By on February 5, 2016

17 - 1986 Hyundai Excel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

I can’t think of any vehicle manufacturer whose products improved as much and as quickly as Hyundai’s did between the ghastly first-gen Excel and the very nice Hyundais of, say, the current century.

The only new US-market car that was cheaper than the first Excel was the Yugo GV (which was, arguably, the better car), and in all my years of junkyard crawling I have never seen any vehicle that got discarded in larger quantities before reaching ten years of age (in fact, lots of Excels appeared at U-Wrench-It before their fifth birthdays).

This means that 1985-89 Excels are exceedingly rare in junkyards today, so I always photograph them when I find them. So far in this series, we have seen this ’86, this ’87, this ’88, and now today’s depressingly un-loaded ’87, which is as far advanced from today’s nice Hyundais as is a cargo-cult wicker plane from a Boeing 787.
10 - 1986 Hyundai Excel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

This car has block-off plates for every available dash option, from radio to clock to rear defroster button.

14 - 1986 Hyundai Excel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

Five-speed transmissions are for the weak! Do you think noted South Korean strongman Syngman Rhee would have approved of his troops driving Excels with five speeds? Hell no!

07 - 1986 Hyundai Excel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

I’d normally assume that an 89,543-mile Excel had broken something major in about 1990 and then sat dead in a driveway for 25 years prior to being sold for scrap.

25 - 1986 Hyundai Excel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

However, I happened to shoot a photo with the car’s VIN, which allowed me to check the California smog-check history database for the car’s testing history. It turns out that it last passed the smog check (after failing twice), as recently as December 2014, and had been getting smogged regularly going back as far as the available records.

21 - 1986 Hyundai Excel in California junkyard - photo by Murilee Martin

OK!

The Excel was the car that inspired the line at 2:40 in Glengarry Glen Ross: “You know why, mister? Because you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight! I drove an $80,000 BMW— that’s my name.”

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106 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1987 Hyundai Excel with Not-Rare-Enough Zero-Options Package...”


  • avatar

    If TTAC wants to do junkyard finds, then you might as well help drive internet parts and car sales by pushing used cars on willing buyers.

    You can help sell the vehicles and get a small commission.

    • 0 avatar
      Piston Slap Yo Mama

      Did you seriously just suggest that the esteemed Ms. Murilee lower himself to shilling for parts yards?
      What kind of phillistine … no, never mind. Carry on.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Not massive mileage but this cheap disposable car did well to continue in regular use until 2014.

  • avatar
    banerjba

    It is in remarkably good shape. Obviously well looked after.

    We had a 1994 model which was the last before the Accent. Mitsubishi based motor was actually very decent but the auto box was awful. It was a second car, very reliable and dirt cheap to buy and maintain. Excellent service from our local Hyundai dealer meant we traded for an 1998 Elantra. It was our last Korean car although it too was reliable. It was mostly Toyota as well as Honda and MB thereafter.

    Still Excel it was a roomy car and good for city driving. Our 1994 was a lot better made than the earlier ones. But my brother’s Tercel was so much better it was not even close. This Excel was $6995 new here in Toronto plus $1K for the autobox plus tax. It was all we could afford having bought our first new home as newlyweds. Mortgage rates were nearly 10%.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I was starting high school when these first came out and most of my friends all knew at the time these were cheap, cheap cars.

    The low quality and short operational life of these still affect my attitude towards Korean cars to this day. Well, that and spending a year in Korea in 2000 and seeing first hand the poor quality and how they didn’t hold up.

    I surprised an Excel of that vintage in any form still exists.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      which is why it surprised me when people started flocking to Hyundai and Kia several years ago.

      I guess having /no/ reputation is a lot better than trying to shake off a bad rep.

      • 0 avatar
        SaulTigh

        10 year warranties help. Also, the Kia dealership in my hometown has quite the shtick going with the sales manager playing a character who goes on and on about his “for the people” credit process (ie, subprime). You get a poor person into a brand and it’s reasonably reliable and decent, maybe much more so than they expect, and I’d bet you have a customer for life.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I want to restore that car to its former glory.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    Awesome!

    These cars were the very definition of ‘Heater and a Key’. My dad bought an Izuzu pick up in 1989 with all of the same options….

    Now that I think of it VW was offering Jettas with up until 1997 or perhaps 1998 with no Air, radio etc.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Ah, one of Alec Baldwin’s finest performances. GGR is a fantastic film!

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      He’s only in the movie for a few minutes too. He only showed up because Mitch and Murray asked him to.

