The Truth About Cars » Hyundai Excel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:58:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Hyundai Excel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Question: Notoriously Unreliable Cars That Were Bulletproof For You? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/question-notoriously-unreliable-cars-that-were-bulletproof-for-you/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/12/question-notoriously-unreliable-cars-that-were-bulletproof-for-you/#comments Fri, 14 Dec 2012 17:45:52 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=470175 For every Junkyard Find of, say, a Malaise Era bomb that fired several torpedoes into the already leaky hull of a once-great car company, there will be at least one reader who writes a comment that goes something like “I bought one of these cars new, and it went 300,000 trouble-free miles on logging roads in Trinity County. This car’s bad image was undeserved, folks!” Just as it’s possible to have fun with a rented Corolla (just kidding, there is no way to have fun of any sort in a rented Corolla), it’s possible for a first-gen Excel or Sterling 827 to survive like a Slant-Six Valiant sedan.
The Volkwsagen Type 4. The Chevy Vega. Just about any Mitsubishi product built between the A6M Zero and, like, five years ago. Many of us have had such an odds-beating car (I’d like to say that my Peugeot 504 held together like an Accord, but such was nowhere near the case).
So, let’s hear those stories! Set the record straight! Feel free to add tirades about what a bad rap the (Mazda RX-2, Ford EXP, Fiat 128, Jaguar XJ-S) got.

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Junkyard Find: 1993 Hyundai Excel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1993-hyundai-excel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1993-hyundai-excel/#comments Wed, 31 Oct 2012 13:00:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=465401 The first-gen Hyundai Excel was sold in the United States for the 1986 through 1989 model years, and it was a supremely bad automobile. So bad, in fact, that most of them were used up and crushed by the middle of the 1990s. Because of their rarity today, I always photograph early Excels when I see them (including this ’86, this ’87, and this ’88). Hyundai did a fairly extensive cosmetic facelift for the 1990 Excel, and this generation was sold though the 1994 model year. The second-gen version was much more reliable than the first— it would have been hard not to improve upon the fantastically crappy 1986-89 Excels— but by that time just about everybody knew to stay away from the model. That makes these cars even harder to find than the initially-hot-selling first-gen Excels. Here’s a ’93 that I spotted at a self-service yard in Denver.
A modern EFI system on the licensed-from-Mitsubishi engine helped a lot.
This car barely cracked six figures on the odometer, but that’s still a lot better than most of its predecessors.

Here we see a happy South Korean family getting all schmaltzy with their ’93 Excel.

Just a decade before, South Korean car ads were much more macho, as seen in this Daewoo Maepsy ad.
By the time of the second-gen Excel, you could get a sporty coupe version (called the Scoupe in North America and the S Coupe in Europe). I’ve managed to find just one junkyard Scoupe since beginning this series.

17 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 1993 Hyundai Excel Down On the Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1988 Hyundai Excel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1988-hyundai-excel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/10/junkyard-find-1988-hyundai-excel/#comments Fri, 26 Oct 2012 13:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=464912 I stand firm in my belief that the first-gen Hyundai Excel was the worst automobile available in America during the last quarter of the 20th century, and that includes the wretched Yugo GV (if the Austin Rover Group had imported the Metro to these shores, however, the Excel might have been knocked from its dubious pedestal). You don’t see these cars on the street, and they’re very rare in junkyards, but I’ve managed to find three of the things this year.
There was this ’87, then this ’86, and today’s find finishes out the trio. I found each of these cars in Northern California yards, which must mean something.
By 1988, some of the worst bugs had been worked out of the Excel. This one has a few luxury touches, including an automatic transmission.

Buy two!
A lot of rare-on-the-street cars sit in driveways or backyards for many years before getting scrapped, but this car has two-year-old San Francisco parking permits. You can tell from the thickness of the stack of stickers that it lived on SF streets— some of the toughest on cars in the country— for a decade or more. What stories this car could tell!
But then there’s the matter of just 36,000 miles on the clock. Perhaps it was driven sparingly.

