While it was the subject of scorn since its release, today the Hyundai Excel deserves to be recognised as a classic car. Stop laughing; when you look at the facts objectively you all know I’m right.
Although it is one of the most hotly contested topics on the Internet, classic cars come in all shapes and sizes, from expensive supercars and tar-burning muscle cars down to ordinary commuter vehicles. The cars we love and cherish when they’re old, outdated and unsafe classics all have some form of provenance attached to them, from winning races, being the fastest or coolest model, being owned by celebrities, ushering in a new class of vehicle, or they are special for merely surviving decades of abuse.
The life cycle of a regular car is a long, arduous, and sometimes cruel thing. From being driven lovingly off the showroom floor and treated like a prized possession it normally ends up battered around shopping centre car parks within a few years, before being sold down through a run of second-hand owners until it finally hits rock bottom: P-plate transport.
Once a car is cheap enough for the most cash-strapped, inexperienced and enthusiastic drivers to get hold of it will often either end up being crashed into something at a great rate of knots or be transformed with questionable modifications. This isn’t an attack on young drivers, but an acknowledgement of their meagre budget, inexperience behind the wheel, and unending enthusiasm that often overrides everything else.
The third-generation Hyundai Excel (Accent overseas) hit Australia in 1994 with a huge splash: the bubbly shape, lurid rave-ready colours, standard air conditioning, and solid Mitsubishi underpinnings were beaut, but the price was razor-sharp. At under $13,000 drive-away it was pretty much the cheapest way into a new set of wheels, and Aussie buyers recognised this massively picking up 200,000 X3-generation Excels in the model’s six-year run.
This doesn’t sound all that important now, but this was the start of Korean cars building their brands. Today Hyundai and Kia are among the most well-known automobile brands in the world, but back then they were an unknown and many mocked the rubbery plastics, bubbly styling and cheap price.
When the Excels proved harder to kill than a brown dog they only got more popular as cheap and well-equipped transport for people who didn’t care about badge snobbery. Plus the twin-cam Sprint model actually went pretty hard for a little 1.5-litre aspirated four-banger that cost under $14,000!
As the marketing targeted both sensible people needing cheap, reliable transport and young go-getters wanting brightly coloured zippy cars they could actually afford to fuel and insure, unlike HSVs or WRXs of the day, the Excel worked its way into the everyday fabric of Australia. These things were everywhere, like EH Holdens in the 60s or Valiants in the 70s.
They became part of our culture and this is why, today, they should be considered a classic. When was the last time you saw a bright yellow Excel Sprint or a purple sedan? Remember the crazy bodykits dealers fitted to them, with giant T-wings and jutting front spoilers adorned with huge foglights?
While it is no F40 or ED XR8 Sprint, there is a humble charm to the Hyundai Excel which deserves to be recognised today. Their shortcomings give them heart and their place in the history of Aussie motoring deserves to be recognised.
Motorsport is an incredibly expensive hobby but one-make racing series offer a great entry point for wheel-to-wheel, door-banging fun. We’ve seen HQ Holdens and E30 BMWs used to great effect but one of the most popular one-make classes are the Excels; because people love seeing them.
Just like all the old chrome bumper classics of yore, look around the roads today and try to find a mint-condition X3 Excel; they don’t exist, and this is why we should be saving the good ones where possible. No, I’m not about to go restore one but preserving this piece of 1990s automotive memorabilia is as important as putting the right chalk marks on your Valiant’s firewall.
I’ll take an orange twin-cam Sprint three-door with a T-wing, thanks.
For all your Hyundai Excel insurance needs check out www.enthusiast.com.au