      That movie had a fantastic cast. Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, and Alec Baldwin. Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Best part about that scene: the one salesguy who’s not there has a huge lead in the sales contest (you can see it on the board before Baldwin’s character flips it over). He’s getting the Eldorado. The other three guys being yelled at are going to cut each other’s balls off for that set of steak knives.

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      I replay that scene all the time. I always tell people “coffee is for closers”. There are few finer monologues in modern cinema today (yes I know it was adapted from a play but I don’t care!)

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I don’t think Blake, Baldwin’s character in GGR, is in the original play. IIRC, he was added to the play after the movie came out. Either way, the adapted screenplay is fantastic and the actors are all fantastic as well.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Is that a repaint? Fresh & clean, I’d have loved that color!

    I’d soak a mask in a quat cleaner before sticking my head in there to shoot pictures.

    • 0 avatar
      linkpin

      It was originally white. You can see it on the inside of the passenger door and in the door jambs. Come to think of it, most of the ones I saw back when they were new were either red or white.

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        Oh, yeah… plus that’s a really mottled looking topcoat on the rest of the exterior. I know some of these junkyard finds show weird weather degradation but this ain’t that.

        Too bad, otherwise reminds me of that nice drab/olive green of some Elements.

  • avatar
    sproc

    I’m just as curious about the person who chose to or was forced to drive this all the way to 2014. This car is begging for a Crabspirits piece.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Awful, awful circumstances surely.

    • 0 avatar
      Geekcarlover

      Some people (myself included) prefer to “drive it till the wheels fall off. In one case, literally. As much as I like having a newer car, I just have a hard time selling a car that still works.

      • 0 avatar
        guy922

        Im right there with you. I have the money to buy another if I wanted to, but my 1992 Camry is still useful and decent. Id hate to sell it to some young kid who would just trash it. Ill just sop up all my own miles and retire her when the time comes. Im still not even to 200k. Definitely driving until the wheels fall off!!!!!! Im actually surpised at how many new parts I am still able to obtain.

        If you can source the parts and keep her going for a low to moderate cost, why not?

  • avatar
    Notadude

    My second car was a 1986 silver Hyundai Excel hatchback with automatic transmission. At the time, I loved it because my first car, which we swapped with the guy who had the Excel, was a Porsche 914 standard. My dad referred to the 914 as a high-performance door stop because the gear box was a nightmare to engage. So, the Excel was easier to use, but unfortunately the transmission dropped out of the car twice. Yup, twice. I got smarter with age though, ‘cuz now I drive a VW Golf tdi. Heh.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      Ahh yes, the 914. I would love to have a 2.0 today. My buddy had a 914 in the 90s and it was a blast to drive. Never experienced any gearbox issues, his was fantastic.

      • 0 avatar
        Notadude

        Mine was lovely–bright yellow and restored COSMETICALLY. It had been discovered rusting in a garage where my dear old dad saw it and fell in love because he had driven a yellow one years before. His worked well, but he traded it when my brother and I came to live with him. So, though the outside was charming, the restoration did not improve the monster in the middle which often required TWO people to shove into first gear.

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    Didn’t even have the paint package.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I knew a punk rock gal who had one of these. Once a bunch of us were going to the bar and she offered to drive. Four of us, including a big 250pd guy, clambered into her little Hyundai. On the way there, I could tell the car was struggling to get up a sizable downtown hill. As soon as we reached the top, the check engine light popped on.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Semi-legit punk rock girls (or alternative music scene girls) were easy, and generally, very clean & often extremely cute-to-smoking-hot.

      True hard-core punk rock girls were too easy, sloppy, often good looking but in a many-miles-odometer way, & perpetually depressing.

      There’s a fine line between bangin’ hot & slumming it.

      It didn’t get any hotter than 19-22 year old Norwegian au pairs living in Birmingham or such suburbs who wanted to hit St. Andrews Hall or City Club and get wild on weekend nights back in 1995.

      But they were driving their host family’s “extra” BMW 328i.

      Good times even if those cars were cramped for a hot, extended hammering.

      • 0 avatar
        old5.0

        Ha! Mine was a blond from Yugoslavia. With the seats in the back of my 89 Mustang folded down, extended hammering was no problem.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          Eastern bloc, Serb, Czech, Hungarian, etc., chicks living in states were good looking, and were dirty, low down (in good way).

          Your ‘Stang was like Mercedes compared to Lada Riva, Polski Fiat 125P, Skoda Favorit, etc.

          And by the way, Czech women are, by and large, smoking hot and among most underappreciated beauties in the world.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            Having just visited the Czech Republic this past summer, I concur with your opinion of their beauties.

