Cars Of A Lifetime: 1993 Hyundai Excel – Speed Kills

You know that saying, “speed kills” ? Well I can’t personally attest to killing people with speed, but I can attest to killing a certain Silver Hyundai.

The Hyundai was one of those unfortunate victims of my early driving career. Nowadays Hyundai has a pretty good reputation for quality, but in 1993 they were just starting to get better.

I met my wife for the first time in that car.  One day I saw her riding in the passenger seat of her brand new Excel.  Her friend got out and went into the dorm and I took the opportunity of getting a solo audience with her (i.e. kidnapping). I jumped in the driver’s seat and started driving her around the parking lot. She was a bit upset at this but it all ended with us going on a date, so I guess my bit of hijinks worked.

The Hyundai was a lot less attractive than she was: a nasty silver-gray color, its engine felt like it had three cylinders, an auto trans, and a radio. Nevertheless, I couldn’t keep my hands off it. I still had my learners permit but had driven around the country a little bit by then. Now allow me to document its demise one step at a time at the hands of a teenage wannabe boy racer.

I had driven a bit, but was not really a fully qualified driver in any state, and that was made apparent most acutely in this poor car. For one thing, it was pretty gutless. But it felt sporty, compared to my old Volvo; of course almost anything did. So I took up the art of “racing” between lights. But I could not get it to peel out like all the cool cars I was racing against. I figured it out for myself though: just rev it way up in neutral and drop it into drive! That was just for starters.

Growing up like any boy in America during the 80’s, I had aspired to be just like “the Duke boys”.  And the one thing those “Duke boys” did a lot of was jump their car! So driving around one day, it came naturally to me to see a certain abnormally high crowned railroad crossing through a “Dukes of Hazzard” eye. It was virtually made for jumping a car. Turns out that Hyundai could jump pretty far! And it seemed to be just fine after that.

Eventually I got my drivers license in that car and then set about collecting speeding tickets, all of which I know I deserved. I learned about speed the hard way on three separate occasions with that car.

On the first occasion the road was wet and I was going about 20 mph around a tight corner. I lost control an ended up breaking the suspension on a curb. My friend’s dad was a sort of mentor to me at the time and I happened to mention the incident to him on the phone several nights latter. He simply said “you were going to fast”. I responded that I was only going 20 mph. He responded with “you were going to fast”. We repeated that cycle several times until I got the picture: I was going to fast!

A 500 dollar deductible and some time later: I learned that one should double check their mirrors before backing. After bending the license plate frame of a very nice fellow’s truck, the hatchback never did open again.

But back to my speeding problem. My second big lesson on speed; we were in the habit of driving all over the place, what with the 88 cent per gallon gasoline and a gas-sipping car. One fine Sunday we were taking a drive out through the country. Now when I say drive, I really mean rally racing. For me, every road was a chance to set or beat my best time.

I was racing up a hill and not paying much attention to things like street signs or road conditions. When suddenly as we crested the hill I was presented with a terrible quandary. In front of me lay a 90 degree turn that should be taken at about 15 mph. My speed was about 60 mph. Straight ahead was a muddy road leading steeply down the hill with a drop on the right leading to a lake. To my left the apex of the turn was covered in gravel.  I made a snap decision. I thought I would never get the car stopped down the muddy hill and might end up in the water. I knew I could not make the turn. But I figured that even in failure we would not end up in the lake. So we ended up backwards through a fence, and over a ditch,  two tires popped off the beads, smoke coming from the car. But amazingly, after putting on the spare and airing up the other tire, we were able to make it back to our school, barely. As we pulled into the parking lot it stopped all forward movement and we coasted to a parking spot.

A 500 dollar deductible and some time latter: I learned that the Dukes of Hazzard was a TV show, not a driving instructional video. It’s funny really, because out of all the stuff I did to that car this is what killed it; I was late for work and we were going about 50 mph down a residential street. As I crossed another road the crown in the road was so tall that the bottom hit and we flew a few feet in the air before landing. I thought nothing of it, since this was my normal driving style. But when I got to work the car quit moving forward. When I came back out for break time I discovered the problem: the Hyundai was sitting in a little lake of transmission fluid. I had driven it far enough to burn up the transmission and it never moved again. That is, until the bank repossessed it after we lost everything but that’s another story.

Today Hyundai is a top quality car company and I drive for a living and have an excellent record. But like any tumultuous break up, I really don’t think we could ever see each other again.