Cheap Wheels? 1990 Hyundai Excel GS

There was a lot of noise in the mid-1980s when Hyundai brought their first car into the U.S., the Excel. The subcompact was promoted as being the least expensive new car you could buy in 1986 at $4,995. I was attracted to the little car myself and bought one that was fully decked out, including a sunroof. But, as I would learn, they were largely throwaway cars at the time, so you seldom see one of these little machines running around today. This second-generation Excel from 1990 looks to be in sensational condition, probably because it was used as a tow-behind car for motorhome journeys. This product from South Korea can be found in Milwaukie, Oregon where it’s offered by a dealer and available here on craigslist for … drumroll please … $4,995. Thanks, Andria Antonakos, for the tip and trip down memory lane!

In 1986, Hyundai was an unknown brand in the U.S., unlike today. But they dipped their toes in the North American market with the front-wheel-drive Excel, which was also known in other parts of the world as the Pony, Pony Excel, Presto, X2, and Mitsubishi Precis. The Excel would have a 15-year run and the car borrowed from the Mitsubishi Mirage in its design and was offered as three- or five-door hatchbacks and four-door sedans. Earlier Excels suffered from quality control issues (my radiator didn’t last much past the 12,000-mile warranty and the paint was indifferent), but Hyundai did seem to get those things sorted out by the second gen from 1989-95 (the bodies, though, were largely unchanged). They had to.

The seller’s ’90 Excel GS benefitted from the larger powerplant introduced in 1989. The earlier Excels were underpowered, especially with an automatic (trust me, they were), so this group got fuel injection over carburation with 1.5-liters of motor rather than 1.2. The engine was good for about 85 hp, a 20 percent kick from before. The GS designation on this 3-door hatchback means it had better interior and exterior trim than the basic GL model.

Only 45,000 miles have been clocked by this auto and – since most of these were from being hooked up to a motorhome – the engine has worked even less. These cars were said to get 25 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway, which was good for those days, but not so much today. The exterior on the seller’s car doesn’t look to have much in the way of flaws, with the white paint still presenting well. The interior also looks good, but the se of plastic is typical of the price range these cars were in.

I’ve yet to find a collector’s group that focuses on early Hyundai’s, so there’s likely no rush being made to snap up these cars. NADA considers them used cars and $2,000 seems to be about it. But there are always exceptions, and this car might be one. If you needed an inexpensive car to beat around town and only had $5,000 to spend, would you buy this one?. But it is an Excel, so you can’t hold it to the same standards you would for the new subcompacts at your neighborhood Hyundai dealer.

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Comments

  1. Skorzeny

    A friend of mine from high school had a Mitsubishi Precis (re-badged Excel) and it was a disappointing car in every way. It was in a scrap yard 8 or 9 years later. Just sayin’…
    His was an ‘87 and it was a gift from his parents. They should have bought him a Civic.

    Like 3
    • alphasud Member

      The 87 was a different animal. It would have been carbureted. I worked at the dealer that had Hyundai when these were new. It was your basic transportation with average reliability. They would go to 100k if you stayed on top of maintenance. Problem at our dealer is they were sold to people with bad credit and often times they had no money to take care of them. They just got driven into the ground. I should say as long as they were manual transmission cars. The automatic transmissions were horrible and there were times when they couldn’t even be unloaded from the car transporter!

      Like 5
      • Skorzeny

        I knew they were different alpha, and yeah, it was a carb. You had to rev the piss out of it just to get anywhere. They are worlds better now. (Hyundai)

  2. angliagt angliagt Member

    Hey Russ – why don’t you buy it,
    & relive those happy memories?

    Like 2
    • Russ Dixon Russ Dixon Staff

      Not so happy memories. Traded it for a new Olds Cutlass after three years.

      Like 3
      • angliagt angliagt Member

        Strictly meant as sarcasm.

      • Michael

        Actually, they were the second cheapest vehicle in 1986, the Yugo GV was $3995 new. Body rot on the Hyundai was bad in the early years, and the oil leaks!!!

  3. DanaPointJohn

    The early Hyundai models imported to America were poor quality. After a reset of their products, build quality improved significantly to the high quality today. I can’t see any reason to buy this car. BTW, 25 city/33 highway is still good fuel economy.

    Like 1
    • Superdessucke

      I own a ’20 Veloster N and it is amazing to to see how far this brand has advanced. A buddy of mine bought a 1987 Excel GS brand new. It was a pretty good looking car in red with black wheels. They also had really good warranties compared to everyone else back then as I recall. That’s about where the compliments ended.

