By on June 15, 2020

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, RH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsUntil 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.

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, hatch emblem - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, door monogram - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHyundai 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.

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, speedometer - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNot even 90,000 total miles.

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, spare tire - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe pristine spare and jack remain where they were when installed by lineworkers in Ulsan.

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, 4-speed gearshift - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe ’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.

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, emissions sticker - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis 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.

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis 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.

1987 Hyundai Excel in Denver junkyard, Audiovox cassette deck - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAt 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.

For links to 2,000+ more Junkyard Finds, head over to the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

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41 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1987 Hyundai Excel 3-Door Hatchback...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “Not even 90,000 total miles”

    Makes you wonder what the record mileage was for a Hyundai Excel

    There was a lot of cheap junk foisted upon the public during this time frame most cars from Daihatsu come to mind as well. These were everywhere for a few years then suddenly they all disappeared. We knew they were junk, but if cheap transportation @ $99/month was what you were after they filled a need

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      LIE

      Daihatsu are a Toyota Product.

      I doubt they are junk.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        You’re right, I meant Daewoo, sorry

        • 0 avatar
          Runfromcheney

          You are still correct in that the Daihatsus disappeared off the road relatively quickly but I attribute that to how quickly they pulled out of our market – I don’t think they lasted even 5 years. I’m sure that tanked their resale values to zero in short order and once the supply of certain replacement parts started drying up, off to the crusher they went.

      • 0 avatar
        whynot

        Daihatsu products sold in the US were not really Toyota products. Once Toyota got a controlling interest in the company they yanked them out of the US market. They weren’t as bad as Yugo or Hyundai, but Toyota/Honda we’re still much better (albeit priced accordingly as well)

        • 0 avatar
          Runfromcheney

          In regards to Daihatsu being a Toyota product, that wasn’t the case back then. Daihatsu overextended itself in the 1980s trying to match their competitors’ growth through exports. That’s what brought about their ill-fated attempt to enter the American market even though they didn’t have the resources to establish a significant American presence. When the Japanese economy tanked in 1990 Daihatsu collapsed and Toyota came to the rescue, beginning their slow digestion of Daihatsu. They owned a majority stake by 1998 and Daihatsu became a fully-owned subsidiary of Toyota in 2016.

          Naturally, the very first Toyota did after gaining a significant share of Daihatsu was pull them out of the American market, since all they had accomplished at that point was cost the established players business due to them taking up precious volume under the Voluntary export restriction.

      • 0 avatar
        ColoradoFX4

        Toyota didn’t take controlling interest in Daihatsu until 1998, six years after Daihatsu left the U.S. market.

  • avatar
    quaquaqua

    We marvel over stripped-down cars like these, but they weren’t that uncommon. My aunt’s ’85 (I think) Civic didn’t have a radio either. Manual, no A/C, don’t think it even had power steering.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Qua

      The civic of that era weighed ~ 1800 lbs

      Lack of power steering was NOT a big deal at all.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      My new ’89 Fox didn’t have power steering either. Never an issue steering the thing.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Stripper models have been around forever. My sister’s first car was an ancient 1950 Chevrolet she got from her mechanic boyfriend. It didn’t even have a heater.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        My wife’s first new car purchase was an ’81, 3 door Civic hatch. Manual everything including a manual choke and a 4 speed on the floor.

        The only option she purchased was a push button AM radio with 2 speakers.

        Honda dealers at that time could not get enough of these base models. You often had to go onto a waiting list to get one.

        Regarding Hyundai, since 1992, every summer until last year, I would regularly see an older gentleman driving a red Pony in pristine condition in our neighbourhood/local shopping plaza. It used to get quite a bit of attention with people stopping to look at it and talk with him. Unfortunately I did not see him last year nor of course this year. Hope that he and his Pony are both still on the road.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Flashback 1987: Chevette Owner look down smuggley at Excel owner who was proud of his new car. Yikes…

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    That car is in better shape than many I see on the road; I wonder why it was junked – engine, clutch maybe?

