It’s been a while since I’ve seen a gen1 Prelude curbside. My full CC on one is here, and that was shot ten years ago. There’s been a few sightings since then, but not in recent years. So here’s my epilog on the Prelude.
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 too. Honda took the longer wheelbase platform of the yet-to-be released the gen2 Civic sedan and wagon, messed around a bit (way 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.
Unfortunately, Honda left out a key element: genuine excitement and sportiness.
The result was, well…somewhat forgettable. Not really bad or truly ugly, and actually a perfectly typical Honda, in all the usual 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 75 hp was even a bit modest for the times. DOHC, 16 valves and V-TEC were still a Quaalude-induced dream away. This was Honda’s mild-mannered era.
That’s not to suggest it wasn’t either good or a dud. It sold reasonably well enough in the US, a total of 171k units. But Honda knew it hadn’t really made a mark for itself in the sporty coupe market, and the gen2 Prelude was a profoundly more ambitious car. So this was really just the prelude to the real thing.