16 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 01 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 1988 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture Courtesy of Murilee Martin Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Junkyard Find: 1986 Hyundai Excel GL http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/junkyard-find-1986-hyundai-excel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/09/junkyard-find-1986-hyundai-excel/#comments Wed, 12 Sep 2012 13:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=459949 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.

14 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 01 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 02 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 03 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 04 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 05 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 06 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 07 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 08 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 09 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 10 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 11 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 12 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden 13 - 1986 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Picture courtesy of Phil 'Murilee Martin' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Vellum Venom: 1986 Hyundai Excel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/vellum-venom-1986-hyundai-excel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/vellum-venom-1986-hyundai-excel/#comments Thu, 26 Jul 2012 12:56:03 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=454228 Sometimes designers become super stars in the car biz: just ask that dude who made the Ford GT, or the other dude responsible for the Chrysler 300. I am sure both made other vehicles which they truly hated.  Perhaps the 300′s designer shares some amount of blame for the last Chrysler Sebring?  I am sure that Ital Design’s Giorgetto Giugiaro has the same problem, but Hyundai wrote him a check and he made it happen.  Quite honestly, the original Hyundai Excel here in the USA wasn’t a bad car at all.  Bad looking, that is.

And honestly, after walking around this example at a historically savvy Hyundai dealer (next to a Lamborghini Dealership that bored me after 20 minutes) I suggest to you, dear reader, that the Excel sold so unbelievably well on both price and design. Because this machine could look much, much worse.

 

 

Boring and Boxy?  Yes, but the Excel is also very clean and well-integrated, when you consider the design confines of a low asking price.

Note how the signal lights are cleanly and very deeply sunken, instead of screwed on top. There’s an overabundance of parallel lines, which shows a bit of “big picture” thinking by a wise design team.  And every seam and cut line is remarkably well placed. Today’s cars could learn A LOT from the Excel.

 

The grille is the Excel’s best work: the one piece black plastic affair elegantly stores an emblem, headlights and is a natural extension of the parallel lines in the bumper and the slight curvature of the signal lense. And the grille ends at the same point where the hood and fender meet.  It may not have Italian flair, but someone sweated the details…on a tight budget.

 

You can see the harmonious lines here.  You can also see the less than perfect panel gaps and the tacked on side marker light, but this is anything but offensive to someone in dire need of cheap wheels.

 

When is the last time you saw a car that the hood, fender and lighting pods began and ended so logically? Even the grille’s modest and purposeful slats just makes sense (get it?) on this face. If Hyundai installed flush fitting headlamps in 1986, this Excel would look like a proper 1970s concept car from damn near any high dollar design firm. Which is a compliment, of a very high order.

 

Too bad the white lense couldn’t wrap around juuust a little more.  This would extend the grille’s curvature and make the Excel look a little less static.  Then again, this is a very static and boxy design from any angle outside of the grille, so perhaps Ital Design was on to something.

Once again, note the purposeful and super cheap signal lights.  Something about them screams “honest” like no car can today.

 

The hood crease doesn’t line up with a natural place in the grille, rather it comes from a place inside the headlights.  This probably keeps the Excel from looking like it was designed using a T-square at every angle…probably a good move by the Italians.

 

A tiny cowl with a similarly small dashboard.  Does it look cheap, or do you wish history could repeat itself?  Honestly, I don’t know the right answer.

 

Note the lack of DLO fail: the fender and A-pillar meet in such a logical manner. If only modern cars could replicate this.  That would mean abandoning today’s truck like nose swooping back to a wanna-be sports car greenhouse.  The Excel has a small nose and plenty of tall and upright glass.  It’s almost impossible to mess this one up.

Another shocker: wrap around door pillars on a Hyundai Excel?  This bit of 1980s aerodynamic kit was available on a car this cheap? Surely this door was far more expensive to pop off compared to a Yugo portal!

