THE HYUNDAI Excel is one of Australia’s most popular cars, with seemingly every teenager in the country thrashing one as their first vehicle, and an estimated 200,000 being sold between 1994 and 2000.
So, it makes sense then that someone has transformed the unassuming Korean hatch into a race car with a thumping Ford V8 heart. That someone would be Liam Hill, a Werribee fabricator by trade, who has built the ultimate Hyundai Excel.
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Having owned the car since 2013, Hill has built the racer in his spare time, doing work after hours with the help of his friends and family.
“Since [owning the car] we have been racing it, developing it, racing it again, developing it again, cutting it up, and making it faster – it has been an ongoing project for a while,” he told Wheels.
The latest series of improvements has seen the Excel, which competes as a Sport Sedan, absent from the track for several months, as it undergoes a serious heart transplant, with a 5.0-litre V8 Supercar engine from Tickford being wedged under its bodywork.
While bodied as a Hyundai Excel, the car Hill races actually started life as a road-faring Datsun 1600 two door.
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“I was building up the Datto as a little bit of a budget thing, which then had a little bit of rust in it, so we decided to build a space frame for it,” he explained.
“I actually made a bit of a cock-up, as the car had a sunroof, and when my Dad and I went to weld it up we warped the roof.
“So we went to the wreckers, measured everything up, and it turns out the internal dimensions of an Excel are almost identical to the Datto.
“When we looked at it we pissed ourselves laughing, and thought this could be quite humorous.
“We couldn’t say no to that, so we cut the body up on the Excel and slid it right over the top of the space frame.”
The ex-Tickford engine will be the third engine to sit underneath the Excel’s dash (more on that later), following a pair of 2.0-litre SR20 motors (first naturally-aspirated, and then supercharged).
Hill believes a switch from four- to eight-cylinders will help improve the Excel’s reliability and straight-line speed.
“The only thing the car was lacking before the V8 was horsepower,” he said. “While we could get more power, the temperamental side of the SR20 was starting to come out. The block was starting to flex and things like that.”
V8 Supercar engines are estimated to produce in the region of 460-480kW, which is a significant step up from the 68kW 1.5-litre atmo four-cylinder which originally powered a facelifted ’97 Excel.
Due to Sport Sedan regulations, the Excel must meet a minimum weight requirement of 1050kg. However, Hill is hoping he can get up to 522kW out of the Ford V8.
“We will get it up and running as it is, but once I have got some spare time I will crank the compression up and change the valvetrain a little bit and get more revs out of it,” he said.
Power is sent to the rear wheels, via a Hollinger six-speed sequential gearbox.
Along with an impressive power-to-weight ratio, the Excel has enough aero to impress Adrian Newey. Previously Hill has run rear wings from both a Lamborghini GT3 and classic Group C racer, while the Excel has a completely flat floor and sizeable diffuser.
Progress hasn’t been quick or easy, with Hill stating that work has been underway on the upgrades for a year now.
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“It’s not just putting in the V8,” he explained. “I wrote a list of everything I didn’t like about the car and basically attacked the poor thing with an angle grinder.”
During the process, the Excel’s rims and tyres are growing from 9-inches wide at each corner to a girthy 13-inches.
Fitting a 5.0-litre V8 inside a car with small hatchback dimensions hasn’t been an easy process, but thankfully the Sports Sedan rulebook allows Hill to get creative.
“The pedal box is actually in front of the engine,” Hill states. “My left hip is on the centre line of the car, so the engine is offset to the left hand side, and everything else is placed to get the corner weights perfect.”
When it is finished, Hill’s mighty Excel will compete in the National Sports Sedan series, racing against the likes of Tony Ricciardello’s Alfa Romeo GTV – one of the most successful cars in Australian motorsport.