that clearly identify the design inspiration: "The most recent creation of professor Ken Greenley of Britain's prestigious Royal College of Art, this radically-designed off-roader captures the rugged essence of the grandfather of today's 4x4's -- the American military jeep -- and brings it right up to date with body styling straight out of the 21st century."

Thanks to Pete Pearson, Ian Cilia Pisani and Jarek Skonieczny for photos. Sibal photo from the Samsung Museum by Rachel So under CC 2.0. Additional information on the Korando story is welcome. -- Derek Redmond

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Last updated 25 January 2023 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Derek Redmond