At Christmas of 1991, I came home from the semester abroad. The BMW 320i had been sold via an old fashioned newspaper ad (remember those?). My dad said he had a lot of tire kickers, but most didn’t have the money and wanted him to finance it for them. The eventual buyer was a 16 year old and his parents…..my dad said the kid was fixated on my Crutchfield CD stereo installation.
Waiting for me was “my” second car, and first new car, a 1991 Prelude. It was a 2.0Si, specifically. Starting in 1990, the carb base model 2.0S was dropped. The lowest model was now the fuel injected 2.0Si with 135 horsepower, while the upper model was simply the “Si”, with 2.1 liters and 140 horsepower. I was thrilled with it! It had crank windows and manual locks which were getting less common by 1991, but I was used to that. It did not have power mirrors. It had a 5 speed, power steering, a power sunroof, and cruise. Along with fully integrated “normal” air conditioning that was a huge improvement over the BMW.
This was the last model year for the third generation. 1992 brought the new Prelude. Something of a bummer to have the last year of a body style, but the looks of the fourth generation never did anything for me anyway.
I had chosen white, which may seem odd, plain, or unhip. But being into car care and paint care like I was, I knew the white would be easier to keep up than the other colors (navy blue or red). I was going to graduate from college in a few months, and go straight to grad school. I knew I would have less time to devote to it. And red wasn’t my thing. I would probably still have a preference for white to this day, but my wife can’t stand white cars.
It had a very sharp looking black cloth interior and sporty, overly bolstered seats. Of course it was low slung, and with the signature low Honda cowl, it felt like you were driving a go kart. It was a complete 180 from the upright, two door sedan seating and styling of the 320i.
How do you write about trials and tribulations of Honda ownership? I mean, what is there to say? It was an easy and uneventful as, well, a Honda. It had a so-so factory AM/FM/cassette, but wanting to keep the factory look, I added a Honda CD player below it where there was a storage slot. I turned to Crutchfield to upgrade the speakers, which made a huge difference even when keeping to the factory sizes and grilles.
I also added Honda fog lights to the prewired knockouts in the front bumper. Without them, the car had a Subaru XT look which to my eye was not a good thing.
I even liked the plastic wheel covers…they had fake locks on the center caps, so they looked liked an alloy to the casual observer. But after the pain of cleaning the vaned BMW wheels, they were so easy to clean…..just a good wipe with the wash mitt and you were done.
I was pretty particular about it the whole time I had it. I kept a new beach towel tucked in over the driver seat to prevent wear. I kept another beach towel over the rear window shelf to prevent sun damage to the shelf and top of the rear seat. Being single, and wanting an escape from my studies, I washed it all the time….and waxed it about every time I washed it. It was so small and low, it was quick and easy.
I don’t recall gas mileage, but with the 5 speed it must have been pretty good. The original tires didn’t last long, I remember that. We next installed a set of Michelins that seemed to last forever, I want to say at least 50,000 miles.
That car moved me into my first apartment, got me through college graduation, and moved me to grad school. I could fit about everything I owned in it. For three years of grad school, it was a great car. The only three mishaps were someone scraped the side pulling into the space beside me. I touched it up and the white color of the car hid it well. Then, I got too close to a curb in a parking lot and the very low rocker panel got crunched, on the driver side I think. That took professional fixing. Finally, I was changing the wiper blades and the arm snapped down onto the windshield….yep, a big ol’ crack resulted and I had to replace that huge piece of glass. To this day, I never let go of a wiper arm when I am changing blades.
I drove a few hours home on the weekends pretty often, and drove to another town to work a few days a week as well year round. So, the miles added up pretty quickly. I always changed the oil and filter every 3000 miles though I probably could have gone longer with the highway miles.
By the Summer of 1995, I was out of grad school and moved again to my first job. My sister was now wanting/needing the Prelude to take to her last year or two of college, and grad school. They had bought her a four door Civic when they bought the Prelude for me. Mom finally was letting her 1979 240D go, and taking the Civic over. The Prelude was always tagged and titled to my parents, and I knew that it was “on loan” to me. Dad suggested that since I was out of school I should/could buy my own car now.