 

No, I am not pointing at the stain.  The crease in the fender turns into a large fold after it crosses the mirror.  This fold becomes a very important part of the Excel’s profile.  While the transition is far from organic, it works.

 

Another fold in the sheet metal. This not only gives the Excel a bit of negative area to break up the (still) very boxy side, it also makes for a logical place to insert some door guards.

More importantly, they put that guard on the fender?  That’s not a cheap item for such a cheap car.  Put it this way: the Ford Crown Victoria had this bit of plastic from 1992 until the mid-2000s, which Ford decided to thrift it out and let the fenders not match the doors.  Nice job Hyundai, you had something to prove while Ford had something to slowly kill for no good reason.

 

I can’t adequately explain why, but the rubber and chrome guards on this Excel integrate well with the door handles.  It says “cheap, yet cheerful.”  I also like how the side view mirror is by no means an afterthought…even if the wheels and signal lights need a lot of help.

 

One reason this Excel is in such good shape is because it sits underneath an awning, with an annoying pole right  in the middle! Luckily the B&B will fix it for me using some madtite photoshop skillz.

 

That problem resolved, there’s nothing wrong with the Excel from this angle.  It’s the classic “three box” design for a sedan. But the fender crease turns into a big crease under the door’s glass, and quickly merges with the rear door’s vent window.  The lower trim isn’t out of place.  The C-pillar is almost fast, yet there is so much greenhouse you are guaranteed not to feel claustrophobic in this machine.

Okay, maybe that last bit was going over the top.  No matter, this isn’t a bad piece of work for an Italian design firm. Not great, but certainly not bad.

 

The urge to grab a Testor’s paint marker (flat black, ‘natch) and remedy this odd showing of bling was tough to overcome.  Because it does detract from the smooth B-pillar, and the gentle (but present) use of wrap around door pillars. Not a cheap bit of stamping for a super cheap car.

 

The greenhouse is gigantic on this Hyundai!  It’s hard to dislike this angle when you consider every car looks like a submarine these days, but 1980s econoboxes looked cheap for a reason…and this is it.

Still, I love how the door cutline follows the natural line of the wheel well, then goes up and “back” to shadow the curve of the C-pillar. And no stupid black plastic triangle!

Oh crap, I’m starting to like this shitty little car.

 

The steel wheels are plain but somewhat easy on the eyes.  Someone bothered to put a flat plane around each vent hole, and they have a nice “dish” to the rim like most rims from this era.  The center cap is clean and modern, if a bit oversized for a car this size.

 

A locking gas cap?  I am not entirely sure of this Excel’s trim level (it was repainted and debadged and I’m not buying a brochure on eBay to verify) but this highline model has a nice touch that you never see anymore.  For good reason?  Perhaps, but this is another “honest” design element that I can appreciate.

 

Just like the front, but red. And it’s poor, but very honest!

 

The rear window matches the C-pillar’s angle quite well.  And there’s a slight amount of tumblehome, which looks out of proportion with the door’s relative straightness.  Dare I say it, can someone chop the roof down so it won’t overpower the doors?

Nah, I take that back.  This makes up for all the Chrysler 300s I’ve seen this past year. It’s refreshing, dammit!

 

Most of its Japanese and American competition had nicer side contouring, but they were all much more expensive.

Whoa dude, check out the logical trunk cut line, just like the hood!  The current Hyundai Elantra could learn a thing or two from its Excel forefather.

 

I like the hard bend to quickly and definitively transition from the C-pillar to the back of the roof.  Even more important, there’s another hard bend that accentuates the wrap around doors.  How much did this car cost when new?

 

Since I couldn’t get a decent shot of “my” Excel, this factory shot shows off the roof’s hard bend and the creases in the side.  You didn’t think the Excel could make the shadows dance with the light, did ya? Another thing you will see (in brutal detail) is the pure and functional design of the tail lights.  Simply put, they blend very well with the design.

