By on September 12, 2012

I find more Porsche 928s, Alfa Romeo Alfettas, Buick Reattas, and Datsun 810s than I do first-gen Hyundai Excels during my travels in high-turnover self-service wrecking yards, in spite of the 1985-89 Excel selling in tremendous quantities in the United States. You saw these things everywhere on the street until about 1992, at which point the import sections of American junkyards became choked with low-mile Excels that crapped out in not-worth-fixing fashion. I believe the first-gen Excel was the worst motor vehicle you could buy new in the United States in the 1980s, and maybe for the entire fourth quarter of the 20th Century. Yes, even worse than the Yugo.
This is the second first-gen Excel I’ve found this year, after this ’87. That’s something of a record; I don’t think I’ve found two of these cars in the same year since Bill Clinton was in the White House.
47,932 miles. This car probably clanked to a halt in a cloud of smoke in about 1990 and then spent the next 22 years forgotten under a tarp in a driveway.
With the world to choose from when shopping for engines, Hyundai went with Mitsubishi as its supplier. The 4G15 wasn’t in the same reliability league as its Toyota, Honda, and Nissan counterparts, but the Excel had many other weak points.
I keep hoping to see an early Excel in a 24 Hours of LeMons race, but so far the teams choosing Korean cars have gone with Kia Sephias, Hyundai Accents, and Ford Festivas.

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79 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 Hyundai Excel GL...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    Nice proportions, seemingly the right car at the right time, too bad it turned out to be garbage. On a par with the Daewoo/Pontiac LeMans around a year or so later.

    I’m very surprised this one even still exists. They went to the crusher faster than a Citation and perhaps a Monza!

    • 0 avatar
      Watch Carefully

      That so much of this example is still intact suggests that no one can be bothered to scavenge parts to make its brethren roadworthy. Rightly so.

      I recall in college (VA, ca. 1987) a classmate’s late 1970s Peugeot died and he proclaimed he had ~$10k with which to buy a replacement. For $10k in the mid-1980s there were some really nice used Porsches and other fine cars available. This chap showed up next semester with a new Excel. I couldn’t believe he blew the whole wad on such a lame set of wheels, especially having previously driven something so unconventional as a Peugeot.

      I wonder if his Hyundai made it past 50,000 miles…

    • 0 avatar
      jeffzekas

      One of the reasons Hyundai went to “10 years/ 100,000 miles warranty”- as i remember, the transmission would blow up- you go to the junkyard- NO TRANSMISSIONS!- because everyone else had the same problem! yes, my daughter owned one, and it went to the junkyard with less than 80,000 miles- my son’s Toyota Corolla (an ’83 wagon) went over 220,000 miles before dying- Hyundai- another brand, which, even though they are lauded nowadays, i just can’t bring myself to buy one- because i remember when they were a POS…

  • avatar
    econobiker

    Within the last year I saw a similar year 2 door hatchback Excel on the road in the Nashville, TN region. It was almost as amazing as if I had been driving and saw a Bugatti But it was much more pedestrian in that it attracted no attention that a Bugatti would have. I couldn’t believe it was still on the road and not rusty either. I could only imagine that it had been parked in someone’s grampa’s garage for the last 25 years until he died and the car was sold off.

    And the difference with the Excel and Yugo was that people who bought new Yugo’s kind of knew that it as a cheap POS to start with. The Excel was positioned at a higher level than the Yugo and completely failed the customers at that level. Some argue that it wasn’t until the 2001+ Elantra series did Hyundai redeem its name in the US market…

    • 0 avatar
      don1967

      “And the difference with the Excel and Yugo was that people who bought new Yugo’s kind of knew that it as a cheap POS to start with. The Excel was positioned at a higher level than the Yugo and completely failed the customers at that level.”

      +1

      I could see “educated” consumers being lured in by the Mitsu underpinnings, expecting Japanese reliability on the cheap a la Dodge Colt. How disappointed they must have felt.

      That said, by some accounts (http://www.hyundai-forums.com/734433-post.html) things weren’t all bad with the Mitsubishi Excels. Sometimes owner attitude makes all the difference in whether a car gets maintained or scrapped.

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      I remember that when these cars came out (I was living in Nashville then, coincidentally), the only two groups I saw buying them were the lousy-credit crowd that eventually moved on to Mitsubishis, and Korean-Americans who bought out of familiarity and loyalty to Korean products. I don’t recall seeing one on the road after about 1992, although in LA you’re likely to see all manner of odd vehicles because the population’s so large and rust is not a problem, so it’s not out of the question here.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    Worst car in the 80s. Sterling 825.

