Junkyard Find: 1988 Hyundai Excel

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

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.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Djkenny Djkenny on Dec 26, 2013

    Too bad the guy with 100k, did not replace the timing belt. Likely would have gotten a reasonable amount of additional service. But.. Yes, the transmissions were weak. So that would have failed, if he hadn't rebuilt it already. They were slow. Looked okay.

  • Laserwizard Laserwizard on Feb 18, 2016

    My Mom had a 1986 that she bought - it was dependable and held up well enough for her to get $500 less for it in trade-in than she paid for it. I know - I acted as her "agent" on both original deal and when she traded it in on a 1989 Ford T-Bird - a sale that took three days to complete because I held the line on what the trade-in would be and what we'd pay for the new Ford. The dealer relented at the end of the month and she had her "bird" for 15 years until she traded it for a 2004 Focus Wagon which she still has and loves dearly (trouble free car). TTAC lambasts these Excels - I sense a distinct pro Honduh bias here which proves that there is no truth about cars being presented here.

  • Dave M. IMO this was the last of the solidly built MBs. Yes, they had the environmentally friendly disintegrating wiring harness, but besides that the mechanicals are pretty solid. I just bought my "forever" car (last new daily driver that'll ease me into retirement), but a 2015-16 E Class sedan is on my bucket list for future purchase. Beautiful design....
  • Rochester After years of self-driving being in the news, I still don't understand the psychology behind it. Not only don't I want this, but I find the idea absurd.
  • Douglas This timeframe of Mercedes has the self-disintegrating engine wiring harness. Not just the W124, but all of them from the early 90's. Only way to properly fix it is to replace it, which I understand to be difficult to find a new one/do it/pay for. Maybe others have actual experience with doing so and can give better hope. On top of that, it's a NH car with "a little bit of rust", which means to about anyone else in the USA it is probably the rustiest W124 they have ever seen. This is probably a $3000 car on a good day.
  • Formula m How many Hyundai and Kia’s do not have the original engine block it left the factory with 10yrs prior?
  • 1995 SC I will say that year 29 has been a little spendy on my car (Motor Mounts, Injectors and a Supercharger Service since it had to come off for the injectors, ABS Pump and the tool to cycle the valves to bleed the system, Front Calipers, rear pinion seal, transmission service with a new pan that has a drain, a gaggle of capacitors to fix the ride control module and a replacement amplifier for the stereo. Still needs an exhaust manifold gasket. The front end got serviced in year 28. On the plus side blank cassettes are increasingly easy to find so I have a solid collection of 90 minute playlists.