But, I could take the 16 year old 240D for free and title it to myself if I wanted it. The 2017 me would have jumped at the chance! And, there have been many times I wished I had kept it. They had bought it new, and I spent many an hour in it. Literally, many an hour, what with the glacial place at which it arrived anywhere. My dad and I talked about the fact that no one really wanted to see the 240D go, but there was no extra space at any household to park it, either. It was slow, was developing some minor rust down low, and had some peeling paint from a fender bender my mom was in. The AC in it had never been adequate in the summer, even when it was brand new. It just wasn’t what I wanted, even for free. So I passed on it, and set out to buy my next ride, which was in some ways truly my “first car”, one I would select, pay for, tag and insure on my own. What did I select? Surely a new or used Japanese import, right? You’ll find out the surprising answer in the next installment.
The Prelude, meanwhile, went off to college and grad school with my sister after about 80,000 miles with me. She drove it about another 80,000, and it finally got a clutch and brakes during her time. Then, my dad used it for a couple of years of brokering small businesses in neighboring states as a retirement gig. At just past 200,000 miles, he sold it to a friend. And in fact, he bought a new fifth generation Prelude for my mom. Kind of a weird lavender/silver/periwinkle color, not the nice red you see here! I don’t recall the model year but 2001 was the last Prelude and that was probably it. My parents drove it for about the next 10 years.
What was your first “new” car?
I’ve commented on the low beltline and cowls of early 90’s Hondas before, but it bears repeating. The interior shot above really illustrates how low the dash is. It starts at the already low base of the windshield, and then dips down even lower, until it is about even with your kneecaps.
Everyone should drive an 80’s or early 90’s Honda or Acura at least once in their life to experience this. We are unlikely to ever see interiors this low again due to the high cowl dictated by pedestrian impact requirements and airbags.
Having owned several 4th gen Accords I can attest to the fact that they are the best cars for visibility and ‘road in the lap’ feel out of any car you will ever drive. They had a sportiness to them as well as a solid, well-built feeling that no other car can or will ever duplicate IMO.
My first new car was a 1986 Honda Prelude in gray. That was followed my a 1991 Honda Prelude SI 4WS in black. That car was totaled when I was hit from behind by an 89 year old driver with diplomatic immunity from the local Air Force base. The car was totaled, but it saved my life. It was followed by a 1993 Honda Prelude VTEC. I made a stupid decision to buy a SUV and bought a 2002 Ford Escape. It was the worst car I ever had. Everything broke on that car so I traded it in on a 2004 Honda Civic SI. A fun car, but not a sports car. My current car is a 2010 Honda Civic SI coupe in orange. I love this car.
I am just curious,did they come with timing belt or chain?asking since we never got the Prelude downhere.i think your next car would be fourdoor sedan like accord.just guessing.
All Honda engines were timing belt driven until about 10 or so years ago when they started switching to timing chains.
My 2001 Accord was a timing belt and It had to be chain every 7 years or 80,000 miles. You usually change the water pump out too as the timing belt drove the water pump and you had to take the belt off to change the water pump anyway.
Three comments in and nobody has called it a Honda Quaalude yet.
That’s because it doesn’t apply to this generation; it applies only to the first generation, which was a bit of a snoozer. Not this one, by a long shot.
Having owned a 1980 Prelude I can tell you that car was WAY ahead of its time for a 1980 vehicle. Power moonroof, sweet shifting Honda 5-speed, double wishbone suspension – far from a snoozer IMO!
That white Civic LX sedan in the picture is identical to the one that I owned for 15 years. The only visible difference is that mine didn’t have the side pinstripe. I had the 5-speed manual (yay). Great car that was fun to drive, well put together, and very reliable. I agree with Tom Halter about the virtues of the low cowl and beltline – those and the thin roof pillars made for fantastic airiness and visibility.
Just a “heads up”, Ford STILL offers a car with manual windows. In this market, I don’t think Honda has offered a car with manual windows for a couple of years.
Prelude is one of the few cars where every car sold in the U.S. (IIRC) had a standard sunroof.
I like the Prelude, pretty much every model/generation, but have never considered one as a new car purchase and was under the impression that with the sunroof headroom would be minimal for someone 6 ft 4.