          • 0 avatar
            06V66speed

            Lol

            There’s no shortage of Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian women here in good ol’ St. Louis. Droves of them came over in the early 90’s following intense civil unrest (rather, war).

            On a scale of 1-10, they seem to either be a smoking hot 10 or a mean 3 or 4. Really hot or totally not.

            I’ve never, ever seen an obese European woman. Perhaps that helps.

            Hey! Honesty should count for somethin’ round here.

          • 0 avatar
            old5.0

            The car was modded for easy mid-12’s. Sounded and looked like it, too. She was, shall we say, enamored of it. Being that she was miles out of my league, I harbored no illusions regarding how we ended up in the back of it together.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            O6V – I’ve been to (at last memory) 8 or 9 European & Asian countries, and they just don’t eat processed foods, high-fructose corn syrup laden foods/drinks, CORN-derived everything, etc., like people in the U.S. do.

            It’s a shock to see how almost all women under the age of 50 or so in European and Asian countries would be considered rail thin even by San Diego/Los Angeles standards.

            The exception to this is the U.K., where BMI seems to be catching up with ‘Murica.

            *I make no moral, anti-Big Gulp, food Nazi like judgments about these things, but just am reporting what I’ve seen about body shapes/sizes.

      • 0 avatar
        dividebytube

        Oh she was very cute. I had a major crush on her for a long, long time.

        Now she’s middle-aged, not so cute, and not-quite married,but will be someday to a boyfriend who doesn’t work.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I guess it was good to come of age in Detroit during the SUV boom.

        I went to Wayne State from 06-08. I missed the golden age apparently. I have seen some great shows at St Andrews though. The best one was Queens of the Stone Age when they had Dave Grohl on drums.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          I went to LTU. my junior year, I was walking into the Sciences building, and overheard some (presumable) freshman moping to someone “dude, the parties here suck!”

          All I could think is “man, did you pick the wrong school.”

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The Lodge & 10 Mile is not where the party is at.

            When I went to Wayne State, I had a lot of classes in the Manoogian Building. Unfortunately for me, the Manoogian Building did not have parties like the Manoogian Mansion. I got to learn about the history of the modern Middle East instead.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            “The Lodge & 10 Mile is not where the party is at.”

            knew that, but that wasn’t why I was there anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Right. There are many reasons why someone should choose to go to LTU. Awesome parties are not on that list. You can always go see friends at MSU, Western, or Central if you want to party.

            I lived in the Cass Corridor during college, so I didn’t choose a school for parties either. I never checked out the crack house party scene around there either…

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            I fit the stereotype of the engineer (Q: how can you tell if an engineer is outgoing? A: When he talks to a woman he stares down at her shoes instead of his own) to a tee. Partying was /nowhere/ on the agenda (or even an option) for me in school.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Hahahaha

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Lawrence Tech is a really good school but so heavily engieering-oriented…yeah, not party school. A few people we’ve had do consulting work (structural engineering & mechanical engineering) went there.

            bball – Wayne State was REALLY tied into the Detroit alt music scene even “way” back then, and St. Andrew’s, City Club, etc., were almost extensions of Wayne’s melty (I call it melty for lack of another fake word) campus.

            One could almost tell where the approximate perimeters of Wayne’s campus were on a Friday night by just driving around slowly and listening to the music/watching college students pour into/out of houses on certain streets.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            all I know is I’m glad I got through there before Chambers started having delusions of grandeur and tried to turn it into MIT. Now I see they’re doing that “all freshman students must live on campus” BS and their tuition has become eye-watering.

  • avatar

    “Would you like the Lexus or the Hyundai?”

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    If I ever have an $80,000 BMW, I want a “Driver carries ONLY $10 in change” sticker to go with it.

  • avatar
    VTECV6NYC

    Ah, the dreaded Excel. My youngest aunt had one of these around the time I was 4 or 5 years old. I recall her imploring us not to tear the car apart, as my siblings, cousins, and I were set upon disassembling the weatherstripping and plastic door parts (handles, surrounds, panels, etc), which were appallingly easy for small hands to deconstruct. By the time she was done with the Excel, it had been in multiple accidents, was repaired using a variety of different colored car parts, and one pair of doors was held shut with a bungee cord, which made for quite an exciting ride for a bunch of kindergartners. Good times.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    My high school gym teacher had one. He drove 60 miles round trip to get to work every day (Findlay, OH to Miller City, OH) and I always assumed that he simply wanted something he could pay cash for, drive to work, and throw away when it was used up.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    A friend of mine had one of these in high school in around ’96 or so. It was slipping gears with around 85K on the clock and junked soon thereafter.

