1983 Mazda 626 coupe

“A concept crystallized.”

For 1983, Mazda’s 626 coupe, sedan, and liftback were all new as they switched from rear-wheel-drive to front-wheel-drive. Styling was also more aerodynamic, with the coupe receiving a 0.34 Cd. Finally, almost every interior dimension was expanded.

The 626’s standard powertrain was the FE 83 bhp 2.0 liter/121 ci inline four with a two-barrel carburetor paired with a five-speed manual. 0-60 mph took about 12.5 seconds in a car with a 2,545-pound curb weight. EPA fuel economy ratings were 29 city/41 highway by the day’s standards. With a 15.8-gallon fuel tank, a new 626 coupe owner could expect an impressive range of 405 to 450 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

626 page from the 1983 Mazda brochure

Standard equipment on the $9,295 626 DL coupe (about $26,900 in today’s dollars or about what a 2022 Mazda3 sedan Carbon Edition goes for) included rack-and-pinion steering, vacuum-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes, and 185/70R-14 tires (a size still available) on 14 x 5.5 inch wheels. Inside, electric window lifts, electric adjustable mirrors, cruise control, and an AM/FM stereo cassette were included.

The LX coupe added power steering, cruise control, and the trick Electronic Variable Shock Absorber (EVSA) suspension.

Options included 15 x 6 inch cast alloy wheels with uprated 195/60R-15 tires (a combination that yielded class-leading skid pad results and is still readily available), an electric sunroof ($430), and air conditioning ($650).

The third-generation 626 got a very good reception from the automotive press, with Road & Track stating that it was “an impressive update” that had been “delivered as promised.” AutoWeek gave Mazda a splash quote they used in advertisements—”about as perfect as an automobile can be built.”

The View From 2022

The third-generation Mazda 626 was once quite common (at least in the Philadelphia suburbs), but I haven’t seen one in over a decade. This era of 626 is sometimes available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, on eBay Motors, and at online auctions such as Bring a Trailer that cater to the eighties car market.

Make mine Silhouette Blue Metallic, please.

The only other Mazda I have written about is the 1985 RX7 GSL-SE hatchback coupe. I’ve got to get to a GLC at some point.


1983 Jaguar XJ6 sedan

When I was growing up, I was aware of more prestigious sedans than the Jaguar XJ6. However, none were as gorgeous.

“… the best Jaguar ever built.”

For 1983, Jaguar’s XJ6 sedan received a new center console, a thicker steering wheel rim, and newly standard Pirelli tires. Other than that, there were few changes to the Pininfarina-designed Series III version of the XJ6 that had been introduced in 1980.

The only powertrain available in North America was an XK 176 bhp 4.2 liter/258 ci inline six with fuel injection mated with a three-speed automatic transmission. 0-60 mph came in a little under 11 seconds in a sedan with a curb weight of 4,065 pounds. Fuel economy was rated at 17 (14 city/17 highway by today’s standards). With both fuel tanks full, an XJ6 owner could expect a range of 330 to 360 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

XJ6 brochure pages from the 1983 Jaguar brochure

The XJ6’s base price was $30,500—about $88,100 in today’s dollars. Standard mechanical equipment included a four wheel independent suspension, power rack and pinion steering, four wheel power disc brakes, and Pirelli P5 205/70VR15 tires (a size still available thanks to Vredestein) on 15-inch wheels. Inside, a power sunroof, centrally controlled door locks, power side mirrors, cruise control, and leather front bucket seats were included.

The $33,500 Vanden Plas version of the XJ6 kicked things up a notch, adding upgraded seats, individual swivel based reading lamps for the rear passengers, and burled walnut in the dashboard, the console, and the door panels. Jaguar described the Vanden Plas as “frankly opulent.”

By 1983, Jaguar quality overall had sharply improved under the management of chairman John Egan (knighted in 1986), so purchasing an XJ6 was a relatively safe decision. The Series III XJ6 was well-liked—Car and Driver pronounced it as “one of the Western World’s more delightful mechanical manifestations.” However, it was not particularly large inside—the EPA classified it as a subcompact car.

