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Car Memories: 1997 Hyundai Accent

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Topics:  Hyundai Accent
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Car Memories: 1997 Hyundai Accent

Bill Crittenden
January 25, 2010

What kind of car is it?

1997 Hyundai Accent base model, hatchback, in Cape Blue
1997 Hyundai Accent GT, hatchback, a dark green that was if I recall correctly Madras Green

Why did you buy it?  When did you get it?

My mother bought a Cape Blue stripped-out 1997 Accent brand new to replace the old Hyundai Excel I had started to learn to drive on.  Until it was covered over by cigarette ash smell, it had that very distinct 1990's Hyundai new car smell, which is not as appealing as other cars' new car smells.  Most buyers love "new car smell" either because it's a mix of fresh leather and carpet or because it says, "I bought a new car!"  The Hyundai's was the sort you buy an air freshener for at 1,000 miles.  Or a pack of Camels, that works too.

I bought mine because my Oldsmobile was going to fail emissions, and I wanted something a little more fun to drive.  By fun I mean stick shift.  I remember looking at a Honda del Sol but deciding on the Accent.

I bought the Hyundai in particular because I drove my mother's and I liked the car.  The GT was in my favorite color and had all sorts of stuff my mom's didn't, like DOHC, a sunroof, foglights, and spoiler.

What did you think of the car when you had it?  Likes and dislikes?

I had a lot of fun in that car.  It got good mileage around town, except the little 1.5L engine had to run a little higher RPM to keep it up to highway speed so highway mileage wasn't spectacular.

It wasn't the best cornering car I ever drove, but the way it handled really fit me perfectly.  Once I learned to drive it, that is.  I do recall it being a very light car, compared to the Plymouth Neon I had been driving.  My first time out in my mother's Accent I launched the car off a rise in the road that only lifted the Neon's body.  I went over the curb and off the road.

It was a little rough over the bumps, but I could feel the road through the car, and once I got acquainted with the car I could tell exactly how much grip I had left and how far I could push the car without crashing it again.  There's something fun about taking a car to its absolute limit of handling.  Even if you could corner faster at 80% of a better car's capabilities, somehow it's just not as fun as tiptoeing on the edge of control.  So even I had driven other cars around quicker than my Hyundai, I still had more fun in the little Accent GT.

Crashing isn't fun, either, which is why it's also good to have a car that lets you know when that limit of handling is reached without dumping you into a ditch.  Provided, of course, you haven't found that limit of handling while your car has all four tires airborne.  As much as I love my Pontiac Vibe, sometimes between the all-wheel drive and the automatic transmission and the way it feels driving it I never quite know for sure exactly where the line between fun driving and a call to the tow truck is.  So I can never really push the car like I did my Hyundai, and so it's not quite as fun to drive.  That sort of communication between car and driver builds confidence in a car, too, and being confident in a car is important, especially if you're going to drive it like a pissed off teenager.  Which I was at the time.

I do remember not liking the shifter much at all, it always felt loose and it was a fairly long throw for fun driving.  Finding third gear quickly was especially difficult.

1997 Hyundai Accent GT Madras Green 1997 Hyundai Accent
Photo © Bill Crittenden
View photo, 41KB

Was there anything you found really interesting about the car?

Well, not really.  Other than the fact that it came in dark green, not the most common color for cutesy little compact cars, it was really remarkable in its ordinariness.

Did you have any problems with the car?

My mother's Accent had a clutch master cylinder problem which stranded her at work one day.

On my car I had a phantom Check Engine light that would come on and go off occasionally.  A few times the car would misfire, and the Check Engine light would flash.  If you shut the car off, waited about 10 seconds, and turned it back on, everything would be OK, except the Check Engine light would stay lit for a few days, and go off again.

Also, I already mentioned the shifter.

Why did you get rid of the car?

My mother's went to my sister and she upgraded to the Hyundai XG350L.  I think she still has it, but we don't visit much.

I wanted a pickup truck.  As much fun as the car was, I had a cowboy hat and I was moving out to the country.  A fat man with a big hat in a tiny car driving through corn country is a really silly image.  My girlfriend at the time also suggested I get a car that was more comfortable to ride in.  So I thought I'd grow up and get an S-10.  She's been my wife for seven years now, so keeping her happy was worth it in the end.  The S-10 was also valuable when I moved away from home for the first time, since I had furniture that would have never fit in a hatchback.  I also felt a little less silly taking my truck to NASCAR races.

I don't regret buying the pickup truck, but I do regret having to trade in the Accent on it.  I wish there was a way I could have had both.

What do you think of the car now?

Of course it was a ton of fun to drive when I was a kid, but it wouldn't be practical for a family man (which is what I am now).  It was a bit small, two doors wouldn't be the easiest with a kid in the backseat, and the sedan just isn't as fun as the hatchback (I don't know why, it just is).  I really do love having all wheel drive way out northwest of Chicago, which is something the Accent doesn't offer.

The styling is a bit dated.  While I could have some fun with a green 1997 GT for sentimental reasons, if I wanted to own one again I would buy a new Accent for the warranty or maybe a second-generation Accent, which is the one I liked the most for styling.

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