 

More excellent usage of parallel lines.  The tail lights wrap around the quarter panel fairly nicely.  There are several bends that keep the boxy trunk and bumpers from looking like (just like the photo of the hood crease) the Hyundai Excel was designed using a T-square. That’s proved further by the negative area on the bumper and between the taillights. Even the trunk lock/handle is well thought out…at this asking price.

 

A gigantic wart of a lighting pod with exposed screws. Cheap, but who cares?  The Excel is now a museum piece.  It shows how things used to be done, and how lucky we are today!

 

Every line is in its right place, if only the trunk’s panel gaps were consistent.  And is it just me, or  are those tail lights a little on the Ferrari Testarossa side?

 

A ribbed, staggered tail light profile?  Don’t look now, but every Mercedes from the 1980s is blushing!

 

I swiped this photo (credit given) since I couldn’t get this far away from my example.  The Excel is boxy and chunky (never mind that aftermarket spoiler) but there’s no shame in being a cheap but purposefully designed three-box sedan.

 

This model came with the luggage rack, which is now mostly missing.  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t detract from the mystique of the Hyundai Excel.

 

Even their license plate graphics conveys the unabashedly cheap demeanor of the Excel. Very kitch, but the trunk lock/handle is definitely a cool bit of cheap car design.

 

Unlike so many modern cars that chrome out this feature in hopes of looking larger than life, the Excel’s exhaust pipe doesn’t overpromise. Honesty is a good thing, in this case: the motor never really delivered for the Amercian market. Oh well! Goodbye dear Hyundai Excel, I learned much from your logical Italian design. And I hope you did too.

Thank you all for reading, have a great weekend!

 

 

 

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Junkyard Find: 1987 Hyundai Excel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1987-hyundai-excel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/junkyard-find-1987-hyundai-excel/#comments Sat, 11 Feb 2012 14:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=430174 Would you believe that the first-generation Hyundai Excel is now one of the rarest of Junkyard Finds? It’s true! The 1985-1989 Excel was so incredibly terrible— in my opinion, even worse than the Yugo— that just about every example in North America was dead and crushed by about 1995. In fact, in recent years I’ve seen more Crusher-bound Mitsubishi Cordias than early Excels. The closest I’ve come was this ’91 Hyundai Scoupe, based on the second-gen Excel and nowhere near as wretched as its predecessor.
With just over 100,000 miles on the clock, this car proved to be one of the most reliable first-gen Excels ever built.
Lesson to struggling automakers: If Hyundai can go from building excrementally bad cars to building very good ones in a mere 20 years, there’s hope for you!

10 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 01 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 02 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 03 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 04 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 05 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 06 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 07 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 08 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden 09 - 1987 Hyundai Excel Down On The Junkyard - Pictures courtesy of Phillip 'Yugo Envy' Greden Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Curbside Classic: 1989 Ford Festiva – Korea Week Shitbox Shoot-out Loser http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1989-ford-festiva-korea-week-shitbox-shoot-out-loser/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1989-ford-festiva-korea-week-shitbox-shoot-out-loser/#comments Sat, 20 Nov 2010 18:12:38 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=373693

The Korean invasion began in the late eighties with three shitboxes: the Hyundai Excel, the Pontiac LeMans, and the Ford Festiva. Korea Week CC pits them against each other to determine the outcome: the Festiva loses the contest by a large margin. Why?

It was way too good of a car. So losing is winning in this showdown. Now undeniably, the Festiva still falls into the shitbox category by virtue of its looks alone; in fact it’s styling couldn’t be more so: somewhere between a porta-potty and a litter box. As my eighteen year-old would say: strictly a no-sex box.

Yup, the Festiva took the form that the original Honda Civic popularized fifteen years earlier, and turned it into a generic Wal Mart version. No need to spend money for Giugiaro here. It’s almost a dead-ringer for the Civic in terms of size. But that’s not the only one: Ford’s very similarly named Fiesta obviously comes into the picture too. And given their similarities in name, form, function and both carrying the Blue Oval, comparisons are inevitable.

