By on February 24, 2020

Don’t let the title fool you — what we’ve got here is not a Mitsubishi at all, but rather a Hyundai. The late Eighties were confusing times at Mitsubishi, and deals with other OEMs were made left and right.

Today’s Precis is an Excel by any other name.

Hyundai followed up the successful rear-drive Pony with the more economical and contemporary Excel. What the up-and-coming Korean company really needed was a budget-priced hatchback it could sell to all of North America. If you recall, the rather agricultural Pony was unable to pass U.S. emissions standards, so it was confined to the smoggy and carefree industrial nation north of the border. The success of the Excel was incredibly important for Hyundai.

For the boxy styling, Hyundai turned to friend Giorgietto Giugiaro at Italdesign. Designer of the Pony, Giugiaro turned in similar homework for the Excel. Shapes included the short three-door hatchback seen here, as well as a four-door sedan and five-door hatch.

All models were front-drive, as dictated by economy car trends — a first for Hyundai. The company knew their potential American customer and offered manual and automatic transmissions from the get-go. All first-generation models sourced power from a 68-horsepower 1.5-liter engine.

Introducing the Hyundai marque to the United States in 1985, the first-ever Hyundai Excel sold on value. Priced at $4,995, it smashed import sale records immediately. Voted a Best Product by Fortune, Hyundai sold 168,882 Excels in America in its first year.

Mitsubishi wanted a piece of the pie.

Striking a deal with Hyundai, the Excel first appeared as the badge-engineered Precis at Mitsubishi dealers in 1987. Available only in hatchback format with three or five doors, the Precis was also Mitsubishi’s value-priced car. It was their Ace of Base, and undersold even the cheapest Mirage model.

The Excel was updated for 1990 with decently refreshed visuals and more modern technology underneath. The Precis made the switch, too, but became strictly a three-door affair. It continued drawing budget customers to Mitsubishi dealerships through 1994. The Excel lived longer than planned, but was eventually replaced by the Accent.

Today’s ’89 Precis is the upmarket RS, which surely means Rally Sport. With a five-speed manual, no rev counter, and 83,000 miles, it asks $2,250 in Illinois.

[Images: seller]

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34 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1989 Mitsubishi Precis – Discount Badge Games...”

  • avatar

    one of those doofily named vehicles, kind of like the Daihatsu Charade. they basically called it the “Mitsubishi Summary.”

  • avatar

    A Mitsubishi that is a badge-engineered Hyundai with an engine that was derived from an old Mitsubishi design.

    Imagine today’s Supra, but if BMW had licensed the JZ 20 years ago and developed all its subsequent engines from that blueprint.

  • avatar

    A workmate bought one of these, it was O.K. basic transportation .

    I remember he smoked and the interior plastic all crumbled in about three years….


    • 0 avatar
      R Henry


      I know what you mean.

      When my FIL passed away in 2007, I needed to make his old ’88 Excel go away. While it still ran ok-ish, it was shocking to see how the interior plastic parts had shriveled up and flaked into a heap of dust…ground into the deeply faded carpet. The CA sunshine is tough on cheap interiors!

      • 0 avatar

        I had a rare encounter with a low mileage 1st gen Daewoo Nubira last year at a shop on Staten Island. The way the initially-fairly-presentable interior was decomposing was fascinating to me. The Koreans were obviously still in the learning stages at this point. Chrome flaking off of plastic door handles exposing ivory colored plastic underneath, exterior trim fading at radically different rates. Fascinating stuff to someone like an automotive durability/materials engineer I bet.

      • 0 avatar

        “FIL”? Father-in-law to difficult to type? My GGM and COR were confused.
        “ok-ish”…that must mean not quite as ok as ok.

        • 0 avatar
          R Henry

          Prozac is on aisle 3. Good luck!

        • 0 avatar
          R Henry

          Is Theodore too difficult to type?

          • 0 avatar

            Thanx all ! .

            I’d ass-U-me’d the crumbling plastic was due to his heavy smoking in it .

            His ran fine and got great gas mileage, it failed smog and I went over, replaced the plugs and failing plug wires air filter etc. , it failed again so I removed the EGR valve and cleaned it of a lot of gooey black stuff then plumbed the EGR passages with an un bent coat hanger, he said it ran the same all the way home on the freeway, he considered junking it but gave it one last smog test and Lo ! it passed easily…

            Neat to know one could stuff in a turbocharged engine =8-) .


      • 0 avatar

        They didn’t hold up any better in Maine. The courier company that I worked for in college in the late 80s early 90s had ONE Excel, that the new local Hyundai dealer actually gave them, for free, to try to get the business. They bought Ford Escorts… It was AWFUL. Same crumbling interior. To the point it was pretty much just used as a spare car. I don’t think it made 120K before it got swept out to the curb. Same color scheme as this one.

  • avatar

    At least you guys in the USA got the Excel as the first Hyundai. Here in Canada we suffered through the very inexpensive RWD Pony and then the Stellar before the revolutionary FWD Excel was unleashed on the North American public.

    The Hyundai Scoupe of ’93 or so was a tough little devil, though. One of my senior engineers bought his new on his Mastercard to maximize his return on company mileage allowances. Worked out well, as it didn’t turn to rust-dust in five years like his ’84 Accord. Nor did it die mechanically. Hyundai learned car engineering fairly quickly, but Kia was still turning out the execrable Rio in 2000.

