For the past 20 years a Prelude has been my daily drive. Here's a story, a bit of a long one if I'm honest, of an unsung classic....
The 4th Generation
Coming off the back of a couple of warm/hot hatches, notably a caribic blue Corsa GSi, I stepped into my first Prelude. It was an entry spec 4th gen 2 litre model, with an engine delivering an output of 131 bhp. Though quite modest in power it did handle superbly. A definite step up from the hot hatch world, the looks where bold compared to anything else I'd driven, and the ride was low.
Take a look at the photo, the Nova looks so tired, and there's a true saddness to the Sierra Sapphire, by comparsion the Prelude looks modern.
Even in its basic specification I was drawn to the shape. And to my eye, the 4th gen has hardly aged at all since I first became an owner in 1997. 'Spoilery' stuff it did not need. Its simple shape had an elegance that any adornment might blight - unlike, I'd argue, the Celica. Stripped of bodykit and high rise spoilers the Toyota would lose its appeal. Not so the Prelude - and by the way, I do have a fondness for the Celica.
The draw of the Prelude soon spread to my Dad. Not wishing to be outdone he promptly found himself a 2.2i VTEC.
The VTEC model boasted 182bhp from its H22A1 engine and proved somewhat addictive. At around 5200rpm all hell would seemingly break loose - and it didn't stop until nigh on 8000rpm. This Prelude also came with another trick up it's sleeve - the 'magic' of four wheel steer. Unlike its 3rd Gen predecessor where the 'magic' was mechanical , this 4WS was electronic and controlled by multiple sensors.
On driving the 'Milano Red', I knew that I had to have one. And four wheel steer - what of it? 'Cane' it at motorway speeds, change lanes, and it drifts across the tarmac like a dream as all its wheels align in the same direction. At manoeuvering speeds however, front and rear wheels form an arc. Park it, and you'll need to know how that behaves, otherwise you'll scrape the rear arches against anything close by if you don't understand and get to grips with the geometry. It's an added dimension that you'll only appreciate if you drive it.
Critically the 4th gen Prelude was well recieved. Although it sold in relatively low numbers compared to any of its competition, it never achieved a breakthrough. Only its owners understood how good it was. Can you remember the last time you saw one on the road? Even at the car shows the 4th gen Prelude, and now increasingly the 5th gen, is a rare find.
One unique feature of the 4th gen was its dashboard. Now I'm a child at heart so you'll understand that a dashboard which uses a Tokyo skyline as inspiration, all lit up in neon, is beyond perfect.
It just appealed to the sci-fi nerd in me. Not only did I have a Star Trek dashboard, I also had a VTEC engine for warp speed.
The 5th Generation
The 5th and final version of the Prelude. Honestly, I really wasn't sure at first. What the hell had Honda done? There was an essence of the 3rd gen to the new shape, but I couldn't, at this stage, get past the looks of my 4th gen model.
And those eyes, hmmmm?
And that arse?????
The H22 engine, now A5, had remained essentially the same, but the car was stiffer. And that stiffness translated into a 'grippier' feel. Now that did put a smile on your face.
My Dad, once again, not to be outdone, found one of the final examples of the VTi. It came with a Motegi badge, a bodykit, and the final iteration of the H22 engine - the A8. With a boost in bhp to boot, up from 182 to 197 bhp, this version had more aggressive gearing and a much firmer ride. It was the engine the 5th gen should have had from the start. Arguably it should have had the Accord Type R LSD gearbox as well. But, and it was a big but, the car had 'pull'. It would dare you to drop down a gear, throw it hard into a corner, and let the VTEC guide you round and out.
To cut a long story short, and through a convoluted 'car swap thing', and what with Dad favouring a different, more mature, sensible drive (a CRV no less), the ruby red was sold, and the ficus green Prelude kept on, and on, and on - in my hands. Dad never really wanted to let go of the Prelude marque, and so he 'engineered' that it should never leave the family.
Now, as the long term owner, there inevitably came a point where the age of the Motegi had to be confronted. Foremost was the dreaded rust. It crept up the rear arches, an expensive repair, but well worth the cost. Properly serviced the car still excites. It drives as new. I can't shake this Prelude addiction, just not tempted by any other ride. My sister has a Z4 in her family - no way, no thanks.
The VTEC engine still thrills.
Put it by some JDM royalty and I believe it holds its own.
One criticism of the 5th gen was the interior. Coming off the back of the glow in the dark 4th gen, this one seemed, well, just plain. As time has gone by, I have really come to appreciate the simplicity of pure 'plain'. It's just a nice place to sit and engage with the road - like a coffee break on steroids, to enjoy, as and when and how the mood takes. Dad has often commented on the memory of driving the ficus green home from the dealership for the first time. It sticks in his memory as a particular event in his motoring history. Behind the wheel, everything was in the right place, a calmness with attitude as he ate up the miles eastwards on the M6 and M62.
I've never dyno'd the car, but it doesn't feel like it lacks any of the punch it was born with 19 years ago. All of the Preludes I've owned have ended up high mileage - but they've never felt tired or need to be retired. The H22 engine really was a Honda classic - thrilling and willing to be pushed hard, yet never miss a beat, (the H22A7 powered the legendary Accord Type R). Aping a Top Gear drive, Dad and I took the Ficus Green Lude over 700 miles to the Millau bridge. The car was eyed up in Paris, on the renowned Peripherique before flying through the French countryside to the Gorge du Tarn. Such a capable GT car.
For me, Honda reliability is no myth. However, I did have a 'wee' incident, (let's call it an operational incident), and, if you were caught on the M6 at the time, I sincerely apologise for the delay - ooops.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this Prelude story. If you're a touch constipated you may have managed the article in one sitting?
If you can find yourself a well cared for Prelude, I'd say go for it. Invest some money and you'll have a stunning, late 90's, under appreciated, under valued, Japanese classic. Now I don't know if Clarkson meant this one, but, on a DVD release:
One final image, parked in my Nephew's drive. And got to say, pleased with how the Prelude still looks - and still drives.
Thanks again for reading.
With contributions from Ray Norcliffe
For more Prelude musings see 'Addiction 2':