The 1986 model year offered some interesting new low-cost choices for American car shoppers, with both the Yugo GV and Hyundai Excel going on sale with too-good-to-be-true sticker prices. The Yugo, with its ancient-Fiat-via-Iron-Curtain background, was something of a joke from day one, but what about this new South Korean car from a company nobody had ever heard of? As it turned out, the first-generation 1986-1989 Excel sold quite well but didn’t last very long, so I have a tough time finding junkyard examples today. Here’s a heavily-optioned GL model in a Denver yard.
To be blunt, the first-generation Excel was something of a lemon. I started seeing large numbers of these cars in junkyards by around 1990, mostly with very low miles and clean interiors. This one managed to avoid that fate, reaching age 31… but the odometer reading suggests that the car broke when it was quite young and stayed parked until just recently.
South Korea was in the grip of a ruthless military dictatorship when Excel sales commenced over here, but nationwide protests in 1987 led to an unexpectedly peaceful transition to a democratic system. Meanwhile, Hyundai used this disposable car to gain a foothold in the North American market. When the 1990s dawned, the quality of Hyundai cars began a steady upward climb and the wretchedness of the early Excel faded from memory.
This car has plenty of luxury options not often seen in the first-gen Excel, most buyers of which sought the cheapest possible point-A-to-point-B transportation appliance. Automatic transmission, cassette deck, rear window wiper, even a nice-looking analog clock (which I bought for my collection). Strangely, it doesn’t have air conditioning.
We often get triple-digit summer temperatures, here in High Plains Colorado, but drivers were tough back in the 1980s. If you’re hot, roll down the windows!
Not many Excels came with sunroofs.
Power came from a carbureted 1.5-liter four-cylinder of Mitsubishi origin, rated at 66 horsepower for 1989. The Excel’s chassis has plenty of Mitsubishi Mirage DNA, making this car a cousin to the Dodge Colt. Mitsubishi sold this car with Precis badges over here.
Hyundai USA’s marketers didn’t beat around the bush with these cars, pointing to the price tag at every opportunity.