Curbside Classic Lite: 1981 Honda Prelude – A Prelude to Greater Things To Come

The Prelude was a highly pragmatic move on Honda’s part to expand into the then large and lucrative sporty coupe market. The Celica was making hay and Nissan’s latest 200SX (Silvia) was catching on too. Honda took the longer wheelbase platform of the yet-to-be released the gen2 Civic sedan and wagon, messed around a bit (a bit too little) with the suspension pieces and settings, threw in the Accord’s 1750 cc CVCC four and transmission, and wrapped it in a body that was looked exactly like what it was: a cross between the Accord and the Civic, where the clay model was set in front of a misting fan.

The result was, well…a bit forgettable. Not really bad or ugly, and actually a perfectly typical Honda in most ways, but it just didn’t exactly click. The Celica of the times was a huge hit. But then it was styled in Southern California. It was all too painfully obvious that the Prelude wasn’t. And 72 hp from the 1751cc CVCC four a bit modest even for the times. Or maybe we had unrealistic expectations. DOHC, 16 valves and V-TEC were still a Quaalude-induced dream away. This was Honda’s mild-mannered era, at least in the US.

That’s not to say that the gen1 Prelude was an actual dud; it sold some 172k units in the US alone. And it got its share of love. But it simply lacked the zing necessary to make a genuine impact with enthusiasts. And thus it was a disappointment, at least to thos that knew Honda was capable of more.

The Prelude premiered in Japan in November of 1978, and this first commercial for it was shot in England. The Prelude arrived in the US in March of 1979.

This being a 1981, it has the revised dash, a more conventional affair than in the ’79 & ’80.

Here’s the original design, a more futuristic and unusual approach.

Here’s a close up of the tach within the speedometer. There are warning lights int he rectangle in the center of the cluster.

The back seat was a rather cozy place, not surprisingly.


Given the huge enthusiasm there had been after the introduction of the first Civic and then the Accord, I suppose it would have been unrealistic to expect Honda to hit three homers in a row. And it really was a perfectly fine little coupe, with all the qualities that had made its donors so desirable.

Honda learned their lesson well. The gen2 Prelude more than met the expectations of what a Honda sporty coupe should be. And the gen1 Prelude certainly didn’t set Honda back any in its meteoric ascent in the US. It just made us realize that Honda wasn’t perfect. Which may have been a good thing for all involved.