Hyundai did not sell the Stellar (stolen picture at top left) in the US, but it was your basic Asian compact in philosophy.
The Stellar is the anti-Alliance. The engine, although small, performs reliably. (The Stellar engine has since earned a reputation for ruggedness and continues to perform well even in 20-year-old cars.) That is one tiny engine, though. When you open the hood and look in, the engine block looks like a die suspended in a jewelry box. The engine compartment has no floor, and you can see a lot of road below it (see the picture at right, also stolen, but from a different Web site).
The engine behaves, and that’s an automatic plus. The Achilles heel of the Stellar is the body and all its accoutrements. The vehicles rusts out and falls apart. I’d say the body panels were made of aluminum foil, but aluminum doesn’t rust. Rust spots grow to sizable holes in a season.
I don’t know a lot about Korea and some of what I do know comes from watching M*A*S*H. So I do know that Korea suffers cold winters and that people gather around fires in barrels. So why don’t Koreans know how to build a car that will function in winter? Maybe Korean winters are really mild, and the M*A*S*H cast members were put into cold-weather gear only to teach them a lesson.
I take some share of the blame for my inattentiveness to the rust in the many, many places it first appears, but I try to put as little cash into maintenance of the Stellar as possible.
The car is maladapted to the Montreal climate in other ways. It is extremely light, even with body panels not yet thinned by corrosion. That tiny engine doesn’t add much weight. The problem is magnified by the rear-wheel drive. When it snows, the car can’t make it up a hill of any significant grade.
It snows one day while I’m visiting my dad’s place. I try to take the Stellar uphill where Cote-Saint-Luc Rd. turns into the Boulevard past Decarie. It’s a decent slope, but San Franciscans would chuckle at it. I almost make it, but while my wheels rotate forward, the car slides backward. It’s a good thing there was no traffic behind me. I roll backwards down the slope and find an alternate route. Here’s a map:
Eventually, the Hyundai’s rot starts to permeate secondary systems as well as body panels. Key among these is the windshield cleaning apparatus. The wiper fluid pump goes out and it’s just not worth repairing. I don’t need wiper fluid in the summer or as long as temperatures remain below zero in winter. Spring is the killer, especially on the highways. I develop the art of following large vehicles. Their large tires kick up water that I can use to clean the windshield with the wipers.
The strategy works – I’m typing this, aren’t I? Eventually, the driver’s side wiper itself starts to fall apart. With hockey tape and a chamois ribbon, I gerryrig enough support to avoid a costly repair. It’s bad enough that I have to shell out for a brake job.
At some point, a snow-hauling dumptruck annoints my windshield with a piece of gravel and cracks it. Ironically, I was not following that dumptruck in hopes of getting splashed. In fact, that whole particular night was crappy – so crappy, I was inspired to write it down. I still have that file and maybe I’ll post that to the blog next.
The peak story of the Stellar – I can’t in good conscience call it the “greatest story” – involves the time I came closest to killing another person. Twice.
I’m driving home from softball, and by now it’s dark and raining. I’m driving east along Sherbrooke just past Atwater and I come very close to squishing a guy on a bicycle between my car and the row of parked cars. He’s wearing black, including a black hood, because he, I presume, prefers to look cool than to look visible on a dark rainy night.
I pass him without contact, but I get his adrenaline going. At the light (corner of Chomedey, I think; see map below), he catches up to me and slaps my passenger-side mirror. The mirror arcs up into the rainy night sky, never to be seen again. The biker takes off, through the red light, and turns down Chomedey against the one-way street (there was no traffic). I am incensed, and I have a softball bat with me.
The second time I came close to killing this guy is over the next 15 minutes, as I cruise the one-way streets in the neighbourhood with my bat, looking for him so that I may convince him to chip in for the cost of replacing my mirror.
I didn’t find him, but I still get a kick out of the moment of panic he must have felt just before he took off. Can you tell?
The Hyundai lasts me until I leave town with Elvi. I leave it behind and my dad soon sells it for $200 to a Rumanian immigrant. If I recall correctly, this time I get to keep the money.
In the next installment, I finally get my Japanese compact. Unless I post the story of the night my windshield cracked instead.
I couldn’t upload that first JPEG to Blogger when the file was named stellar.jpg, but when I changed the name to hyundai.jpg, it worked fine. Odd.