By on May 25, 2016

1988 Mitsubishi Precis in California Junkyard, RH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The Hyundai Excel had a Mitsubishi engine, and so some obscure tenet of badge engineering mandated a Mitsubishi-branded Excel so it might drive on the same roads as Plymouth-branded Mitsubishis.

This was the Mitsubishi Precis, a car that was so stunningly bad and such a poor seller that this one is the first and only example I have ever seen in all my years of crawling through wrecking yards.

That makes it one of the rarest cars … in the world.

1988 Mitsubishi Precis in California Junkyard, speedometer - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Hyundai makes good cars now, but the early Excel was about as bad a motor vehicle as you could buy in the mid-to-late 1980s (and I include the Yugo GV in that assessment). This one managed to get the odometer into the six-figure range, which makes it one of the most reliable first-gen Excels ever manufactured.

1988 Mitsubishi Precis in California Junkyard, Mitsubishi Badge - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Americans had bought Mitsubishis since the Dodge Colts of the early 1970s, but you couldn’t buy a vehicle with Mitsubishi badges until the 1983 model year. Perhaps the Mitsubishi top brass felt that the Precis would give all those new dealerships in the United States another subcompact to sell alongside the Mirage.

1988 Mitsubishi Precis in California Junkyard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

68 horsepower. Yes, 68.

1988 Mitsubishi Precis in California Junkyard, automatic shifter - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

With the automatic, this car would have been hilariously slow even by the tolerant standards of 1988.

According to this schmaltzy ad, the car’s name is pronounced “PREE-ciss.”

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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68 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1988 Mitsubishi Precis...”


  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I wonder what the 60 standard features included.

    Paint
    Done light
    Round rubber tires
    Upholstered seats
    Driver’s side rear view mirror
    Speedometer in MPH

    In a bit of a twist, it would probably really help Mitsubishi to start importing Hyundais again. Though I doubt Hyundai would be too interested in putting Mitsubishi engines in their cars now.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      One cylinder
      Bonus cylinder!
      Bonus cyilnder!
      Bonus cylinder!

      One wheel
      Bonus wheel!
      Bonus wheel!
      Bonus wheel!

      Muffler

      Windshield glass

      Steering wheel

    • 0 avatar
      scrubnick

      They already do:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Engine_Alliance

    • 0 avatar
      tanooki2003

      Technically speaking, before Hyundai started building their stuff in-house the Hyundai Excel was nothing more than a rebadged Mitsubishi Precis.

      Now that Hyundai and Kia are soaring while Mitsubishi is well…you know…, I doubt that Hyundai will have much interest with the old Mitsubishi sourcing engine game since Mitsubishi pretty much forced them to build in-house due to some financial disagreements and quality issues with Mitsubishi’s lower line of I4 SOHC engines. Hyundai wanted more for their company and Mitsubishi was just not providing. This is where the new in-house designed Accent was born.
      A co-partnership in the engine building technology might be as close as they will get. In fact Mitsubishi now has a new daddy and his name is Nissan.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Whoa Murilee! Your yard find is even rarer – it has color coded bumpers.. the ad has those you shoeshine.

  • avatar
    mankyman

    Wow. These should all have been sent to the Crusher decades ago.

    My sister got one of these in 1990. It was 2 years old then and she paid something like $3000 for it.
    It had the cheapest “door ajar” alarm sound you could imagine. Everything seemed to be made of the thinnest metal possible and the interior gave out this constant chemical smell, like the plastics were still off-gassing toxic hydrocarbons. I believe it was carbureted, which seemed cheap for an import. We often ahd problems getting it to start. There were no “options.” It made my 1979 Rabbit feel like a new A6.

    It had a top speed of approximately 84 mph. I know this because I took it to it’s top speed. But it felt like the whole thing was going to fall to pieces at any time.

    I currently drive what I think is the closest thing to its early 2000s equivalent; the Protege5. Aside from the engine & drivetrain, the Protege5 feels like it’s about to fall into 100 pieces. All the arches are rusting away, along with most of the suspension. Suspicious sounds abound from the suspension, and I think the bumper is about to fall off.
    At least I don’t have to worry about where I park it.

    • 0 avatar
      jfm

      Mankyman:

      Check the rear brake lines in your Protege for rust. The clip that holds the rear brake lines as they pass over the rear suspension accumulates dirt and moisture. Given enough time, the brake lines rust through.