I tend to agree with you in the next gen prelude. I loved it when it came out, but it didnt diminish my love for the one u had…. And over time I am liking the one you had a lot more. The latest prelude lost its appeal for me looks- wise by 2000. But I did love the new preludes top dog vvt engine.
My first new car was a 2014 Jetta SportWagen TDI…which I realize is an odd car for a barely-adult guy to pick. But I loved it.
As for Honda, is it just me, or did the company subtly alter its logo to be a bit rounder in the mid 2000s? The one on my 1990 Accord—and indeed your 1991 Prelude—seemed a little bit more square by comparison.
Yes, the [H] badges on early-mid 80’s Hondas were very chiseled, and somewhat smoothed out on the late 80’s cars. The emblem became fully rounded off with the ’92 Accord facelift and new generations of Civic/Prelude, which is when they also dropped the serif Honda script on the trunklids.
There was a beautiful red ’90 or ’91 Prelude Si at Cars and Coffee yesterday. The vanity plate was “4WS.”
The ’92-95 Prelude is where I think Honda very first began to lose the script. It was just so un-Honda like.
Agreed! From the moment the first photos emerged of the ’92 Prelude, I felt unnerved by the digital fuel and temp gauges stuck in the center of the dash panel purely because… well, who the hell knows why? Certainly it wasn’t to maintain the elegant functionality on which the brand had built its well-earned reputation, and I never bought the “passenger involvement” marketing line.
It’s no coincidence that Honda also began selling rebadged Isuzus – Honda Passport, Acura SLX – around this time, further diluting the once-proud nameplate. I know their dealers were clamoring for SUVs, but seriously…
So this is not a real Acura??!
It is not. It’s a fairly decent Isuzu, but it’s not an Acura. 😀
I was thinking of getting a late 80s Prelude, but the demand was such that I couldn’t find one to test drive.
Honda should have kept making the Prelude. They would have been on my radar the last time I went shopping.
There’s talk that Honda will drop the coupe bodystyle for the upcoming (MY2018) Accord redesign, and will instead release a Prelude. How close it will be to the Accord is anyone’s guess.
Given that the Civic and 2018 Accord will share a common platform, I’m guessing it’ll be somewhere in between or so.
The Prelude didn’t make sense for Honda financially, it was imported from Japan which drove the price up and had a cramped interior which lost a majority of sales to the redesigned for ’98 Accord coupe which was mid-sized, produced locally and had a V6 option. I always have and will prefer the Prelude, though. The 97 design was loosely inspired by the second generation Acura Legend.
In 2003 when my Plymouth reliant needed to be replaced I was dead set on a 3rd gen Prelude si. I got an 88. It was the most fun engaging car I’ve ever driven to this day. It made my friends 240sx feel like a truck in comparison. I wish I still had it but it was filled with electrical gremlins and after crashing into a curb destroying the front-left wheel assembly it had to be put down.
I wish Honda never killed the prelude but they do keep their racing dna in all their products to this day. My odyssey for example feelslike a big accord.
My first (and only) brand new vehicle was a 2004 Titan, which I plan to keep until I hang up the keys. Great for road trips, rental and home upkeep. Only at 16k miles at this point, still looks almost new. Might eventually get a towable RV and do some long distance road tripping in it.
2017 Chevy also has crank windows on whatever they call their base little hatchback.
First brand new car for me was 89 CRX Si.
2006 Dodge Stratus. Not bad, but shoulda bought the Dakota it shared the showroom with.
In 1982 I was in college and driving a ’62 Impala that looked almost mint from the outside, but had a ripped up, falling apart interior. It drove great though, and I planned to restore the interior, until the day it was stolen in broad daylight at the community college parking lot. After calling the cops, who told me “You’ll never see that Chevy again, its gonna end up in a chop shop,” I walked home three miles in 98 degree Texas heat. My Dad felt sorry for me I guess, and a week later bought me a 1979 Chrysler Cordoba that looked showroom-new. Man, it was Arctic white, with blue pinstripes, Landau vinyl roof, opera windows and a deep blue leather interior and plush blue carpet, not to.mention a crank sunroof! Drove that beauty for 4 years, during which time it’s reliability was flawless; all it ever needed was oil change/tire rotation. Impressed my buddies and a lot of girls. One night driving home from work, swerved to avoid a minor accident and it spun out of control, slamming 3 times into the concrete highway median; frame bent, that was the end for the Cordoba, I was unhurt, except for my broken heart, I loved that car!