The View From 2022

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1983 Jaguar XJ6 sedan in #1/Concours condition is $31,800, with a far more normal #3/Good condition version going for $8,700. A Vanden Plas is believed to be worth about 2% more—far less than the cost it added back in 1983.

All vintage Jaguars have strong forum support, and there is definite collector interest in the XJ sedans. Eighties XJ6s are often available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, on eBay Motors, and at online auctions such as Bring a Trailer that cater to the eighties car market.

Make mine Racing Green, please. Can there be any doubt?

The other Jaguars I have written about are the 1982 XJ-S H.E. coupe and the 1988 XJ-S convertible.

Interesting Eighties Vehicles at the 2022 Mecum Glendale

Mecum’s annual Glendale auction completed last Saturday. In the middle of 2021, I gave up trying to chronicle every eighties vehicle sold at any particular auction—there’s often an endless sameness to them. So, I now only write about the cars and trucks that are less seen at auction—and those that sold (a red 1984 Ferrari 512 BBi coupe with 13,000 miles was a no-sale at $225,000). Here are five that attracted my eye, described in a little more detail than usual.

1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria, linked from Mecum’s website

[Lot W111] 1987 Ford LTD Crown Victoria sedan. Oxford White with Luxury rear half vinyl roof and a midnight blue cloth reclining split bench front seat. Windsor 150 bhp 4.9 liter/302 ci V8 with fuel injection, a four-speed automatic, and 35,000 miles. $9,000 hammer price for a car that once seemed everywhere and has now essentially disappeared.

1989 Mercury Colony Park, linked from Mecum’s website

[W138] 1989 Mercury Colony Park station wagon. Medium Almond with woodgrain with light sandalwood cloth front seats—I can’t tell if this wagon is a GS or an LS, but I do know that I’ve now written about two Panther platform cars in a row. Windsor 150 bhp 4.9 liter/302 ci V8 with fuel injection and a four-speed automatic. $13,500–I wrote about the 1984 LS last year.

1989 Toyota Corolla GT-S, linked from Mecum’s website

[W289] 1989 Toyota Corolla GT-S coupe. Super Red (that’s the actual color name) with gray cloth front bucket seats. 4A-GE 115 bhp 1.6 liter/97 ci inline four with fuel injection, a five-speed manual, and 27,000 miles. $16,000 for the highest performance Corolla available in 1989—and one that stood out from the better-selling front-wheel-drive examples.

1985 Lamborghini Jalpa, linked from Mecum’s website

[T276] 1985 Lamborghini Jalpa P350 GTS coupe. Bianco Polo Park (white) with red leather bucket seats. 250 bhp 3.5 liter/213 ci V8 with four two-barrel carburetors and a five-speed manual. This “entry-level” Lamborghini sold for $90,000 despite having the engine size listed in the docket as 3.0 liters. This Jalpa’s base price when new was about $65,000 and they are rare cars—Lamborghini built a total of 410 over eight years.

1985 Excalibur Series IV, linked from Mecum’s website

[F34.1] 1982 Excalibur Series IV Phaeton. Tan (the actual paint color was not stated) with a light brown convertible top and tan leather seats. 155 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci Chevrolet V8 (perhaps an LG4?) with a four-barrel carburetor, a three-speed automatic, and 11,000 miles. $32,000 for the most respected (the AACA judges them) of the neo-classics.

1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Sport Coupe

A 1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS with 156 miles recently sold on Bring a Trailer for $32,000.

“Chevy SS tradition comes alive …”

In the middle of the 1983 model year, Chevrolet announced the Monte Carlo SS. Designated RPO Z65, the SS was designed to help Chevrolet compete better in NASCAR on Sundays—and sell more Monte Carlos on Mondays. There were only two exterior color choices—White and Medium Dark Royal Blue. The changes in the front end and the addition of a rear spoiler cut the drag coefficient by 15% compared to the “civilian” Sport Coupe, making it a respectable 0.375, though not quite the Ford Thunderbird coupe‘s 0.35 Cd.

