By on October 20, 2011

Here’s another one for the “Whatever Happened To…” file: the Hyundai Scoupe. I’m in Southern California for a couple of days, prior to heading north with Judge Jonny to judge at the Skankaway Anti-Toe-Fungal 500, and decided to visit one of the junkyards that provided many of the parts for the ’65 Impala Hell Project. Right away, I find a car I’d forgotten even existed.
The Hyundai Scoupe was a crypto-sporty coupe version of the second-gen Excel; by this time, the Excel wasn’t quite as terrible as the worst car of the 1980s, including the Yugo, but it was still bad enough that just about every example was crushed before Bill Clinton left the White House. That makes this car a rare find indeed.
Imagine you’re a young car shopper in 1990, having to choose between a new Scoupe and maybe a three-year-old Plymouth Turismo Duster.
Could this be the last Scoupe in the world?

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56 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1991 Hyundai Scoupe...”

  • avatar

    Wasn’t there a turbo version of this car? I knew people that had Scoupes, and seemed to love them at first, that is until they started breaking.

  • avatar

    I think Richard Hammond bought one of these on Top Gear when they had some crappy car challenge. Of course they kept referencing it as the “Ess Coupee” since they’re silly like that.

    I’m surprised the paint appears to be in such good condition so many years later. And yes, there apparently was a turbo version according to the wiki article.

    • 0 avatar

      >”I think Richard Hammond bought one of these on Top Gear when they had some crappy car challenge. Of course they kept referencing it as the “Ess Coupee” since they’re silly like that.”

      Not silly it’s how the name is pronounced. Scoop is a novel by a bloke with a woman’s name.

      SCoupe had a 1.6 L MPI DOHC engine, the standard Excel was 1.5L SOHC with TBI, although the upgraded engine was introduced during the SCoupe’s life confusingly.

  • avatar

    Anyone who thinks the Excel was the worst car Hyundai ever made should consider themselves lucky that they don’t have to deal with the frightening memories of the Pony like us Canadians.

  • avatar

    Somewhere, as Baruth discovered with the Ford Aspire, there is someone who collects these.

    • 0 avatar

      Not a collection, but I know of someone who has a meticulously-maintained Scoupe, down to the unmolested-by-rust white paint and eighties-vintage GFX stickers.

      Panther love has nothing on that.

    • 0 avatar

      Sort of reminds me of the Yugo-driving clan in the Danny DeVito/Bette Midler/Jamie Lee Curtis/Neve Campbell (!) epic, “Drowning Mona.”

  • avatar

    The late 1980s brought the Koreans to shore. The Daewoo Opel knock-off was being sold as a Pontiac Lemans, the Kia Mazda 121 knock-off was being sold as a Ford Festiva, and the Mitsubishi Excel knock-off was being sold as a Hyundai Excel.

    I wondered how good the Korean Opels and Mazdas were, but had no illusions regarding the Excel. The Pontiac Opel and the Ford Mazda were tiny cars with bargain prices, but the Excel was a larger car with even lower bargain prices, and immediately I didn’t expect anything decent to be found in the Hyundais as a result.

    Within a year, folks with these new Hyundais were confirming how bad these cars were. Along with Yugoslavian Yugos also being sold at that time, it seemed that this new wave of non-Japanese imports were not holding up.

    The surprise ended up over the really well made Festiva, the Mazda 121 made by Kia. My friend’s Pontiac LeMans ended up being a POS, but the Festiva ended up being the real gem in this South Korean wave.

    News spread out fast enough so that within five years Hyundai was on the ropes. The SCoupe was unveiled demonstrating that Hyundai was not going to remain simply reassembling the Excel in plain vanilla. While still an Excel, the SCoupe showed that there were still people at Hyundai with plans on building cars for Americans.