      • 0 avatar
        mankyman

        I actually replaced the rear brakes a couple of months ago as the calipers had seized. The entire underside of the car is a giant heap of rust. The exhaust is hanging on by threads. But the brake lines and the clip seemed relatively OK. No sense in putting much money into it.

        One of these days as I’m driving it to work, some part of the suspension will collapse and the car will disintegrate around me. I do not take it above 50 mph and I’m ready to leap out of the car before I am engulfed in flames.

        I don’t see any Protege5s around here at all. They seem to all have been sent to the Crusher. A pity because the engine and tranny seem just fine.

    • 0 avatar

      Even the cars made by Mitsu, rather than Hyundai, seemed to have been made from the thinnest metal possible. I rented a Galant 15-16 years ago and thought the trunk lid might have creased when I shut it with the same amount of force I would use on a normal car. Maybe they skimped on rental fleet models, but it was not a vehicle that instilled confidence in its ability to protect one in a collision…or was it designed to be one enormous crumple zone?

      I’ve actively avoided Mitsu cars since.

    • 0 avatar

      Watch out for when the rear strut mount rusts away. You will hear some scary clunks, like a bowling ball is loose in the trunk.

      • 0 avatar
        mankyman

        Thanks. Right now the issue is with the front end.

        I’m told the tie rod ends need replacing, and when turning at slow speeds, the front end groans. Don’t know what that’s about.

        When I took in the rear calipers for the core charge, the Autozone guy just whistled and said he’d never seen calipers that rusty.

    • 0 avatar
      Carfan94

      @mankeyman

      “It had the cheapest “door ajar” alarm sound you could imagine.” Ah did it sound like this?

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN2Kq-V1WMk

      That’s a 2001-2006 Elantra.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    Mitsubishi

    The Word is Getting Around

  • avatar

    That ad is like a Twilight Zone episode – you wish for and get world peace, eternal sunshine, and perpetual green lights, but you have to live this utopia driving a Precis…

  • avatar

    A Precis failure.

    By 1988, I remember the perception having taken hold in the US, that if it was Japanese, it MUST be superior to American. But really, it was Toyota/Honda/Nissan/Mazda who drove that perception (in that order).

    I know this was Korean junk but how many people actually knew that when the Precis was on sale? In retrospect, I’m a little surprised Mitsubishi went this route, as least for the NA market.

    • 0 avatar
      VW16v

      I remember Cadillac dealers giving away a Mitsubishi Precis with every new Cadillac purchase. In the south east the plastics would get soft and tacky in the heat.

    • 0 avatar
      King of Eldorado

      I remember seeing these at an auto show in the late 80s, sitting on the display floor next to the slightly smaller but more expensive Colt (or Mirage? whatever Mitsu’s own small car was called). I had no idea at the time that it was Korean, and wondered why anyone would pay more for the smaller car.

  • avatar

    I worked for a Mitsubishi dealership in the early 90’s. We always flinched when one of these cars pulled in for service… usually they arrived on the back of a tow hook.

  • avatar
    andyinatl

    My first car was 1992 Hyundai Excel, with 4 speed stick. What an utter piece of garbage it was. I can’t imagine how much worse this earlier model would’ve been. I know their cars are much better now, but i’m sure for us older folks who remember what they used to put up when they started selling their wares in US, it’ll be hard to forget the early garbage….

    • 0 avatar
      strafer

      That’s pretty much how I felt about my first car, 71 Corolla 1200cc motor with 4 speed stick.

    • 0 avatar
      Shiv91

      I had a 2001 Sonata and a 2006 Kia Sportage, both were garbage. The Sonata wasn’t so much mechanically bad as it was uncomfortable to drive…slow, excessive body roll (both the Sonata and Sportage had it), jerky transmission. The Sportage was a tremendous gas guzzler and its brakes, HVAC, and power steering failed (and leaked all over the driveway). Not a Hyundai fan.

  • avatar
    I've got a Jaaaaag

    I bet those Mud Flaps were dealer installed and expensive.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    My in-laws live in the Netherlands, and they have been driving Hyundai ever since the Pony (1980s). Either they have low standards when it comes to cars, or somehow the quality of them was better in Europe.

    I am envious of them, BTW. They drive an i30, now.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      “Now, the Stig will do the slalom in a Hyundai Ay-e-oh.”
      “That’s i10.”

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The current i30 (the Elantra GT here) is a damn nice little car. I also kinda liked the previous model.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I liked the prior little wagony Elantra GT better than the current one. It was larger (more useful) and looked more upscale at least on the outside. Had some nice trim.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I liked the last model too, but the current Elantra GT drives way better. I actually think it’s one of the better-driving compacts out there, and it’s a better drive than the last-gen four door model (haven’t tried out the new one).