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    The car was a Mitsubishi and a better car than half the field. But they were beaten on, trashed and neglected right off the showroom. Otherwise they were the greatest value out there.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      The Précis.

      A late-‘80s/early-‘90s game show used to give those, the Excel, the Pontiac LeMans, and other miscellaneous subcompacts away as their grand prizes. Darned if I can remember the name of it — Alex Trebek may have been the host, but it WASN’T “Jeopardy.”

    • 0 avatar
      CombiNation

      Not exactly. Except for the drivetrain, the Excel was in fact a Hyundai. Mitsubishi badge-engineered the car into the budget Precis model, probably as part of the arrangement for allowing Hyundai to continue using Mitsu’s 4G engines. But they were all made in Ulsan, I believe.

      Also, the early Excel was really terrible, worse than any competitors except Yugo and possibly the Chevette. Hyundai quickly improved and the early ’90s Excel was a viable car. But the first few years of carbureted Excels almost sank the Hyundai experiment and it wisely renamed the next subcompact the Accent.

  • avatar
    Garak

    On the European market the Excel (sold as Hyundai Pony) wasn’t that much worse than other cars available. In 1987 you could still buy the loathsome Citroen 2CV, the horrendous Renault 4 (with three speed manual), or any of the staggeringly bad commie cars (Skoda, Lada, Wartburg, or even Moskvitsh). Even “modern” cars like Fiats or Seats might be scrapped at 100,000 km or about 60k miles.

    Those were some awful times. I wonder how anyone survived.

    • 0 avatar
      karonetwentyc

      One correction: the Renault 4 had a 4-speed ‘box as standard from (IIRC) 1968 onwards.

      I find your perspective interesting, given that I’ve both owned and driven a Citroën 2CV, Renault 4TL, Lada Niva, and Skoda S110R. Having only driven the same-era Excel, I can only say that it’s understandable why it never became a vehicle that I purchased.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      In Canada you could purchase Ladas, Dacias, and Skodas, but not Yugos.
      As previously mentioned the office building on Steeles Avenue West near Petrolia still has the large Lada name and logo on 2 sides of its upper stories, as it was Lada’s head office location for Canada. Decades after Lada left the market, they still have not removed the signs.

  • avatar
    aja8888

    Those Hyundai mud flaps are probably worth grabbing and putting on eBay!

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I test drove one of these in early 1993, a 1986 with the 1.6 and 5 speed (such opulence!!).

    You know the saying about a rising tide lifting all the boats? That’s kinda what’s happened with auto quality in the American new car market. One of the results is that this market segment has kinda faded away. Present day Kias sorta occupy the same segment but the value is incomparable.

    Wiki is thin on details but I remember the engines in these cars being from the Mitsubishi Colt or license built copies. Either way, that gave consumers kind of a sense of a known quantity, er, known quality over the Eastern Bloc imports in the same market segment.

    Some people just really really really feel the need to own a new car.

    As for me, cars like this made my own quality of life better, albeit indirectly. They attracted a lot of consumers away from the used car market, which had the effect of depressing prices on a wide variety of used cars. I had no ill will about it then and I’m still thankful for this segment.

    Last thought, $5k in 1987 is about $11~12k in 2020. The cars at my nearest CarMax start at $12k and the cheapest three are (drumroll……) a ’13 Hyundai Elantra, a ’14 Sonata, and a ’14 Kia Forte. The DriveTime next door has a Yaris, Corolla, and Cruze in the $9k range. The specs, features, and value of all six of those cars would blow my mind if I could go back in time to 1987 and spend an hour describing the future to myself. It still kinda blows my mind.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      $12k for an eight-year-old Elantra? Crazy!

      What sort of person could afford to pay that much for a used car and be unable to finance a new one for a little more?

  • avatar
    Runfromcheney

    A YouTube car reviewer showed how a Hyundai dealership near him obtained a perfectly preserved 1990 Hyundai Sonata and displayed it in the showroom with a big banner on the windshield saying “LOOK HOW FAR WE’VE COME!” In vein of James May’s proclamation that at least one Morris Marina should be preserved as “a warning from history”, I think as we enter what may end up being Hyundai and Kia’s greatest era we definitely should make an effort to preserve any surviving Excels out there so the younger and future generations will be able to fully understand and appreciate why Hyundai was the butt of jokes for 20 years.