    The SCoupe is the first South Korean car that followed up the first wave of Korean cars – the LeMans never had a second act and was killed off in the States, and the Festiva was ruined by gaining 400 pounds, adding an automatic transmission, losing it’s purposeful shape and being renamed the Aspire in 1993. The SCoupe was the first of the second wave of South Korean cars in the USA.

    The SCoupe was better than the Excel, but incrementally so. It may have helped Hyundai, but not so much that Hyundai suffered through some very severe model years during the entire 1990s. Hyundai took a remarkable opportunity of selling cars by the hundreds of thousands in the USA and squandered it by producing a car not ready to be sold to the USA. Along with the Yugo and the Daewoo Pontiac, South Korean cars did not have a pretty launch in their first decade of efforts.

    The SCoupe was a demonstration that Hyundai did have a Plan B somewhere in their plans, even if it wasn’t much of a Plan at that time. These cars only appeared as a two door, had the larger Excel engine in them, and had the promise of being assembled a little more professionally than the cars it sat next to in the Hyundai showrooms. The SCoupe looked slightly more modern, slightly more substantial and slightly worth more than it’s sticker price.

    • 0 avatar

      The Excel and SCoupe’ was not a re badged Mitsubishi Excel the Mitsubishi Precis was the re-badged Excel which was based on the old Mistubishi Colt platform.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      “The SCoupe was the first of the second wave of South Korean cars in the USA.”

      1989 Sonata. Built in Canada, too (but Hyundai and Canada don’t like to talk about that).

  • avatar

    I believe the turbo models had the 4G61T. People would swap in the 4G63T from a DSM. It was a bolt in engine (besides wiring and making room for turbo stuff) making this car a super death machine.

    • 0 avatar

      Scoupe Turbo have engine marked as G4EK-TC. It was first, Hyundai-built engine witch some minority changes and Garrett T15 turbocharger.
      Unfortunately it was quite weaker than 4G61T but for car weghts less then a 1000kgs it was enough for meka esome fun ;)

  • avatar

    I remember these blowing blue smoke when they were just a few years old. I can’t remember seeing one in a long time.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    In the early 90’s when I was young and a lot more foolish than I am (still) now, I considered one of these. At the time I was driving a late 80’s vintage Escort. I wanted small, sporty and efficient.

    Then, I read the safety record on these things and the 5x greater than any car its size incidents of severe head trauma in head-on and off-set collisions….and decided, nah, I’d better go something bigger and safer.

    These, I think, were Hyundai’s taking a page from the Honda playbook and emulating the Prelude….I liked the lines and angles of this little coupe…but glad I didn’t buy one….6 months later I got into an accident with my Chrysler…bad. But I can’t imagine how much worse it could have been if I’d been driving this Scoupe…

  • avatar

    In the Wiki article does anyone know what the car is that is just behind the Scoupe in the picture captioned “1993-1995 Hyundai Scoupe”?

  • avatar

    Oddly enough I saw one of these driving down the road where I work yesterday. Faded rad paint but otherwise perfect. I thought to my self “Man, I haven’t seen one of those in a while.”

  • avatar

    “Imagine you’re a young car shopper in 1990, having to choose between a new Scoupe and maybe a three-year-old Plymouth Turismo Duster.”

    Actually, a young car buyer in 1990 could buy a brand new Plymouth Sundance or Dodge Shadow. Both offered with Turbos and both infinitely better cars than the Scoupe.

    • 0 avatar

      I was a young sporty coupe buyer in 1990, and I bought a Storm. Really liked it too until a red del Sol called my name.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe McKinney

      I was in a similar position in 1988. I looked at three new cars, the Yugo, Volkswagen Fox and Subaru Justy. After considering my options I bought a used Dodge Aries. Hindsight tells me I made the right decision. The Aries gave me years of reliable service before I traded it in 1995.