The Fiesta was a true little gem in its time, that being a critical part of the comparison. The Fiesta arrived before Honda started getting back to its performance roots; in the US, anyway. Since Ford only sent the 1.6 L version of the Fiesta, it was the hottest little pocket rocket of its day. Thus its cult status.

Things had changed dramatically by the time of the Festiva’s appearance in 1988. By then, hot Hondas and other rice-flavored delights of the mid-late eighties changed the landscape, so by the time the Festiva appeared with about the same performance envelope as the Fiesta, it was instantly relegated to shitbox status.

But if one’s appreciation for the timeless joys of minimalistic motoring was undulled by the late eighties’ excesses, the Festiva was the warm little ticket. Because unlike the Excel and the LeMans, nothing was lost in the translation from the Japanese Mazda 121 into the Korean Festiva. Kia followed the original faithfully, and the result is obvious. How so?

I considered myself lucky to find one example each of the gen1 Excel and the Daewoo LeMans. But I could go out and find half a dozen of these Festivas this morning if I needed to. There’s one for sale at the Official CC Sales Lot. The sheer numbers add up to the Festiva’s loss/win; but that’s not all. The Festiva is a blast to drive, if you’re into the underpowered shitbox thing. I am.

There’s no better way to enjoy automotive minimalism than with the Festiva. Forget all the chatter about electric vs. hydraulic power steering; unless you’ve savored the pleasure of no power steering at all in a light little car – that makes me wonder how many younger drivers have never driven a car without power steering. A show of hands, please?

Granted, the Festiva was best in urban settings, where its telephone booth visibility (and size) made it perfect for the task of gaining every inch of advantage possible in thick traffic. My experience in one was in San Francisco, and the Festiva shone there. Precious parking spaces that other cars would have needed casters to fit in were a breeze. And there’s nothing like catching a bit of air in a Festiva on the hills.

As alluded to earlier, the Festiva is a Mazda 121 in everything but name, and lives up to its zoom-zoom heritage; or at least tries hard to. Curiously, the 121 was never sold in Japan, but a Japanese-made Festiva was, at Ford’s Autorama dealer network. Japanese tie-ups and dealer networks are a complicated thing. And outside of the US, the little Kia was called the Pride, and  built up until to 2000. And like the LeMans that found an immortal home in Uzbekistan, the Kia Pride is still going strong in Iran. The license built SAIPA Saba and its successors including a pickup version account for some 40% of the Iranian market. It’s a small world after all.

Unless I was having too much fun last night, my memory tells me that the Festiva was the last of the true lovable shitboxes. The Geo Metro is close, but the Festiva’s 1.3 L four will blow away the Metro’s little three-pot. The Suzuki Swift with its 1.3 L four, perhaps. As Michael Karesh pointed out in his Hyundai i10 review, the i10 is within inches of the Festiva. And they both have that same tall stance with tiny wheels that makes it look like they will fall over in a strong breeze. It may look dorky, but it does the job, especially in the right setting. Manufacturers: the shitbox segment is wide open; these Festivas are holding up surprisingly well, but eventually they’ll need to be replaced.

More new Curbside Classics here

]]> http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1989-ford-festiva-korea-week-shitbox-shoot-out-loser/feed/ 87 Curbside Classic: 1988 Hyundai Excel – The Damn Near Deadly Sin http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1988-hyundai-excel-the-damn-near-deadly-sin/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/curbside-classic-1988-hyundai-excel-the-damn-near-deadly-sin/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 16:58:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=372753

Americans are a forgiving sort, and redemption from sin is just the right gesture away. Well, that applies more to politicians and celebrities than to car companies. It can be a little more challenging to overcome the damage from a poor quality car, especially if you’re the brand new kid on the block. Just ask Yugo; they quickly walked away. As did Peugeot, Alfa, Fiat and countless other imports, even though they had been around for decades.  But the Koreans are a tough and determined folk, and when they got their less-than Excellent head handed to them on a platter, they dug in their heels and figured out what it would take to be given a second chance. 