    How someone could use Honda guts and screw it up was amazing.

    It took a bunch of years but at least Hyundai learned from their mistakes.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t have as much experience with the Sterling, but at least it had a comfy leather interior to sit in while you were waiting for the tow truck. The Excel had a nasty Simu-Velour™ interior that smelled like a Porta-Potty disaster in a plastic bag factory.

      • 0 avatar
        dejal1

        When they came out, there was a dealer near work. Went to the dealer with a co-worker to see the car. The co-wroker gets behind the wheel close the door and some trim breaks off on the door.

        He and his father ended up getting Legends. Drove them forever.

        Another co-worker bought a Sterling. You’re correct, comfy leather waiting for the tow truck. That thing must have had a tow about once a month. The guy was always late for work. I remember on the edges of the front end there was a little plastic cap on each end. Here’s a photo with the caps missing.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sterling_825.jpg

        The guy lost one a couple of months in and was never able to get a replacement. It drove him up the wall. He threw in the towel after a year.

        When Mr. Sterling first bought the car, he dumped on the guy who bought the Legend (better car, better interior, etc..). After the Sterling proved to be garbage, Mr. Legend would rag on Mr. Sterling for making a sterling choice. There was one time I thought they were going to get into fist fight.

    • 0 avatar
      acuraandy

      @dejal1:

      When working at a Valvoline Instant Oil Change in the northern metro of MSP in the early 2000’s, we had a guy come in with his Sterling one night near closing time, who was a ‘manager’ at a VIOC in NE Minneapolis seeing what we could do about his passenger headlight (among others) being inoperative as he had just been pulled over by the police for said malfunction.

      We took a look at it, and found that the lights were plugged in. We told him to take it to, yes, an Acura and/or other ‘import’ dealership to try to figure it out. He drove away somewhat pissed off, but understanding.

      That was the last time I saw a Sterling on the road in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Just saw one this weekend. It was either a Franken-Sterling with parts from various other Sterlings or it had gotten beat up pretty well, because at least one door panel and possibly some other panels didn’t appear to be from the same car. I didn’t get a look at the person driving it, but I wanted to get out and ask them about it.

  • avatar
    kvndoom

    Hyundai’s turnaround is still one of the most remarkable I’ve ever seen.

    • 0 avatar
      econobiker

      When the 2001-2006? series of Elantras (in the RHD version) were listed as the taxi of choice for Chinese taxi drivers during the 2008 Olympics that pretty well sealed to me that Hyundai had worked it out.

      • 0 avatar
        vwgolf420

        I drove a 2005 Elantra GLS hatchback for 5 1/2 years, which is longer than I’ve kept any car. Never had a single problem–not even a squeak or rattle–during that time. I prefer VWs, but I highly recommend Hyundai without hesitation. Think dollar for dollar they surpass Toyota and Honda easily.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      I’m not sure I agree what’s so remarkable about the Hyundai turnaround. Hyundai is a huge corporation that produces almost anything you can imagine. I’m not sure how South Korean corporations and anti-trust laws work, but I have to believe that Hyundai has deep, deep pockets and could withstand 20 or so years of less than profitable selling to build marketshare while simultaneously improving the product.

      This process has taken 20+ years, at least in the US market. I’d hazard to guess if Malcolm Bricklin had the same kinds of resources maybe the Yugo wouldn’t be a footnote in the annals of the 1980’s econo-car revival.

      And, obviously, if GM (and the other domestics that were still around in 1986-ish time period) had a similar amount of resources and vision, they too wouldn’t have gone through the most recent events in the same manner as actually happened.

      No, what would have been remarkable is if Hyundai would have achieved the same feat in 15 or even 10 years’ time.

      THAT would have been truly remarkable.

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        When you consider that in the same time that it took for Hyundai to improve, Daewoo still made crap like the Aveo and the jury is still out on Sonic and Spark as well.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        The automotive arm of the Hyundai industrial empire was split off into a standalone company in the late ’90s. After that, it had to live or die on its own merits without the subsidies it had previously enjoyed.

        GM was its own industrial empire at one time, but bad management, costly purchases, and asset firesales have reduced it to its present diminshed condition.

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        “No, what would have been remarkable is if Hyundai would have achieved the same feat in 15 or even 10 years’ time.”

        +2

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, no other car company has ever improved its products so much, so quickly.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        During my stint at Ford, I sat through a presentation led by Jim Farley about how Hyundai has gained so much share so quickly.

        They sped up their product lifecycle to be quicker than any other company in the industry, with more new and improved models coming out faster than anyone (and then selling them at cutthroat prices).