      • 0 avatar

        I had bought a used ’87 Dodge Shadow ES turbo in ’90. Sweet little ride, had the analog turbo gauge on the dash, went like stink when you floored it just right, and a useable hatchback (could fit a bike in there) that looked more like a trunk. However…

        Turbo lag on the ES was measured in sun dial hours, the 3 spd automatic was laughable even in ’87, the turbo had an incredible way of over-heating and blowing up, and finally, the electronics were so bad that every time I (or anyone else) engaged the cruise control it would short out the entire car, leaving me stranded on the highway late for work.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        Have a mechanic friend of mine who swears by a V6 / 5-speed combo for the Shadow.

        I must say it’s a helluva ride. Parts used to be cheaper than Cheetos but now they are getting harder to find.

  • avatar

    When this was around, I’d always pronounce it “SCOOP”, despite the fact the “S” that precedes “Coupe” was in a different font on the decklid.

    Brits pronounce Coupe “Ku-PAY”, though, and when Richard Hammond bought a Scoupe for a Top Gear challenge, they all pronounced it “Ess-Ku-PAY”, as if the S were supposed to be pronounced separately.

    After a brief trip to youtube ( I learned the proper pronunciation from a (US) 1990 commercial: it is indeed “SCOOP.”

    P.S.: The ad boasts “This car will do wonders for your image…and ours!” Considering what the Excel did to their image, I’m not sure it did the trick. As for the customer’s image, a yellow Scoupe would indeed do wonders for the image of a grown man…whose previous vehicle was a pink tricycle with spoke beads and tassels.

  • avatar

    Hey, that’s my old car. Almost – mine had a manual transmission and a spoiler on the trunk. Same yellow paint and blue-grey seats though. It wasn’t really fast, but (if I remember right) it weighted about 2000lb so was fun to drive. Traded mine for an almost new Grand Am 8 years ago, and still regret it sometimes. Although maybe that’s the rose-tinted glasses getting to me.

    Been kinda-sorta looking for a 94-95 Scoupe Turbo for a fun/project car, but they’re getting hard to find now.

  • avatar

    Isn’t it amazing how many cars stole the original Saturn’s rear window look?

  • avatar

    In 1991, I lived down the street from a pretty busy suburban Atlanta Hyundai dealership. They did a pretty good business on these, IIRC, they were priced very well.

    You could buy a Turbo Dodge Shadow, but they were becoming pretty rare birds. Dealer stock back then would have been almost all price leader models.

    If I had needed a small two door coupe at the time, this would have been on my radar. I’m bummed to see that these had such low crash ratings, although maybe I shouldn’t be…

  • avatar

    I was around 10 at the time this came out, and for some reason I wanted the mazda based escort GT. It was basically an uglified Mazda Protge with 2 of the doors removed, but not enough changes in body proportions to make it look right. I later got a 1994 Protege with the dohc engine, and boy was that a car.

  • avatar

    Hmm, that has the tail lights and body kit from the LS model but I thought they were all two-tone with silver as the lower half color…

    I’ll speak up for the Scoupe! My mother had one of those as her daily driver for years. It was a ’91 LS, with 1.5L Mitsubishi engine and 5-speed, no AC, no PS. In that configuration, in the middle of nowhere, Finland, that was not a bad car at all. Great fuel mileage, didn’t look like other early 90’s econoboxes, and it was pretty darn reliable too. Worst part was that it had a bad habit of breaking the tail end completely loose if pushed too hard in the winter, and you had to take traffic circles and tight turns very gently. Top speed was 100 mph, but you really didn’t want to drive it above 70mph. Maybe bigger 14″ wheels would have helped to steady it.

    After 10 years and about 150 thousand miles, some of them in very salty slush, the transmission blew out. Since the tin worm had already started gnawing on it, it was sold. Last observation was about 5 years ago, I saw it in a for sale ad for 2000 euros.

  • avatar

    laugh at the Scoupe as much as you want, but keep in mind that it won the Pikes Peak hill climb in 1992 and 1993

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Almost bought one of these Excels when they first came out in 86 only thing that stopped me was the honest sales man who discouraged me from buying an auto transmission one due to the hilly terrain in which we lived.