Aside from the exterior looks, the powertrain was the star—an L69 “H.O.” 175 bhp 5.0 liter/305 ci V8 with a four-barrel carburetor paired with a three-speed automatic transmission. Period road tests resulted in 0-60 mph times of about 8 seconds—about as quick as the Monte’s Buick Regal T-Type and Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais Hurst/Olds platform-mates in the same year. Fuel economy was rated at 17 city/25 highway by the day’s standards (14 city/18 highway by 2022 measures). With an 18.1-gallon gas tank, the enthused new owner of a Monte Carlo SS could expect a range of 260 to 340 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS flyer

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment for the $10,249 Monte Carlo SS included Sport mirrors, a rear spoiler, a dual outlet exhaust system, power steering, the F41 sport suspension, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and Goodyear Eagle GT P215/65R15 white letter tires (a size still readily available) on 15 x 7 inch stamped steel wheels. Inside, the SS was less differentiated, but it did get a gage package with a tachometer. The standard seat was a blue cloth bench seat with white vinyl inserts and matching door trim.

Options & Production Numbers

Many of the standard Sport Coupe’s options were also available for the SS. Exterior examples included tinted glass ($105), hi-beam halogen headlamps ($10), and twin remote Sport mirrors ($60). Inside, options included an intermittent windshield wiper system ($49), an electric rear window defogger ($135), power windows ($180), an electric power door lock system ($120), a power trunk opener ($40), automatic speed control with resume speed ($170), a Comfortilt steering wheel ($105), and air conditioning ($725).

A blue cloth 55/45 seat with white vinyl inserts was available for an extra $133, but no bucket seats were available for the 1983 Monte Carlo. A series of four radios were available, with an AM/FM stereo radio with stereo cassette tape and four speakers ($298) being the top of the line. A fixed mast black antenna was an SS-only option and was included with all radios.

The sportier Monte Carlo was generally received in the press, though many scribes noted the lack of a console, bucket seats, Positraction, and a four-speed automatic—all issues Chevrolet promised to fix. Motor Trend‘s title was “Mid-American GT Revival,” and much of the coverage agreed.

Along with the late introduction, there were production problems in 1983, so the first year total for the fourth-generation Monte Carlo SS was only 4,714. SS sales would hit their stride in the following year, with Chevrolet moving 24,050 out the door.

The View From 2022

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1983 Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS Sport Coupe in #1/Concours condition is $27,700, with a far more normal #3/Good condition version going for $13,900.

These Monte Carlos have enthusiastic forum support, and there is definite collector interest. Monte Carlos SS coupes are often available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, on eBay Motors, and at online auctions such as Bring a Trailer that cater to the eighties car market.

Make mine Medium Dark Royal Blue, please.

I’ve written about one other Monte Carlo—the 1981 Sport Coupe. Other sporty G-platform cars I have written about include the 1980 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ coupe and the 1982 Buick Regal Grand National coupe.

1980 Toyota Corolla Tercel Liftback

“… a price that belies its good looks.

1980 was the first year that Toyota sold the Corolla Tercel in the United States. Despite its name, the front-wheel-drive Tercel was not related in any meaningful way to the rear-wheel-drive Corolla, but Toyota evidently figured that adding the Corolla name would make buyers more confident in their purchasing decision. The Tercel was available as a 2-Door Sedan and a 3-Door Liftback (a four-door sedan would arrive one year later).

Corolla Tercel Liftback pages from the 1980 Corolla brochure

The Corolla Tercel Liftback was a small and light car, with a 160 inch length (about 20 inches shorter than a 2022 Corolla) and a curb weight of 2,030 pounds. The Liftback’s standard powertrain combined a 60 bhp 1.5 liter/99 ci inline four paired to a five-speed manual (a three-speed automatic was optional). Unusually for a front-wheel-drive car, the Tercel’s engine was longitudinally placed, which Toyota claimed resulted in easier serviceability.

