Junkyard Find: 1987 Hyundai Excel 3-Door Hatchback

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1987 hyundai excel 3 door hatchback

Until the appearance of the Chrysler 200 and the current generation of Mitsubishi Mirage, the fastest average showroom-to-junkyard speed I’d ever seen with a new car took place with the first-generation Hyundai Excel. Even the wretched Yugo, its rival for the title of Cheapest New Car Available In America, seemed to hold together until at least age six or seven before going to The Crusher, but I started seeing plenty of solid-looking ’86 and ’87 Excels at Southern California U-Wrench yards by 1990 or so.

Still, some of those early Excels stayed on the road for decades, and I try to document those miraculous survivors when I find them. Here’s the cleanest first-gen Excel I’ve seen in at least 25 years, found in a Denver self-service yard last week.

The Yugo GV sold for a hilarious $3,990 in 1987, while the zero-options base Hyundai Excel 3-door hatch cost $4,995 (about $11,520 today, and the exact same price as the Chevy Chevette, which was— shockingly— still being sold new as late as 1987). No other new cars could approach those prices that year, though the cheapest possible Subaru 3-door hatch cost $5,398, the Volkswagen Fox went for $5,690, and the Plymouth Horizon America had a $5,799 price tag. The Chevette seems like the better choice than the Excel that year, in hindsight.

Hyundai quality shot up quickly starting in the early 1990s, rendering Alec Baldwin’s harsh “ You drove a Hyundai to get here” line nonsensical to those who didn’t recall the shoddiness of the Excel. The owner of this car must have been able to see the future, though, because it stayed in very good condition for its 33-year life, and it got these golden door monograms and stripes at some point.

Not even 90,000 total miles.

The pristine spare and jack remain where they were when installed by lineworkers in Ulsan.

The ’87 Excel’s higher trim levels got a five-speed manual transmission as standard equipment, with a three-speed automatic as an option. The El Cheapo Excel had but one transmission available: a 1960s-style four-on-the floor manual.

This car must have been in a crash early in its career, because the hood is a repainted unit from a blue ’88 model. Maybe that’s when the striping and door lettering were applied.

This Mitsubishi-derived 1468cc four-cylinder engine made 68 horsepower, giving this car a power-to-weight ratio microscopically superior to that of its Chevette rival: 31.3 pounds per horse versus the Chevy’s 32 pounds per horse.

At least there’s a better-than-nothing late-1980s Audiovox cassette deck, complete with auto-stop. The base Excel came with nothing as standard audio equipment, though you could get a Panasonic radio at extra cost.

You could get two Excels for less than the average price of a new car, according to this 1987 television commercial. With the least expensive Ford Taurus listing at $10,491 that year, that seems plausible.

Just the car to haul five adults in a snowstorm!

The problem with those American-market ads was the lack of serious reverb on the announcer’s voice. In the Excel’s homeland (where it was known as the Pony Excel), that problem did not exist. Speeding up the film for the track-driving scenes seems like cheating, but maybe South Koreans were too busy dealing with momentous historical events in 1987 to notice.

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2 of 41 comments
  • -Nate -Nate on Jun 15, 2020

    Grandpa must have loved this thing . -Nate

  • Dontspamme Dontspamme on Jun 17, 2020

    Been reading this site for years. Finally....yes finally decided I had something important enough to say to create an account so I could post. Are you ready for this?? I worked for Enterprise Rent A Car in 1991 when they got, if I remember correctly, over 2000 Hyundai Excel's. The rumor was they paid something like $3,000 per car. These were the $9.99 weekend special car. We required a credit card or we ran a credit check on you if you paid cash. The location where I worked didnt bother doing the credit check if you rented the Excel with cash. ERAC rented these to death. Made a ton of money. Then sold them for (again, if I remember correctly) more than they paid for them. I didnt realize posting could be so satisfying. Think I need a Chesterfield now. (honestly though, I dont smoke)

  • FreedMike All 35 units, eh?
  • Kwik_Shift Good looking wagon.
  • Kwik_Shift I'm kind of excited to check one out. Local dealers are anticipating 3 months for the first one to come in.
  • Jkross22 We're all being a little unfair to GM. It could be worse. They could have partnered with Microsoft to deliver RT - that wonderful tablet OS that couldn't run any legacy MS products - and brought it to the car. Or Win 95 and Clippy.
  • JMII The change could help GM better collect data from its drivers and passengers, and it could also be used as a foundation if GM decides to charge for subscription services.Could? Like the sun *could* set in the west today?Things didn't so well when BMW tried to charge for this service. This will go VERY badly for GM. Can you imagine the customer service calls?Customer: hello I am trying to hook up my phone to my new car but it isn't workingGM: we offer Google services nowCustomer: ok I use Google all the time, but how do get the stuff on my phone to show on the screen?GM: its doesn't work that way, your phone is not involved at all, just enter all your personal information again into our system and we will manage it for youCustomer: ummm... my [insert name of competitive vehicle here] doesn't work that way.GM: but we've made it easier for youCustomer: seriously, you don't support Apple nor Android? Guess I shouldn't have bought this POS, I'll be sure to tell all my friends to never buy a GM product, have a nice day.GM: ...This ultra-mega-dumb even for GM. I assumed if anything moving forward technology wise more OEMs would stop developing their own systems as a cost savings measure and just let the phone OS handle everything. Seems data collection is more important. Well as long as TikTok isn't installed we are safe right?