Asia Motors Rocsta

This is not a Jeep Wrangler.

It's an off-road SUV by Asia Motors, one of the first Korean auto manufacturers. They began by assembling Fiat 124s under license, and quickly branched out into just about every vehicle type.

During the country's rapid economic expansion from the 1960s to the 1990s, a big part of the South Korean government's economic ambitions revolved around exports. Asia Motors wasn't able to meet conditions of what the government had in mind for a low-cost car, and was purchased by Kia in 1973. Hyundai bought Kia, of course, and now we'll fast forward to 1989—just 10 years before Asia Motors was axed. 

Kia was under contract to produce a suitable 'jeep' for the South Korean military, but somehow had the masterstroke to have Asia Motors sell the low volume machine to civilians.

Does it matter if a Jeep is from Jeep or Asia Motors? I kinda like it, while sitting here looking at photos of the Rocsta on the internet. It certainly looks like a 7/8 scale Jeep Wrangler, though!

With a five-speed manual transmission and both gas (1.8-litre 4-cylinder with 86 horsepower) and diesel (2.2-litre 4-cylinder with 72 horsepower), not to mention a weight of just 1280kg (2820 lbs), the Rocsta would have been a sporty enough choice for a South Korean off-road enthusiast in 1989. The diesel was the optional engine, by the way.

With both soft and hard tops, the Rocsta would have been an interesting pick of car when it was new. Later in its production run, a re-styled version of the original Rocsta R1 was introduced as the R2—it looks like (but isn't!) a Suzuki Samurai.

Inside, what's the word for it? Sparse?


Exported to parts of Europe, including the UK (!), Germany (!) and Russia, plus exports to South America, the Rocsta filled a hole in the market for a competent, inexpensive, and relatively economical off-roader. There are numerous owner anecdotes and fan sites for them, too.

The only problem with Rocsta ownership, it seems, is keeping it maintained. From a South American automotive review site:

Although the motor is the same as the Kia Besta, spare parts, as well as the car itself are virtually impossible to find, the way is to use adapted or similar parts.

Sad? Don't be. As they die, parts are used to fix the Rocsta race trucks that litter low-cost off-road venues through Asia and South America.
Sold until 1998, the Rocsta was replaced by the Kia Retona, another small, military 'Jeep'-based off-road vehicle. Asia Motors was closed in 1999. Not every vehicle and manufacturer can be winners, right?

And yet, when I watch its commercial, with the booming Korean announcer speaking over a businessman and fun-loving woman with their own Rocstas, who eventually embrace on the beach—I think I want one.


Sources / Recommended reading