          Hyundai is starting to get much better at making cars that are solid to drive. They don’t feel like uncoordinated cars with lots of equipment anymore.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Have you driven the Forte5? Mark and others say it’s superior to the Elantra GT in all ways.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            I drove a Forte sedan but not the turbo hatch. The sedan I drove had leather, nav, cooled seats, moonroof, etc and drove like an entry level Lexus – smooth, quiet and kind of numb. $25K before incentives.

            The Elantra drove a tad sportier but still had that kind of vibe. Still, either would have made a perfectly good semi-sporty commuter-module, and both were good to drive, which I couldn’t say about the Corolla or the (outgoing) Civic.

            My mom just bought a Forte, so I’m interested to see how it holds up. Word is they’re good reliability-wise, though.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Approaching the next Vista slowly – like you were riding some pokey little Colt, your vision grows more Precis. More Galant every moment, it’s all downhill from here; you Eclipse your competition with ease. It’s almost like you’ve experienced Evolution in your driving by the time you reach the bottom of the hill, and take first prize. The Diamante attained.

  • avatar
    JimInRadfordVA

    I had one of these, bought new. While it was nothing to scream and shout about, I never had any problems with it. The stick was nowhere near “peppy”, but I’ll admit to “adequate”. I drove it for three years, then sold it when I got a company car. I remember it as being ” a nice little car”.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    And yet there isn’t a spot of rust on it.

    So it’s got that going for it – which is nice.

    (My apologies to Bill Murray and his Carl Spackler character for paraphrasing a quote from Caddyshack.)

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    The only good thing I can say about the original Hyundai Excel is that while looking at one, I met another shopper and hooked up with her.

    Therefore, the Excel is ALWAYS a big winner in my book.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    A buddy bought one of these , it was *so* unremarkable I don’t remember if stick shift or slushbox .
    .
    I do vividly remember the craptastic interior crumbling in my hands , he was a heavy smoker and I assumed that’s what caused that .
    .
    It time it failed the annual SMOG Test and we set to work , spark plugs , dizzy cap and rotor , new plug wires , it ran *exactly* the same and failed the test again .
    .
    In desperation I removed the EGR valve and plumed the passages in the manifolds with a coat hanger , they were clogged with oily black gunk .
    .
    Sprayed and entire can of carby cleaner in there and worked more magic with the coat hanger , gave up after a while , re assembled it and he drove off to visit his fiance’ .
    .
    Later he told me that it ran the same but used noticeably less gas after my efforts so on a lark he tried the SMOG Test again and it passed easily .
    .
    A truly cheap car for penniless people I guess , I don’t think it ever left him afoot .
    .
    -Nate

  • avatar

    Ironically, I stumbled across a 1986 or 1987 Hyundai Excel this past weekend in the parking lot of a German themed village. It was a five-door, like the Precis in this article, red, and in immaculate condition. So much so, I had to take a few pictures of it and post them on Facebook. The interior had some minor wear, the body was straight, supposedly original paint looked good, and it was just a clean, well-kept car. It even still had the original, metal license plate frame

    A friend of mine ended up running the plate, and according to state emission records, this particular Excel has 296k miles! Amazing!

    I don’t have much personal experience with the Excels, but surely they couldn’t be that much worse than what was being offered by the domestics at the time (Chevy Chevette, Pontiac 1000, Dodge Charger, etc.)

    • 0 avatar
      Brumus

      Yes, they were much worse than a Horizon, Chevette, etc.

      And about that 296K miles…

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      I dunno, Chevettes were not a spectacular display of fine craftsmanship, but they did last a pretty long time. I know a friend had one and he said it simply wouldn’t die…until some drunk plowed into him. I still occasionally see one pop up on craigslist on the West coast that runs/drives, but I haven’t seen an Excel on there in forever.

      Besides, by the Excel’s era, GM was selling the Chevy Sprint (and subsequently the Geo Metro) and Ford the Festiva. They were outsourced, yes, but either of those were far superior to the Excel. The Daewoo-sourced Pontiac LeMans was a pile of garbage. The Omni/Horizon was probably better than the Excel, but I don’t know first hand, the Colt was better I’m sure.

      • 0 avatar
        Brumus

        My recollection of the Chevette was it was crude and primitive, but generally ran for a while (albeit not particularly well).