    My crapped-out ’79 Grand Prix with no reverse was far and away a better car than his even when the little Excel was running “ok”.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I present this vehicle and its 22+ year history as evidence that upgrades, options and power anything are only costly problems waiting to happen.

    Purchase a basic enough auto of any kind and with some car, you too can get over 20 years of inexpensive driving.

  • avatar
    cwallace

    This car was in continuous use up until 2014 (or so)? Crabspirits, we need you!

  • avatar
    JimInRadfordVA

    I had one of these in a Mitsubishi badged version called the Precis. AS I recall, it was about $1000 less than the Yugo, but light years ahead in quality and comfort (not that it was too difficult).

    I don’t remember having any difficulty with the vehicle and it was primarily used as a suburban commuter.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      My dad had an ’87 Precis. It honestly was a good car for the price. Bought new with cash, commuted it daily for almost ten years. Dead simple to maintain. And based on my one and only ride in a Yugo years ago, it was absolutely a superior car in every way.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      At least one dealer here in Connecticut that sold both got busted sticking Mitsubishi and Precis badges on its Excels and selling them for the higher price point.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Yugos were advertised for a thousand dollars less than the Hyundai Excel. The Precis was about $125 more than an Excel, and I don’t know what it got you other than a Mitsubishi badge. Many Excels were higher trim level cars with options that sold for considerably more than other brands’ loss leaders, but the $4,995 base price of the Excel was about $600 less than a 4-speed, one mirror base model from an established car company.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    My BIL had his intestines crushed by the rear lap-belts (no-3-point-belt) of that car in a very minor single-car accident. The other folks in the car did not even get a scratch.

  • avatar
    kinsha

    This one does have the optional rear defrost!

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    This thing does not deserve to sit between a Legend and an Altima GXE!

  • avatar
    tsoden

    Now that is a SERIOUS 4 on the floor!!!

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      My Yugo of similar vintage at least had a shift boot! However that thing was an odd shape, you sat up fairly high for what it was and very upright. That stick was looooong and flexible and the gears at the far end were not happy about having to change up. As it’s been said, like running a wooden spoon through a bag of pretzels.

  • avatar
    fishiftstick

    Bad as the first generation Excel was, it was a vast improvement on Canada’s first Hyundai, the Pony. Americans should kneel daily to thank the EPA for saving them from that steaming pile of feces, which at one point was the best-selling car in Canada.

  • avatar
    ChiefPontiaxe

    My college roommate had one of these when new. The interior looked and felt like it was made from the same plastic they use in McDonald’s booster seats.

  • avatar
    darex

    In Canada, we had the Hyundai Stellar and Hyundai Pony BEFORE the Excel, so you can only imagine how craptastic those where (although they looked nice from afar):

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyundai_Stellar

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    Look how well-stitched the rear seat back is!

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/13-1986-Hyundai-Excel-in-California-junkyard-photo-by-Murilee-Martin.jpg

    It almost reminds of a classy mb-tex’d Mercedes even.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    No air, no tunes, crank windows, vinyl seats…delightful!

    Sometimes you have to be thankful they don’t make ’em like they used to.

  • avatar
    JK43123

    I love how proudly they display the Hyundai name all over this crap interior. Much more than they do now.

    John

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    I recall going to the dealer to test and perhaps buy one when they came out, the salesman pointed to the solid thunk of the door as he shut it, then we went for a drive and it was so under-powered that he suggested I get a manual one, I walked away and never looked back

  • avatar
    TMA1

    I wonder if this car is there because it outlived its owner. A cheap car with zero options is something someone who grew up in the Depression era would have bought. After he was gone, the grandson loaded up on tacky stickers before scraping enough cash together for the 15-year old Civic he really wanted.

    Oh, and Hyundai needs to back to that Mustang logo. That’s pretty sweet.

    • 0 avatar
      outback_ute

      I think you are right.

      “I can’t think of any vehicle manufacturer whose products improved as much and as quickly as Hyundai’s did between the ghastly first-gen Excel and the very nice Hyundais of, say, the current century.”

      I would nominate Benz from 1886-1916, although I will concede it may be cheating a bit.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Why hasn’t Hyundai ever dropped the awkward-for-Westerners “y”?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Because they’re a very proud people, and have already adjusted it for US pronunciations in their adverts. The actual pronunciation is hyoon-die.