The Excel was Hyundai’s first fully self-developed car, which suggests that they might well have waited a couple of years before tackling the world’s biggest and must demanding car market. Hyundai Motors itself got its start in 1967, building licensed Ford Cortinas. The next big leap forward came in 1975, when the Pony appeared (below).

Technically, the Pony was developed by Hyundai too, but with a lot of hired help. George Turnbull, former Managing Director of Austin-Morris at British Leyland quit in 1972, and as a parting gift (to himself?), took two Austin Marinas with him. Turnbull and the Marinas turned up at Hyundai, along with some other ex-BL designers and engineers. The resulting RWD Pony certainly reflects its origins, although Giorgetto Giugiaro was hired to do the final styling.  At least the Marina’s ancient BMC engine was abandoned, in favor of Mitsubishi units in 1.2, 1.4, and 1.6 L size.

Hyundai’s exports began with the Pony, including Europe, and Canada from 1983 on. The Canadians took a particular shine to it, and the Pony was a big hit up north, selling over 50k units annually. When I was in Korea in 1980, traffic was a sea of these Ponys, including pickup versions. Every taxi ride reinforced the image of what it was: the developing world appliance-mobile; simple, rough riding, noisy, but rugged in that old-school RWD way.

Since it wouldn’t meet US standards, we were spared its pleasures on our home turf, although I doubt it would have compared all that poorly to the similar RWD Datsun 210s and Corollas of the times; maybe a bit less refined. After a ten year run, Hyundai was ready to take the plunge into the FWD world; a tricky transition that had tripped up more than one major manufacturer.

The Excel was fully Hyundai developed, although Giugiaro styled the body again. And with their new baby, Hyundai launched a massive assault on the US in 1986. Powered by a very attractive $4,995 ($10k adjusted) starting price, the Excel arrived at an auspicious time, given that the Voluntary Import Restrictions caused shortages of Japanese cars, rapidly rising prices, dealer markups, and waiting lists.

The infamous Yugo (I’m still hoping to find one for CC) had appeared just the year before, priced at a rock-bottom $3990. But there were serious doubts about the Yugo’s provenance and durability from the beginning, and they quickly proved to be all-too true. For a grand more, the Hyundai looked very appealing, even if the Made-In-Korea stamp back then had the the equivalent image of Made-In-China in more recent times.

Putting quality issues aside, the Excel was a steal compared to the barely warmed-over tiny ex-Fiat Yugo. The Excel looked handsome enough for the times, was fairly roomy, and its driving dynamics were adequately competitive with the lowest-end Japanese imports, while undercutting them by several thousand dollars.

The result was explosive, with Hyundai selling 126k Excels in the US that first year. That was the biggest first year sales performance of a newly introduced import brand ever. But it quickly unraveled.

The Excel was Hyundai’s GM X-Body (Citation, etc.), its builder having underestimated the challenges of a completely new FWD car with all-new engines and transaxles. Quality and reliability issues surfaced very quickly, and Hyundai was tainted with the same bad rep that killed the Yugo. I don’t know exactly what the early Excel’s greatest weaknesses were, but American import drivers had been spoiled by the Japanese cars’ well honed reliability by then, and were not about to embrace anything retrograde in that department.

And what were they like to drive? It was a highly unmemorable experience. I drove one once, fairly briefly, and my only now-dim impressions were of it being a reasonably functional appliance. It didn’t inspire in any regard, but neither did it engender loathing. The 1.5 L engine teamed with the three-speed automatic was feebler than average, certainly more so than a Sentra and Civics of the times I had experience with.