  • avatar

    My dad had an Excel, late 80s. I learned to drive with that thing, partially. I just remeber the furious noise combined with the lack of associated motion, and the brutally heavy but totally numb steering. And really it was the most unreliable POS we ever had. It was not worse than the Chevette we later had, though, which blew blue smoke for most of its sad life.

  • avatar

    There’s a red SCoupe Turbo rolling around north Raleigh with immaculate paint, doesn’t blow any oil smoke, doesn’t seem to have been eaten by rust either. Wonders will never cease. To me it looks like a miniature first-gen Mazda MX6. (Which I love. Those were gorgeous cars.)

  • avatar

    I wonder how many miles someone was able to wring out of this thing. Something south of 140,000 would be my guess.

    • 0 avatar

      I can read 20329 on the dash shot before the steering wheel gets in the way. So if that’s a 6 place odometer it is 20329X. If it only has 5 places I’d think it has to have gone at least 120329 under its own power until recently for it to be this old and not have a layer of ‘resting’ grime on everything.

  • avatar

    I see a two tone dark blue/silver one every now and again in the parking lot between High Tech High and the Rock Church in Point Loma…always wonder how that car still goes. Rust isn’t an issue here in San Diego.

  • avatar

    I see a few of those (horrible) cars every few months here in PR.

  • avatar

    I remember listening to “Car Talk” at some point in this car’s life cycle, and hearing some middle-aged guy call in with a problem with his SCoupe. He went through a spiel about how this was his mid-life crisis car, only to be interrupted by one of the hosts (Tom or Ray? I don’t recall, but does it matter?) shouting, “you had a mid-life crisis and the best you could do for yourself was a Hyundai SCoupe coupe?!” (I’m convinced Car Talk callers know less about cars than any demographic in the country, and the hosts have long since given up trying to educate them.)

  • avatar

    Actually I just saw a MINT condition blue Scoupe with sunroof at the grocery store a few days ago. Driven by a little old lady, she probably lives in the retirement apartments behind the store, and probably never drives it much farther than that either.

  • avatar
    Ian Anderson

    Sajeev posted something about Scoupes on the TTAC Facebook page a while back… I’d still like to find a decent one and put in a Beta 2.0L and five speed manual from an Elantra for a drag racer, then throw a turbo from an Evo on it. Then again I’m looking into any way I can shoehorn a powerful drivetrain into a light car!

  • avatar

    I actually have one :)

  • avatar

    Anyone who has anything bad to say about these cars has either a) never owned one b) doesn’t get what Hyundai was after with these or c) had unreasonable expectations.

    I love the well written diatribes that cut up these cars and several others with no relation, but you all miss the point entirely. A Hyundai Excel could be had for under $7k in 1991, one of these in a “Special Edition” model that had everything in it from a sunroof to a cd player (1991 wow options) was barely over $10k. You couldn’t buy a base model Civic for that.

    Having worked in Hyundai dealerships at that time I can say from experience that the “talk” of Hyundai quality and durability being not up to snuff at that time was/is still a stinking pile of crap. The issue was almost always with customers. They were scraping the bottom of the barrel with people, most had never owned a new car, or were trading in their ratty 10 year old piece of schyte. I could tell you a thousand stories of abuse/misuse/wrong maintenance that lead to every issue under the sun.

    That said, those who knew how to properly maintain and drive a car never had an issue with any of these cars. We routinely saw them with 300,000+++ km; rust tended to be the killer more than anything else.

    • 0 avatar

      Absoulutely thumbs up for richink, I have already 3rd. Scoupe GT (turbo), and all its problems was caused by rust (here in europe its quite common problem) and bad maintennance or driving style (revving up the cold engine whit turbo and so on…).
      Its not comfortable, fast or representative car but i still love them :)

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