Perhaps not everyone will agree but 1990 to me will always be one of Acura’s best years, and perhaps the best, full stop. Consider that it was the first year of the NSX that showed the world that exotics needn’t be fragile and temperamental, also the first year of the second generation Integra which I find to be the prettiest one, and sadly the last year of the first Legend Coupe, one of Acura’s most attractive designs of all time, due to be replaced with what I consider a bloated catfish of a car styling-wise the next year, never mind its actual merits.
The Legend Coupe was introduced for the 1987 model year, a year after the sedan and the Acura brand itself and with it came a slightly larger V6 engine. At 2.7liters it was a useful enlargement of the original 2.5l, and the sedan received it the next year as well. While the early to mid 1980’s saw the BMW 635CSI for example as a leader in the style/performance/status stakes of Southern California, the Legend Coupe seemed to take a bit of wind out of its sails as even though it was FWD, it was tapping into a generation of people that were weaned on smaller Hondas, starting to make real money in their careers and not always willing to just move over to the Germans. And coupes were still in favor, certainly as a second car in a household.
Many of those people liked what Honda had offered in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and Acura offered a way to continue that while stepping up to a more luxurious environment within the cars. The Legend (sedan) was the first Japanese car to break the $25,000 price barrier over here and after that there was no looking back. While rave reviews poured in for the sedan, once the coupe was introduced it was able to sell on not just its mechanicals and build quality but also its looks.
With a low hoodline, sweeping views out the large windows coupled with slim pillars and rakish lines, it’s both a sporting shape with some muscular tension to it, especially in the slightly boxed fenders, and yet a very graceful one. There wasn’t a bad color on offer, and though I find this one in red quite fetching, my first ride in one was in one colored a sort of powdery medium blue, so that’ll forever be my ideal color for this car. That one belonged to the father of a co-worker of mine and I recall the ride vividly, the car was fast, quiet, smooth, and oh so refined.
I myself consider it one of the prettier cars to come from Japan and find that this generation has not aged at all, it looks as energetic, lithe, and sprightly now as it did when new. There’s more than a whiff of second and third generation Prelude about it, both of which I hold in high esteem, but the larger size makes it feel more mature somehow.
This car looks equally at home slowly cruising down Ventura Boulevard as it does carving north on Highway 1 toward California’s Central Coast as it does consuming large swaths of Interstate 80 for several days straight while crossing the country from San Francisco to Boston.
While the 2.7liter V6 put out 160hp and 162lb-ft of torque, the car weighed just over 3100lbs, and with the 5-speed manual especially was considered very quick in its day. That engine bay with the transversely mounted engine looks a bit of a spaghetti-fest now, but back then this was considered a wonderful engine with a smooth power delivery and a willingness to rev it up. I won’t rehash all of the details as we have an excellent Curbside Classic history on the Legend Coupe in the archives that explains all of it in detail.
That tan buttery soft leather on those invitingly bolstered seats, the black upper dash and wheel, and best of all a 5-speed manual transmission as Soichiro intended, that’s a winning combination. The low cowl afforded by the double-wishbone front suspension that Honda put in everything back then made it so good to look out of over the hood, and the dash binnacle with the sunroof control paddle on the left and the radio volume paddle on the right along with buttons for various other functions was there for the driver to use without taking hands off the wheel and eyes off the road.
Acura did that combination of buttons and dials for the HVAC system so well, it was simple and intuitive at a glance, the radio had tons of adjustability and looked “the business”, and everything in an Acura worked just as well as in a Honda but maybe felt just that little bit better. Of course our Acuras were sold as Hondas everywhere else in the world so maybe they did just feel like Hondas did but dammit, that extra money had to go to something!
A set of simple and yet extremely attractive and readable gauges that would be familiar to anyone who ever spent any time in any 1980’s Honda, they all sort of looked similar and worked great. Nothing overwrought, no trying too hard with chrome accents or anything, just clean, modern, and as legible and clear as anything from Germany or perhaps even better than that. The top of the line LS model got some wood trim in the cabin as well to glam it up a little bit, but this mid-level L looks just fine without.
154,232 miles are all that are on this one, maybe the timing belt snapped, or something else happened, hopefully it’s not here just because nobody wants to drive a manual transmission car anymore. At just over 5000 miles per year this car was clearly someone’s treasure for quite some time.
The back seat too looks hugely inviting but still purposeful, with the gathered leather being the only nod to superficial fashion of the time. While likely snug, it still looks comfortable with good views out.
The trunk space looks good too, plenty of room to pack the bags for that weekend escape to El Pollo Del Mar resort up the coast or several set of golf clubs or just everyday life. Well-trimmed, it’s held up well with the current junk in the trunk unlikely to have been strewn about in there before it arrived here.
Acura could do no wrong back then and were dominating many of the major awards of the time, as the darlings of the automotive press along with the Honda mother ship it seemed like the party wouldn’t end. And in fact there were quite a few more good years in the offing as the next generation Legend as well as the next Integra even beyond the one just getting started in 1990 were well accepted and popular.
Although there were a few miscues early on with not reading the tea leaves correctly in respect to getting an SUV out the gate, even the first MDX, Acura’s first home-grown effort in that segment, was quite a success after the hurried rebadge of an Isuzu Trooper as the SLX and the MDX is probably Acura’s main reason it survives to this day. Their follow-on cars weren’t bad per se (and there are some absolute gems in there), but once they had renamed everything by using the alphabet instead of respected names with a short but distinguished history it all kind of seemed to fall apart, at least as far as much of the general public was concerned.
But I prefer to remember the better times, and for Acura, this was the peak era for me. I’d sort of forgotten about the Legend Coupe a bit as they just aren’t seen around here anymore. But seeing this one, even in its current state, reminded me of the old days and what promise they held. When this 1990 model was sold new, I was about a year away from graduating from College, trying to figure out where I’d end up afterward.
The economy was not great, there were plenty of tensions in the world, I wasn’t sure if I understood what my professors were trying to teach me, but a sunny day and a good road with a great car could make one forget about all of that and just get lost in what was over the next hill and around the next corner. This was one of the cars I wanted and while I never actually got it, I was happy to dream about living that dream.