      Like 2
      • Superdessucke

        I’ve got about 8,000 miles on mine and it’s been perfect, saving for a few paint chips on the front nose. Not a ton of miles yet but, importantly, everything feels solid and high quality. I mean, yes, there is massive use of hard black interior plastic on the door panels and dashboard, but even that feels sturdy at least, and the lower part of the door panels haven’t scratched up like they did on my 2015 Accord Sport.

    • Jerry Member

      Not sure if I’d call Hyundai and Kia “high quality” as they STILL have engine problems after recalls over the years…..was a recall recently for engines failing.

      Like 1
      • Steve Clinton

        Koreans have never been known for their ‘quality’ products.

        Like 1
  4. Kenneth Carney

    My nice drives a ’12 Accent and loves it.
    My SIL bought it used last year and within 3 days, the engine was knockin’
    like a sledge hammer. Lucky for her the
    car came with one of those extended
    warranties. It now sports a new engine
    and had the tranny serviced while in the
    shop. She’s wanting to fix it up for the
    next go ’round. She’s already put 4 new
    tires on it and is saving for a new set of
    brakes and an alignment. Who knows,
    maybe we’ll see it on BF one day.

  5. A.G.

    Back in the day these were basic transportation. For basic transportation today this looks like a screaming bargain.

  6. JCA

    Would I spend $5k on this to drive around town? Nope. It’s an auto trans for one, which kills any fun you might have in a light econobox. Secondly, these were not built to last. I remember quality issues, overheating, etc. Anything you can buy newer when it comes to basic cars is much better today than then. Would you rather have a mint condition original iphone or a used and dented iphone 8? You can get an econbox 20 yrs newer for $5k that is better in every way than this recycled beer can on wheels

    Like 3
  7. Howard A Member

    I actually had a Precis, and I thought it was a good little car. I don’t think I ever got gas for it,,,funny story, it was a 5 speed, but 4th and 5th made no difference whatsoever. Something not right. I read, the 5th gear was vacuum activated, and looking under the hood, sure enough, a vacuum line was burned through. I reconnected the hose, VOILA!,,,5th gear. Unfortunately, a deer jumped out in front of me, the front literally folded like aluminum foil, and it was goodbye Precis. Good thing it wasn’t a Mack truck or some RAM 2500. Simply amazing to see one like this again.

    • alphasud Member

      Howard the transmission was a 4-speed with a high/low range. Hyundai in the early days was licensed Mitsubishi stuff. The transmission was from the Colt and in that application it had a second lever and was called twin stick if memory serves. Hyundai added the vacuum arrangement on the first generation Excel. The Précis did the same.

  8. Steve Clinton

    I remember going to the Los Angeles Auto Show in 1986. There was a new Excel that had paint drips on the doors. A minor detail, I know, but the memory has stayed with me all these years and because of it, I never considered buying a Hyundai.

  9. Richard Isenberg

    Wow has that company come along way. Hyundai has some really nice vehicles offered today. With great warranty programs these are great vehicles. A good friend of mine sells them at at large dealership in PA. He makes a lot of money and has repeat business on a regular basis. I myself had two new ones and couldn’t have ask for a better vehicle

    Like 1
  10. Super Glide

    I had an ’87 Ford Escort GT which I traded a year and a half later for an ’88 Escort. Syncros failed in the ’87 and the ’88 blew 2 timing belts. Traded the ’88 for a ’91 Ford Explorer, which went through front wheel drive shaft ujoints like candy and the transmission jumped ship at 79 thousand. I don’t think Ford cars, back then, were any better than Hyundai cars.

    I got a ’16 Hyundai Elantra and traded it for an ’18, because of 230,000 miles on it. I’m getting ready to trade the ’18, because of high mileage.
    Hyundai cars have been flawless and couldn’t be happier with them. Gas mileage has been great too.

    • Jerry Member

      87,88, 91…..LONG time ago…KIA and HYUNDAI have had quite a few recalls for engine failures in the last 10 years AND recently, might want to research it.

      Like 1
  11. Gerard Frederick

    The original Huyndai was a Korean Yugo. It couldn´t get any worse. How they turned that company around is a major miracle.

    Like 1
  12. Steve

    Are you kidding me? Barn Find??? Reaching for new lows here….

    Like 2
  13. Bruce Willison

    I worked at a Dollar Rent A Car franchise in Melbourne Australia and we had a fleet of these cars.They were used and abused by renters and they never saw much if any maintenance including oil and filter changes.They soldiered on,build quality was poor along with a lot of hard plastics.You are lucky to see any here on the roads today,they were truely throw away cars.On a side note I always enjoy reading your comments from all the regular contributors.Have a nice day.Bruce.

    Like 1

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