Road & Track clocked a 0-60 time of 14.8 seconds in a loaded Tercel Liftback SR-5. As might be expected with a 99 cubic inch engine and a five-speed, fuel economy was impressive—33 city/43 highway by the day’s standards. With an 11.9-gallon fuel tank, a Tercel driver could expect a range of 330 to 365 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

The Liftback had more standard equipment than the 2-Door Sedan, which was the loss leader. At $4,848, the Corolla Tercel Liftback Deluxe included body side moldings, front-wheel-drive, rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted front disc/rear drum brakes, and 155/80R12 tires on 12-inch wheels. Inside, reclining front bucket seats and a split-back fold-down rear seat were included.

The $600 SR-5 package added black accents, side striping, and 165/70SR13 radial tires (a size still available thanks to Vredestein) on 13-inch wheels. Inside, SR-5 features included a cloth interior, full interior carpeting, a tachometer, and an AM/FM/MPX stereo radio.

Options were relatively few, but did include aluminum alloy wheels ($215), a rear window washer/wiper ($75), and air conditioning ($520).

I haven’t seen a first-generation Tercel in decades. Make mine Light Blue Metallic, please.

Other Toyotas I have written about include the 1981 Celica Sport Coupe, the 1982 Celica Supra hatchback coupe, the 1983 Camry sedan, and the 1985 MR2 coupe. This list hints that I should write about an actual Corolla soon.

1985 Volvo 240 station wagon

When I was growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs in the mid-eighties, Volvo 240 station wagons were everywhere. They were respected, but not appreciated. Now, they’re becoming collector cars, and I see them infrequently.

“… a car whose quality you can both see and feel.”

For 1985, Volvo’s 240 sedan and station wagon gained a revised “low friction” engine with slightly increased horsepower. Otherwise, there were few changes to a design that had been in production since the 1975 model year.

The 240’s standard powertrain was a B230F 114 bhp 2.3 liter/141 ci inline four with fuel injection paired to a four-speed manual. A four-speed automatic with overdrive was optional. 0-60 mph likely took a little over 12 seconds with either transmission. With the manual transmission, mileage in the 3,042-pound car was rated at 23 city/28 highway by the day’s standards (20/26 by today’s standards). With a 15.9-gallon fuel tank, 240 drivers could expect 330 to 365 miles of range with a 10% reserve.

Volvo 240 DL station wagon photo from the 1985 Volvo brochure

By 1985, the 240 was no longer as spare as it had been a few years before. Standard equipment for the $14,690 240 DL station wagon included tinted windows, a front spoiler, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted disc brakes, and 195/75R14 tires on 14-inch wheels. Inside, a rear window wiper/washer, power door locks, cargo tie-down rings, and air conditioning were included. Trim and upholstery features included adjustable front bucket seats with integrated head rests and lumbar support and full interior carpeting.

Moving up to GL added an engine compartment light, power windows, an intermittent setting for the rear window wiper/washer, a small diameter steering wheel (I’m not sure why this was notable or a positive), and a heated driver’s seat.

Volvo 240s had few individual factory options—you chose the trim level and the color, and that was about it. They continued to sell in decent numbers—the 1985 240 station wagon moved about 68,000 units worldwide.

The View from 2022

According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1985 Volvo 240 GL station wagon in #1/Concours condition is $19,000, with a far more normal #3/Good condition version going for $6,600. A DL is thought to be worth about 4% less.

All vintage Volvos have strong club support, and there is definite collector interest in what 240 owners call “bricks”—enough for Hagerty to offer a buyer’s guide. 240 station wagons are often available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, on eBay Motors, and at online auctions such as Bring a Trailer that cater to the eighties car market.

Make mine Dark Red, please.

So far, the only other Volvo that has been covered in Eighties Cars is the 1987 780 coupe.

