I bought an '86 Excel new and drove it for 125K miles. Cost less than $7K with manual, radio, and AC. Other than regular maintenance and tires, it cost me $300 in service during its time. Gave it to a charity in 1998.
I'm in my early 40's so maybe I missed the really bad early years of Japanese car rust. But I'm old enough to remember putting my finger through the rust holes on the trunk lid my dad's 1987 Pontiac 6000 around 1990. So I can't say american cars where much better in that era either. Ford Taurus's of that era would also "dissolve" as you say.