        Apparently their engineers commonly work 60-80 hour weeks and stay in dorms on site during the week, and only go home to see their families for a couple days at a time. So in short, furious work ethic.

        Much in the way the early US industry ate the European competitors alive, then the Japanese ate the US competitors alive. Work harder, work smarter, mostly harder.

      • 0 avatar
        baggins

        Danio

        You nailed it. My wife worked for another massive Korean conglomerate, one that might have made your TV. Anyway, on the wall as you enter one of their buildings there is a inspirational motto, translated into English it says

        “Do … or die trying”

        Can you imagine that at a site in the US?

    • 0 avatar
      acuraandy

      @kvndoom: case in point, Accent/Elantra/Sonata/Genesis/Equus :)

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Mehh…should have done a story on the Infiniti Q45 next to it, instead.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    How do I find the junkyard find of a Datsun B210 ? I clicked on it once but the page never opened and I’m stymied in finding your other finds…..

    A linky please ? .

    TIA ,

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    Old roommate’s Excel would do 75 all day. It would shake like it was going to fall apart between 65 and 70, but once it hit top speed it had smoothed out again. Christ, what a craphole.

    • 0 avatar
      acuraandy

      Well, that’s a big step backward for us car guys; having to outrun several Tornados in South Dakota about a month ago, my ’12 Accent did (with the pizza-cutter tires!) 110mph. It didn’t shake much past 90 FWIW :)

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Interesting how a car named Excel never really excelled at anything at all. I suppose that’s a common theme in the industry, see: Ford Aspire aka Expire.

  • avatar

    Agreed. Terrible, terrible car. My wife’s family in Nicaragua (yes, Nicaragua) had one of these up until about 2003 and it failed us every time. The last time we borrowed it, in the span of a week it had an electrical fire in the engine bay, alternator crapped out, and when it did run, we had to pull over every 30 minutes or so because it over-heated.

    After the engine bay fire, we rented a car for the rest of the trip. The in-laws still blame me for ruining their car. Ha!

    I tried to get them to trade it for a Lada, but they sold it for cash and I think that thing is still puttering around Granada, Nicaragua, toasty hood and all.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    No Excels at Lemons? The second-gen can take a 4G63T as a bolt-in. Of course, you’d have to find a 2nd-gen Excel first. Just as junky as the first, and sold in vastly lower numbers.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Funny to see the hatred for the car itself after seeing the praise for the same car’s styling in a Vellum Venom article just a few months ago. I guess they were easy to like, until you turned the key and drove it.

  • avatar
    Chiburb

    I owned one of these because it was all I could afford at the time. I often joked (still do) that I was the only white male in the Chicago suburbs to drive one. Never had a problem though, no service needed of any kind. It’s amazing what oil changes could do for their longevity.
    Improved finances, many cars later, and I’m driving a Hyundai again… this time by choice:
    Had such a great experience with the ’09 Genesis that I’m now in an Equus. And will get a new one in 2014.

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    To truly appreciate this car, you have to encounter one from the rust belt. I found one in the yard over the summer. It looked like it had been pulled out of the Lusitania’s cargo bay. The CENTER of all the body panels were rusted through.

    For fun, call up a salvage yard and request a lap belt from one of these.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    There was not a world of engines to choose from. Like other early Korean cars it started as a joint venture with a Japanese company making an usually outdated model that in some cases got some fresh sheet metal. In the case of Hyundai the JV partner was Mitsubishi and the outdated model was what we knew in the US as the FWD Dodge/Plymouth Colt. It even used a version of the Twin Stick 4sp as their 5sp, replacing the second power/economy shifter with a vacuum shifter and a main shifter that put it back in 4th and activated the solenoids controlling the vacuum shifter to put it in economy mode.

    It is most likely that the reason it ended up getting parked was not due to the engine expiring but the carb making it so it wouldn’t pass emissions and thus couldn’t be licensed.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s true that something like 85% of 1980s cars can’t pass the dyno-based California emissions test on the first try. If the car wasn’t worth much to begin with, there’s no point to spending big money to make it pass.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Back in the day a reman carb for these was $500 ~ $600 wholesale so I could see an easy ~$1000 estimate to attempt to get it to pass with of course no guarantee that it would pass. Now if you went to the dealer I could see at least 50% more on that estimate certainly making it a better bet to spend that money on an old beater.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    My to-be mother in law had one of these under a tarp in Bolinas, CA. Next to it, sat a BroncoII with the Cologne V6 that [sort of] ran.
    The task was to get the Excel and the Bronco II from Bolinas to San Rafael, to be traded on a new ’95 Pathfinder I recommend her at the time (she still has the Pathfinder – with 65K miles).