80s Engines: The Iron Duke

This month, we’re starting a new post category on Eighties Cars—engines. They won’t always be the most powerful or most interesting engines, just ones that were relevant in the 1980s.

Cross section of the original Iron Duke

GM’s Iron Duke 2.5 liter/151 ci inline four was one of the least glamorous but most important engines of the eighties. Despite its strong association with the 1980s, the Iron Duke was developed by Pontiac in the mid-1970s and was in use until the early 1990s.

The Iron Duke name was inspired by the new engine’s cast-iron block, with that material chosen for durability. Pontiac used the Iron Duke branding in advertising, perhaps to ensure that potential buyers didn’t associate their new four with the Chevrolet Vega’s extremely unsuccessful aluminum four. Other notable characteristics of the Iron Duke included overhead valves and a relatively short stroke.

The Iron Duke was reasonably reliable, got acceptable fuel economy, and had impressive torque for an inline four. However, Pontiac’s engine wasn’t refined, powerful, or quiet—especially compared to some of the fours that started coming from Europe and Japan during the eighties. The Iron Duke had no balance shafts until 1989, and it never received port fuel injection.

Model yearChanges/NotesBHPTorque
1980Modified for transverse applications90134
1981Emissions changes84125
1982Throttle-body fuel injection (Tech IV)90132
1984Compression ratio increased to 9.0:192132
1988Heads redesigned98135
1989Balance shafts98135
The Iron Duke in the 1980s—not all vehicles got updates in the same model year

General Motors used the Iron Duke in every one of its North American marques but Cadillac, and it appeared in dozens of sedans, coupes, wagons, trucks, and SUVs. The Iron Duke was also available in a few wildly inappropriate vehicles—notable examples are the Chevrolet Camaro Sport Coupe, the Pontiac Firebird base coupe and S/E, and the Pontiac Fiero. GM also sold the Iron Duke to AMC, where it appeared in the Concord, the Eagle, the Spirit, and the Jeep CJ.

An Iron Duke-equipped vehicle may have driven by you today—most of the Grumman LLVs that the US Postal Service uses are equipped with one.

1984 Chevrolet Camaro Sport Coupe

Bring a Trailer recently featured a 1984 Chevrolet Camaro Sport Coupe that was generally original except for the wheels and tires. It sold for $8,000.

“Looks. Performance. Price.”

For 1984, the Chevrolet Camaro Sport Coupe had relatively few changes. A four-speed automatic became the only automatic available (1983 Camaros had three-speed and four-speed automatic options). Steel-belted radial tires were newly standard on all Camaros, and all manual transmission vehicles received a hydraulic clutch.

The Sport Coupe continued with the LQ9Iron Duke” 92 bhp 2.5 liter inline four with fuel injection as standard, paired with a four-speed manual transmission. Optional engines were two: the LC1 107 bhp 2.8 liter V6 with a two-barrel carburetor ($250) and the LG4 150 bhp 5.0 liter V8 with a four-barrel carburetor ($550). Both a five-speed manual ($125) and a four-speed automatic ($525) were optional.

Sport Coupe pages from the 1984 Camaro brochure

With the standard powertrain, the Sport Coupe was all show, no go. 0-60 tests of four cylinder F-cars are rare to non-existent, but reasonable estimates are in the high 12 to high 13 second range. For all that trouble, mileage wasn’t that impressive: 24 city/36 highway by the day’s standards, which would now be 19/26. With a 15.5-gallon gas tank, a four cylinder Sport Coupe owner could expect a range of 315 to 415 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

The hot setup for the Sport Coupe, such as it was, was the LG4 V8 paired with the four-speed automatic (five-speed manuals with V8s were Z28-only in 1984). For a total of $1,075, this combination changed the car’s character, with the 0-60 time dropping by more than three seconds compared to the base four. These changes did not mean that a V8 Sport Coupe was going to see anything but the taillights of a Z28 with the 190 bhp “H.O.” V8. Fuel economy ratings with the V8 also dropped significantly to 18 city/29 highway, but a slightly larger 16.1-gallon fuel tank reduced the range penalty—a V8 Sport Coupe owner could expect a 260 to 340 mile range.