’87 Samurai. We drove it to St. Augustine, FL on our honeymoon (pictured) and had a blast driving on the beach (do they even allow that today?). It wasn’t the last hand-window-crank vehicle I ever bought, though – I think that would have been the ’95 F-150 XL 4×4 I had for a few years here on the farm.
I guess you could say that I had a “new”car once. Sort of ?. In 1999 I was 8 years into my government job, a homeowner and decided that the next big step in my life was a new car. I was doing a lot of commuting and the gas bills for my 82 fifth avenue were getting into the stupid range.
I remember checking out a new beetle which was my favorite choice. That ended when I asked about financing options or discounts and was told “we’re Volkswagen, we don’t have to do such things!” I finally decided on a Hyundai Elantra. I forget what I was getting on it but I remember it was twenty thousand dollars tax license drive it out the door. Everything had been approved,got the call to come sign the papers and pick it up…and I choked. The thought of five years of payments was to much and I walked away. Lost my deposit (and nearly my life, the salesman was p#$$&%!), and ended up buying an eight year old VW Jetta diesel for considerably less.
So if anyone asks, yes I did buy a brand new car once in my life…. for about 48 hours!
Up here in Canada the Si had power windows and alloy wheels.
The base model S had wheel covers and manual windows.
I had assumed the US followed the same pattern.
My first new car is my current car, a 2016 Civic. After a string of fun yet costly to maintain older cars I thought it was time and worth the monthly car payment if it mean having security in knowing I won’t have to repair my car routinely. Hopefully soon, I can be able to have an older fun car as second car. People like to complain the current Civic is nothing like ones from 20 years ago plus. I see it more as successor to the ’96 Accord than a ’96 Civic given each have moved up one size class above in the past 20 years. It’s still more fun and better built than others in the segment, tying with the Mazda 3, and has equipment others don’t offer or cost to add. Love it and wouldn’t mind spending years with it.
I had a gen 2 and a gen 4 Prelude. My mom loved my Gen 2 so much she bought a Gen 3. Loved both but Gen 2 will always hold a special place in my heart. I really wish Honda would bring the Prelude back. I’d be one of the first in line to get one.
My first real exposure to the Prelude (besides making fun of Gen I) was a co-worker who also happened to guide me through the purchase of an old bungalow next to hers – she was mid-40s starting out fresh with a new husband and outlook. She bought that first Prelude, then another, and finally another before they finally moved away to Colorado. Her Preludes were all white. Here’s to my friend, who is still vivacious and energetic well into her 70s but unfortunately deep in the clutches of dementia.
Speaking of white cars, I have a very solid appreciation of them and silver as well – it is my understanding those are the two colors automotive designers work with to show off the lines of their creations. Feel free to correct me on this, anyone with better knowledge!
I think the last generation Prelude was such a unique departure from the mid-90s Honda formula that people were spooked. It certainly had a much more Japanese vibe than Gen 2 and 3….
We leased a new 1985 Prelude red with a 5 speed. The paint had so much orange peel on the right side that I color sanded an buffed it when it was a week old. The car was so nice that we bought it when the lease was up and kept it for 2 more years. It was one of the nicest cars of the 40 plus that i have owned or leased.
It was traded on a new 1990 Acord coupe with a 5 speed. The dealer had me drive the Prelude directly on to the used car showroom floor. It was that clean. No kids, no food, no smoke and no animals Always hand washed and garaged. Now I miss it.
First new car was a 1980 Ford Fiesta. A German built car that was about the cheapest new car available at the time. Dealers were wanting way over sticker for Civics and Westmorland, PA built VW Rabbits were also more expensive.
It was pretty minimalist, with not only crank windows, but not even a space for a radio. 4-speed manual was the only transmission choice. The 1.6L Kent engine with 2bb Weber carb pulled that light car right along. I even took it to the top of Pikes Peak.