    Though for what it’s worth my parents bought an Excel brand new in 1987 and it gave them no trouble until it got totaled in 1991. I have a press kit from Hyundai announcing their entry into the US market in 1985, including a broken-english letter from the chairman and a booklet explaining Hyundai’s wide-sprawling operations. It’s one of my favorite parts of my collection, especially as Hyundai has become bigger and more respected with each passing year.

    • 0 avatar
      pveezy

      In Canada we actually got the RWD Pony first in the 80s. A dealer in Quebec took a mint on on trade recently and did the same thing putting it in the showroom to show how far Hyundai has come. I recently saw it on Autotrader for $150,000. Not sure if it was a joke listing or not.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Thanks for the tip, this old Sonata is far more interesting to me than any Italian supercar! Looks like this is the video you were referencing:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWRoLmsvSe0

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      Also, I didn’t even realize a 1-touch power window even existed in 1990, let alone that it was available on a Hyundai!

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    there were TONS of these on the road back then in southern california. for a time, their dealership occupied the largest, most opulent corner lot at the cerritos auto square, on studebaker/166th st. i think after their fall, lexus took the place for a while. building had been torn down/redone and is currently in VWs hands.

    all too rich for me. at the time i was riding an 87 honda elite 80 to my job at toys r us down the street, and to cerritos college. a little over a buck to fill the tank for a week wasnt bad for someone who rarely made over $100/week at the mcjob.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    I remember a Car and Driver road test of one of these (Patrick Bedard surmised that the buyer could go into a dealer as if he were going into a delicatessen and say something like, “Yeah, give me five grand worth of car…blue’s okay.”) In that test, one of the other writers noticed that (with the Hyundai radio) turning off the ignition erased the radio’s presets. Anyone else know about that?

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    In the early 90s one of my college buddies had this exact color combo. It was a 5spd (the spoiled brat). It didn’t make it through his soph year because of fueling issues. Replaced with an early 90s Camry in the popular light metallic blue over blue velour combo.
    Fast forward to now, he’s driving a Model X , which he does appreciate, given his humble beginnings.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The Lada building is on the south-east corner of Steeles Avenue West and Petrolia Road in Toronto.

    It is a brown office building of about 6 stories. The Lada signage is on the east and the west sides of the building. It includes the logo (a viking style boat) and name, in blue.

    Listed for some reason on Google maps as 1100 Tandem Road.

    I have included a link to a Google maps street view. Hopefully the link is not erased.
    https://www.google.ca/maps/@43.7824684,-79.4899584,3a,75y,86.02h,94.67t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sDJVORN0SuRPqzykT33npIw!2e0!6s%2F%2Fgeo2.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fpanoid%3DDJVORN0SuRPqzykT33npIw%26output%3Dthumbnail%26cb_client%3Dsearch.revgeo_and_fetch.gps%26thumb%3D2%26w%3D96%26h%3D64%26yaw%3D189.32062%26pitch%3D0%26thumbfov%3D100!7i16384!8i8192

  • avatar
    feliciasnh

    I had one of these, exactly!! Red, base model. Paid $5195 for that beauty. I remember driving it home from the dealer, thinking how much I would have loved for it to have a radio. And then when it was starting to show its age after about a year, I sold it and turned around and bought a Hyundai Scoupe!! I made some excellent new car choices in my youth ;)

  • avatar
    mankyman

    My sister bought one of these used in 1989. It was indeed the cheapest car I have ever driven.
    It had a carburetor!
    The time to 60 was … 20 seconds.
    Top speed was about 86 mph.
    It had the cheapest “door ajar” tinkle I have ever heard.
    It began rusting 6 months after we bought it.
    Everything reeked of cheapness.
    I am amazed that there was still one of these one the roads.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Grandpa must have loved this thing .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    dontspamme

    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)

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