Perhaps the most engaging Sport Coupe—but certainly not the fastest—was the LC1 V6/five-speed manual combination. At $375 over the base car, it was about a second faster from 0-60 mph. Fuel economy ratings of 20 city/31 highway along with a 16.1-gallon fuel tank meant a 275 to 370 fuel range.

Standard exterior and mechanical equipment for the $8,097 Sport Coupe (about $22,500 in today’s dollars or about 10% less than a 2022 base 1LS Camaro coupe costs) included dual black side mirrors, fast-ratio power steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and P195/75R14 radial tires (a size still reasonably available) on 14-inch body-colored wheels with hubcaps. Inside, reclining front vinyl bucket seats, a floor console, and an AM radio were included.

Options & Production Numbers

Options were many and included body color Sport mirrors ($139), a rear deck spoiler ($69), tinted glass ($110), removable glass roof panels ($850), and four-wheel power disc brakes ($179 and V8-only). Inside, buyers could add a gage package with a tachometer ($149), Deluxe luggage compartment trim ($164 and including a locking rear compartment storage cover), Custom cloth bucket seats ($359 and including quiet sound group), and air conditioning ($730).

Six different optional radios were available, with the top-of-the-line being an electronically tuned AM/FM stereo radio with seek and scan, cassette tape, clock, and graphic equalizer ($493). A well-equipped Sport Coupe could easily sticker for substantially more than a base Berlinetta or Z28.

The 1984 Sport Coupe sold quite well—Chevrolet moved 127,292 units, making it about 49% of overall Camaro sales. 1984 would be the peak for Sport Coupe sales in the 1980s, and it isn’t obvious why.

The View From 2022

Third-generation Camaros have substantial forum support and they attract collector interest. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1984 Camaro Sport Coupe with the V8 in #1/Concours condition is $13,400, with a far more normal #3/Good condition version going for $6,000. V6 versions get a 30% deduction, while four cylinder cars go for half price.

Make mine Charcoal Metallic, please.

Other third-generation Camaro hatchback coupes I have written about include the 1982 Z28 Indy 500 Commemorative Edition, the 1985 IROC-Z, and the 1986 Berlinetta. I have yet to write about any of the 1987 thru 1989 Camaro convertibles.

1986 Honda Prelude Si coupe

A 1986 Honda Prelude Si recently sold on Bring a Trailer for $7,500. This made me wonder why I hadn’t yet written about any Prelude.

“We are lots of fun.”

1986 brought few changes to Honda’s Prelude sports coupe, which continued in both base and Si versions. A visual distinction from 1985 was the high-mounted brake lamp, along with a few more exterior color choices.

The Si‘s salient feature was its engine—the B20A 110 bhp 2.0 liter inline four with three valves per cylinder and fuel injection. Making ten more horsepower than the base Prelude meant that it was about half a second faster to get from 0-60 mph—spritely but not fast at a little under 10 seconds.

A five-speed manual transmission was standard, with a four-speed automatic optional. Fuel economy was respectable at 25 city/30 highway by the day’s standards with the manual transmission (22/28 by modern standards). As might be expected, the automatic dropped ratings by 8% in the city and 3% on the highway. With a 15.8-gallon fuel tank, a Prelude’s Si‘s proud new owner could expect a range of 335 to 390 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Prelude Si photo from the 1986 Honda full-line brochure

By 1986 standards, the $12,955 Prelude Si—about $33,600 in today’s dollars or about what a 2022 Accord EX-L sedan goes for—came well-equipped. Standard exterior and mechanical equipment included a power moonroof (a Prelude trademark), power windows, power mirrors, power disc brakes, and Michelin 185/75R13 steel-belted radial tires (a size still somewhat available) on Custom 13-inch alloy wheels. Inside, air conditioning, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and cloth front bucket seats were included. The stereo featured electronic quartz tuning, an autoreverse cassette player, a seven-band graphic equalizer, and four speakers.