        Friends and family who had mid to late 80s Hyundais found them to be utter horrors (especially the Pony) that were pretty much ready for the boneyard by year 5.

    • 0 avatar
      ReallyRandy

      I’m the plate runner, and I had no idea you were on here! Small world!

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    In the late 80s/early 90s, my neighbors bought a new Excel for a commuter, and later, for their daughter to drive to high school. It wasn’t long before it took a crap on them. They were all in it, driving down I-5 when it belched a cloud of smoke and the engine quit. I don’t remember why it wasn’t fixed under warranty, but I do remember that it was towed to their house, where it sat for a very long time. They bought her a 1970s Datsun B-210 and I know it eventually had issues as well because I remember sitting in it (pretending to drive), where it was parked exactly where the Excel had been (it also rested there for a long time). Where did the Excel go? I have no clue, it was gone when I came home from school one day. Never saw it again. We eventually moved away in early 1993.

    They also had a late 80s Buick Century, I remember my mom describing the ride she took in it with the lady, she told my dad that the lady fought the car for control the whole drive, something about the steering/suspension must’ve been very wrong. The next time they went out, my mom insisted they take our 1990 Aerostar, she refused to ride in the Buick again.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Ah how that blue interior bring back memories of my ’86 Excel! Looking back I can’t recall why I bought the blue GLS sedan new, rather than a 2 year old Civic? Maybe I liked the Guigaro styling better than Honda’s angular look. It was fairly comfortable but very, very slow with the automatic. I can’t recall why I finally passed it on to my brother about 9 years later. Say what you will, but that interior looks like it has held up pretty well for its age!

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    When I went to buy an Excel when they first came out, the very honest salesman warned me about buying the automatic, it could be dangerous on the highway with a/c on and a couple of passengers, I simply walked away.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      No autos on the lot but plenty of sticks?

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      Took a road trip in college with friends in one of the girls new Excel (her father bought it for her to replace her Cavalier Z24).

      The trip was SC to DC. We took US 29 and switched off driving.

      The car was indeed dangerous going through the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Pedal to the floor with four occupants, the top speed was 35 uphill.

      After that trip I took no crap about my POS Beretta.

  • avatar
    ixim

    I bought one these new in 19888. 5 speed 5 door hatch. $6800 OTD. Per Hyundai’s ongoing policy [even today!] of extra content for better value vs Toyota, et. al., it seemed loaded – power nothing, no A/C,4 speaker radio [!] and bright red paint. Driven gently, it was trouble free, but when a certain high school senior got his hands on it, two clutches and a tranny were needed to graduate. Mercifully, it was totaled soon after in a T-bone.

  • avatar
    CAMeyer

    I don’t know that I would put these Excels/Precises in the same club as the Yugo. My brother had an Excel of this vintage, and his, like the example profiled here, had over 100,000 miles when got rid of it. It’s hard to imagine a Yugo making it that far before dying or being abandoned by its embarrassed owner.

    However, I will say that the Excel, with its drab, featureless interior and joyless drivetrain was one hair shirt of a car; you’d expect it came from North, not South Korea. It was replete with flimsy plastic not only in the interior, but under the hood. The motor looked like the inside of a cheap VCR. Like many buyers at the time, I was lured to the dealer by the low price but repelled by the product.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Awww! Isn’t that (a Mitsubishi) Precis!

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    My Excel/Precis story is from a 1990 family vacation that was cut short by a hurricane, and diverted to Guam. We ended up stuck at Anderson AFB, and needed to rent a car for the six of us. At the counter we were informed that we were “lucky, you got the last one”. The parking lot was full of dead Excel. Apparently, “last one” meant survivor.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    We turned one of these over in auto shop class back in 1995 or 1996.

    Big trouble. They paddled us for it!

    We were really bad.

    Did you know it only takes a 9v battery to pop the airbags on an Olds Ninety Eight?

  • avatar
    yetibiker

    My first car was a 1989 Hyundai Excel with 40k miles and a 5 speed for $800 in 1998. I had my dad take it for a test drive. He felt strongly that I should buy it, so I did. It was such a pile. 68 horsepower and I remember a speed run downhill with a good tailwind got me up to 78 mph and the tach (which I pulled out of a better equipped model in a junkyard) was stuck at an insurmountable 3400 rpm. It had sizable rust holes in the rear quarters, which I used to duct cool air through dryer vent across my cheap “Sunday!SundaySunday! Amp that would constantly cut out due to overcurrent. . I put a big sticker in the back window that said “Honk if anything falls off” and cruised the ave like the kids in cooler cars.


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