    It took me 2 days to get the Excel to start. But it did. And it made it over the hills. When I got to the San Rafael Nissan dealer I parked it in the back and walked to the showroom.

    On my way out I went to do a last check inside the Excel for tools: There was an employee poring an immense bag of cat litter in front of the car. Coolant, transmission AND brake fluid were all leaking in vast quantities and pooling on top of a freshly painted CUSTOMER PARKING sign on the ground :)

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      @ cRacK hEaD aLLeY:

      How interesting you mention this. In the early 1990’s, I worked at a Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge-Jeep-Eagle dealership whose owner was obsessive about cleanliness. He had issued strict instructions that if a customer came in with a Hyundai, he/she had to be politely asked to park the vehicle outside of the dealership’s grounds because he didn’t want any oil leak spots on his pavement. I kid you not…

  • avatar
    bd2

    There’s a reason why Hyundai’s reliability starting improving when they stopped using components from Mitsubishi.

    • 0 avatar
      acuraandy

      @bd2:

      Yeah, right? Mitsu sucks, has for years. They would be wise to concentrate on consumer electronics and go the way of Diahatsu or Daewoo and axe their automotive operations.

      Except the EVO of course :) That is, and will always be, one bad-ass ride. I have a feeling it will go the way of the DMC-12 or Buick Grand National however…..

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    In 1986 a roommate who was a bit , well strange had finally received some money from a bogus lawsuit and decided to go new car shopping . For some reason she was settled on either buying a Hyundai or a Yugo , and as she couldn’t drive a stick I went with her for the test drives for the ultimate Reagan era economy car comparo . Though both cars sucked I preferred the Yugo due to some nostalgia over driving friends’ Fiats in the seventies . I told her to keep shopping but she bought a bottom of the barrel Excel hatchback – 4 -speed stick , no A.C. , rubber floormats . As I recall the car may have made it to 3 years old but pretty low miles at which time the engine was blown and it needed a new clutch and a BF had driven it in a ditch . The styling though I always thought was tasteful and clean for the entire line . But the car was awful , not ready for prime-time .

  • avatar
    Steve65

    If it was whole I’d say you should have grabbed that “San Francisco Autocenter” plate insert. Haven’t seen one of them in years.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I think this model will be most famous for the ride that Rodney King took in one in the early 1889s.

  • avatar
    PenguinBoy

    “I believe the first-gen Excel was the worst motor vehicle you could buy new in the United States in the 1980s, and maybe for the entire fourth quarter of the 20th Century. Yes, even worse than the Yugo.”

    Perhaps true, but in Canada the Excel was a big step up from the Hyundai Pony, sold here from 1984 – 1987…

    http://www.autos.ca/classic-cars/motoring-memories-hyundai-pony-1984-1987/?all=1

    • 0 avatar
      acuraandy

      From wikipedia.org:

      ‘When Hyundai wanted to develop their own car, they hired George Turnbull, the former Managing Director of Austin Morris at British Leyland in 1974.’ Who headed the design of, yes, the Hyundai Pony. And us Americans thought the not-so-big three Malaise-era rides were bad…?

      That’s all us car guys need to know.

  • avatar
    Garak

    Well, that car went further than my Skoda 105, which was scrapped with about 45000 miles on the clock.

    • 0 avatar
      acuraandy

      Ouch. I’m almost surprised that Skoda still exists, although it was scooped up by VW/Audi/Lambo/SEAT in the 80’s.

      ‘After a production run of fourteen years, which included a total of 1,961,295 cars (counting just the Škoda 105/120/125 series cars alone), production of the very last rear-engined Škodas was finally brought to an end in 1990.’ They built almost 2 million of these shitboxes? No wonder they almost ceased to exist. And they built these until ’90? Wow. I’m amazed how Socialism works sometimes…

  • avatar
    acuraandy

    Holy crap, and I do mean, CRAP. Ironically enough, it has the same door post VIN tag as my ’12 Accent.

    A harbinger for things to come? My credit certainly hopes not…:)

  • avatar
    ranwhenparked

    According to Hyundai’s ads of the time, the Excel was better in every way than a BMW 3-Series, because, although they both had “European” styling; the Excel offered the amazing capabilities of FWD and was cheaper!

    Amazing all those stupid ignorant saps that still bought their inferior RWD E30s.

  • avatar
    iainthornton

    Narrowly beaten to the title of ‘most ironically named car’ by the Mitsubishi Carisma.


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