These second-generation Preludes were a revelation when introduced for the 1983 model year, replacing the somewhat ungainly first-generation coupes that had been introduced in the late 1970s. They come from a period when Honda styling seemingly could do no wrong—Road & Track called the second-generation Preludes “handsome, satisfying, exciting.”

Second-generation Preludes attract collector interest, and there is some online forum support. They are sometimes available in the Hemmings Motor News classifieds, on eBay Motors, and at online auctions such as Bring a Trailer that cater to the eighties car market.

Make mine Sonic Blue Metallic, please.

Other Hondas I have written about include the 1983 Civic S hatchback coupe, the 1984 Civic DX hatchback coupe, the 1984 Civic CRX hatchback coupe, the 1985 Civic CRX Si hatchback coupe, the 1986 Accord sedan, and the 1988 Civic sedan.

1986 Hyundai Excel hatchback coupe

Hyundai was new to the United States in 1986, and the first product they sold was the Excel, available in hatchback coupe, hatchback sedan, and sedan versions.

The Excel L‘s standard powertrain was a 4G15 68 bhp 1.5 liter/90 ci inline four with a carburetor paired with a four-speed manual. The GL and GLS upmarket trims included a five-speed manual and had a three-speed automatic available as an option. Whichever transmission was chosen, the Excel was not exactly fast: Car and Driver reported a 0-60 time of just over 16 seconds.

Fuel economy by 1986 standards was 28 city/31 highway with the four-speed manual—24/28 by current standards. Predictably, the five-speed manual was better on the highway, while the three-speed automatic was worse. With a 10.6-gallon fuel tank on all but the GLS/automatic combination, Excel owners could expect a range of between 235 to 300 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

1986 Hyundai Excel advertisement

Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Excel’s styling was pleasing, if somewhat anonymous. At the time, some Hyundai executives were concerned that it looked a little too much like the concurrent Izuzu I-Mark/Chevrolet Spectrum—also designed by Giugiaro.

With a base price of $4,995, the Excel L was the second cheapest car for sale in the United States—the Yugo GV was, of course, the cheapest. One of Hyundai’s strategies was to differentiate with standard equipment compared to the economy car competition. Thus, standard exterior and mechanical equipment included halogen headlamps, an electric rear window defroster, front wheel drive, rack-and-pinion steering, power front disc/rear drum brakes, and name-brand Goodyear Corsa P155/80R13 all-season tires (a size still available) on 13-inch styled steel wheels. Inside, a lockable glove box, a color-keyed dash, vinyl reclining front bucket seats, and split fold-down rear seats were included.

Moving up to the $5,895 GL added tinted glass, styled steel wheels with hub covers and wheel trim rings, a remote hatch release, dual remote control rearview mirrors, an analog quartz clock, a full center console, cloth/vinyl front bucket seats, and Luxury door trim with cloth inserts.

The top-of-the-line $6,395 GLS included full wheel covers, thicker carpeting, a color-keyed Luxury steering wheel, cloth front bucket seats with driver’s side height and lumbar adjustment, and a Panasonic ETR AM/FM stereo cassette deck with auto-reverse and two speakers.

Individual options were few—a power sliding sunroof, Goodyear Corsa P175/70R13 all-season tires on aluminum alloy wheels, air conditioning, and a Panasonic ETR AM/FM stereo cassette deck with auto-reverse, Dolby noise reduction, and four speakers. Initial reviews of the Excel were decent and initial sales were quite strong, with 168,882 sold in the 1986 model year.

The view of the Excel from today is not so kind. The Excel turned out to be notably less reliable than the Yugo and also had significant rust problems—even compared to other mid-1980s economy cars. Hyundai now barely acknowledges the Excel, though it occasionally gets a mention in press releases. I haven’t seen a first-generation Excel in many years.

Make mine Medium Red Metallic, please.

This post is my first Hyundai article, but one of many on vanished vehicles.