      Also, their cars in America are just a small part of their overall giant-scale operation. They’re the Korean version of a keiretsu like Mitsubishi or Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        I was thinking of Toyoda > Toyota but Wiki has a neat explanation of how factors other than Western ears were involved:

        “In September 1936, the company ran a public competition to design a new logo. Of 27,000 entries, the winning entry was the three Japanese katakana letters for “Toyoda” in a circle. But Risaburō Toyoda, who had married into the family and was not born with that name, preferred “Toyota” (トヨタ) because it took eight brush strokes (a lucky number) to write in Japanese, was visually simpler (leaving off the diacritic at the end), and with a voiceless consonant instead of a voiced one (voiced consonants are considered to have a “murky” or “muddy” sound compared to voiceless consonants, which are “clear”).
        Inside the house of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda, near Toyota City

        Since toyoda literally means “fertile rice paddies”, changing the name also prevented the company from being associated with old-fashioned farming. The newly formed word was trademarked and the company was registered in August 1937 as the Toyota Motor Company.”

        Maybe “Hundai” would have some similarly quaint or inelegant connotation. And Lucky 8! Is Hangul concerned with stroke count?

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I think in Korea it would be highly undesirable for someone to “prefer” a different spelling or version. It is a specific name (though not any one person’s family name like Toyoda.)

          Korean is concerned with syllables, and that’s how the “letters” are grouped.

          So since Hyundai is two syllables, you’ve got two character sets. 현대

          Little hat = h
          Bar with two lines = ye
          L = n
          C = d
          H = ae

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Ah, so it’s a syllabary like Japanese hiragana (あ, い, う, え お..etc).

            Sounds like hangul might also, like hiragana, be an indigenous form of writing predating the adoption of Chinese characters (which I think you said Korean also does).

            Neat stuff.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            It’s the reverse! Korea used select Chinese characters for a long time, and the Hangeul was adapted from it.

            Any time you see a really old temple with a sign, or some old building, perhaps an old sign for a park, it’s in Chinese. Kids still learn the Chinese characters as they’re sometimes used in formal documents.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Wow… that IS hugely different.

            I thought simplified Chinese heavily morphed a lot of traditional hanzi but Hangeul *really* went to town on it!

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        “hyoon-die” is the way the Japanese say it. The Korean is more like “hyun-day.”

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I think I spied a trip odometer. Maybe that wasn’t an option and it came with all the cars.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I think it was standard. It would have been too much trouble to stock two different speedometers in the factory or make another block off plate.

      No radio, I guess the owner hummed to themselves or engauged in deep thoughts while driving.

      Back in the early 70’s on a family vacation to Florida we rented a VW Beetle with no radio or a/c but it did have the pop out rear windows. We took a transistor radio and hung it from the wrist strap on the hazard knob on the dash with the antenna up toward the windshield. The reception was more than good enough to enjoy the Top-40 sounds on WQAM and Larry King’s talk show on WIOD.

  • avatar
    revjasper

    Speaker grilles and a radio blanking plate? My 1992 Tercel needed to have holes cut in the door cards to add speakers. What luxury!

    Can anyone tell me the most recent car to not come with a radio? The 2010 Hyundai Accent “blue” comes to mind, again wired for stereo with a blanking plate. But by then, I believe they came with speakers too. $7,777 and one could be yours!

  • avatar
    hawox

    not different from many of the europens medium sized cars of the era.
    my dad’s fiat strada also had 4 speed gearbox with a patetic 55bhp engine.
    no radio, no holes for antenna or speakers, no rev counter, no defroster. i remember the heater fan only had 2 speeds both useless.
    at 60.000 miles was garbage.
    so i don’t think those hyundai were really that bad in perspective

  • avatar
    Dave W

    My sister bought one new in ’86, it only made it to around ’94. On the other hand it had +160k on it by then. Lots of cars were only 4 speeds back then, but by the time my sister moved to CO what she really wanted was more horses not more gears. She called it Fred because living over 7,000 feet she wanted to but her feet through the floor and run to get it over passes.

  • avatar
    guy922

    I had a neighbor growing up in Denver who had a 1987 Excel sedan in white. It was actually well cared for, It had been in regular use up to at least 2007. The only one I remember in use recently. I love this kind of bare bones find. No tach with a manual trans. Vinyl seating that looks to have held up well. Nice find!

  • avatar
    jamescyberjoe

    I had a GF once that had this same model. I think it was a similar color but at least it did have that Panasonic cassette stereo system that Hyundai used to prominently advertise back then. It was the only good thing about the car.

    It was always breaking. Always. And that stick was a real workout. I got one of the best BJ’s from her in that car…that’s why I remember it so fondly


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