Hyundai limped along in the US, having made dubious history with its explosive introduction followed by its nearly immediate implosion. But time and continued steady progress in resolving the Excel’s issues healed some of the wounds. Whether Hyundai purposely waited some ten years before it got aggressive with its ten-year 100k mile warranty and a massive product expansion is unclear. But Hyundai is a text book case of how to redeem oneself with the demanding American consumer: hang around long enough and keep putting your face out there, and pretty soon all is forgiven. Image Rehab: an American specialty; available to Koreans too.

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Curbside Classics: Two Oddballs From 1987: Jeep Wagoneer And Mitsubishi Precis http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/curbside-classics-two-oddballs-from-1987-jeep-wagoneer-and-mitsubishi-precis/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/curbside-classics-two-oddballs-from-1987-jeep-wagoneer-and-mitsubishi-precis/#comments Sun, 17 Jan 2010 02:46:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=342044 odd ball Hyundai

The visit to the yard of the Saab 99 owner was…stimulating, and…out of the ordinary. And a brief tour of his house furthered that impression; and the pirate ship in the front yard cemented it. So when I found my way to the curb, and saw two pretty ordinary looking cars sitting there (his tenants’, I assume), I felt I had returned to a more conventional plane. But then I realized: these are both oddballs too! Must be something about this neighborhood.

cherokee's oddball brother

Well, lets just say they were the unusual variants and re-badges of two very common and popular cars: the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) and the Hyundai Excel. The Cherokee is of course one of the all-time iconic vehicles in the modern age, and a full CC (hopefully) worthy of its esteemed place on the top of Mt. Olympus (which it got to under its own mortal four wheel drive) is forthcoming. As an ex-Cherokee owner, it could well be an ode of possibly interminable length. Anyway, its easy to forget that the Cherokee had a woody brother for the first couple of years, the (un-Grand) Wagoneer.

lil woody wagoneer

The little Wagoneer was designed to replace its big hulking gas-slurping brother, but like the FWD Ford Probe was supposed to replace the Mustang, the RWD originals endured and long outlived their usurpers. The Wagoneer/Cherokee were designed right at the height of the early eighties energy crisis, but by the time they hit the dealers in 1984, oil prices were in their very long decline. The Grand Wagoneer was given a stay of execution, and soldiered on through 1991. But the little Wagoneer was long gone by then. Ironically, it was designed to have as much or more interior passenger space as the big guy, whose design dated back to 1963. But space and fuel efficiency was not the driving force behind the decision to buy a Grand Wagoneer; pretty much the exact opposite. Meanwhile, the little Wagoneer never found its niche.

doesn't stand for precision

The Mitsubishi Precis is nothing more than a Hyundai Excel, badged so that Mitsu had a rock-bottom entry-level car to sell between 1987 and 1994. In case you’ve forgotten the story from the recent Dodge Colt/Champ CC, there was a big little reason for Mitsubishi to be selling this car: it shared its engine and many other components with the Dodge Colt/Champ/Mitsubishi Mirage. So really, Mitsubishi was just keeping its old Colt going in the form of the Precis. Convenient for the parts department too.

These Hyundais have a pretty bad rep, from the rough start they had in the US. We’ll do a full Excel CC sometime, but lets just say it was somewhat understandable. Hyundai had been building the very crude and simple RWD Pony for years, and the Excel was its first huge step into modern FWD cars. Just like GM and other companies stubbed their toes with a major transition like this, so did Hyundai. They should have waited a couple of years before they jumped into the US market. And while the very first few years of Excels really were pretty shaky, they got better pretty quickly. But Hyundai’s rep was already damaged, and it took some heavy lifting to get it back. And did they ever!

the two faces of eugene

A final note as we say goodbye to this unusual quadruple CC  property. Lest you think I’m trying to perpetuate the stereotype that all, or even much of Eugene looks like this, just take a look at the house right next door in the last shot. It couldn’t be more different and conventional: the yard is all neatly cut grass, and there’s a clean Ford F-150 in the driveway. The two faces of Eugene co-existing side by side; in harmony, I assume.

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