  • avatar

    I had graduated from college in 1986 and was offered a chance by my parents to live at home until September of that year to do whatever job I wanted; regardless of my choice, I had to leave in September.

    I had always wanted to sell cars – and to be the only honest car salesman on the floor. I was hired to sell the new Hyundai that may and did so from a sandlot (with sand fleas) beside the new showroom that was being built.

    Those Hyundais weren’t bad cars as some might suggest. I was the product specialist in the building and I knew more about the car than some of the new technicians. I sold 16 of these – 2 on one day in only 2 ups when my sales manager told me those people weren’t going to buy a car from me that day (loved his facial expression when I proved him wrong). I sold two to a couple going to Hawaii and I was honest to the point of telling them there were no Hyundai dealers there – but I bought them two years of oil and air filters out of my own pocket and they bought the cars at sticker (it helped me bump me into another sales level that month so it cost me nothing in the end).

    I even sold one of these at my cost to my mother who had always had my dad buy her a car – this was her first car where she arranged everything – it was her freedom car. She held on to that for three years and managed to get within $500 for what she paid at tradein on a beautiful burgundy 1989 t-bird she keep for 15 years.

    In the end, I hated working for idiots and lot lizards who didn’t care jack about customers – after two months I turned in my d-tag to that salesman who told me that those 2 ups weren’t going to buy a car from me that day. I just reminded him of those two and handed him the plate since he knew so much.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      I applied for a sales job at a Ford dealer in suburban Milwaukee in late 1980s. I was given a “psych profile” questionnaire, which included questions mostly relating to honesty, being forthright, etc. I responded in ways which accurately reflected my deep sense of honesty and unwillingness to fudge on the details.

      I was NOT offered the job. I faced reality—auto dealers are NOT looking for honest people for their sales staffs. As such, I focused my career efforts elsewhere. I also have zero expectation for honest when dealing with salesmen at dealerships. I treat the F&I staff as if they are trying to rip me off….and I have NEVER been proven wrong! I know the whole “You need bridge financing coverage” shtick by heart! Bastards!

    • 0 avatar

      Rodney King got beat up by Los Angeles cops for allegedly going 115 mph in an Excel.

      Nobody thought to find out the car’s actual top speed, which was a tad under 100. 115 may have been achievable if you drove it off a cliff.

  • avatar

    A cheap and easy way to scratch the “Radwood” itch. Apparently these (along with old Elantras) are relatively easy to swap Mitsubishi’s 4G turbo motors into, so you could have one heck of a sleeper on your hands. With a stick shift, simple old Mitsu 4cyl engine, and decent parts support from online vendors like rockauto, this old hatchback is actually rather tempting. Blue interior doesn’t hurt either.

  • avatar

    Yeah, I remember these. What could be worse than an Excel? Why, a Mitsubishi-badged Excel.

  • avatar

    I distinctly remember the Excel – the Précis, not so much. I remember the Excel because I had two women who worked for me at the time buy them. They did so independently of each other; both were quite proud because they’d negotiated their own purchases with no help from anyone; and neither had a clue that they hadn’t bought a Japanese car.

    Then: both of them had engine problems after (?) 18 months or so which required engine replacements. Hyundai tried to get out of replacing the engines by claiming that required oil changes had not been done – even though both had had their cars serviced at the Dealership. No records kept there! However one of the two had managed to keep and find her copies of all the service receipts…and got an attorney. She never got an engine because Hyundai couldn’t find one, so she settled for a payout and attorney’s fees.

    Fun Fact: Ever wondered why Hyundai offers such a great warranty? The answer is because after the Excel, a 10-year “bumper-to-bumper” warranty was they only way they could get anyone even close to a dealership.

  • avatar

    I recall watching Press Your Luck as a kid and if the lucky contestant was fortunate enough to land on “CAR,” it was a 33.3% chance it was one of these things. (The Subaru Justy and Yugo GV were the other likely choices.) I also recall thinking that $5000 and a spin was worth more than these cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I always remember the Hyundai Excel and Renault Alliance being in the prizes on Classic Concentration (With Alex Trebek) back in the day. Guess it was like War Games…The only way to win was not to play!

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I know someone who bought a new red base three door manual 1987 Hyundai Excel for around $5k after getting a few fairly reliable years out of a first year manual 1983 Renault Alliance that also cost $5k new. Hyundai saw the opening for entry level economy cars better constructed than a Yugo but priced below a entry Tercel or Sentra.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Cheap crap…but with a blue interior so I’m OK with it.

    I can still smell those econoboxes when I see a picture of one like that.

  • avatar

    I only know these from watching bonus rounds of Classic Concentration with Alex Trebek on YouTube

  • avatar

    The Excell was the previous generation Colt wrapped in a new skin. Underneath the majority of parts interchanged. So in reality this is a true Mitsubishi.

  • avatar

    Worked with a woman a few years ago who was still daily driving one of these. AZ climate, though, which probably helped.

  • avatar

    Was the Mitsubishi given different, inferior quality parts to save money? I recall hearing that when GM was selling Toyotas under the GEO, and later Chevy and Pontiac brands, they were slightly less robust than the Toyotas they were based on.

  • avatar

    Hyundai and Kia selling these heaps in America to people with poor credit, only to have a car that didn’t outlast the inflated high interest rate payments is one of the many reasons I will never buy Hyundai or Kia cars.

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