COAL: 1991 Honda Prelude – Sensible Yet Sporty

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… 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?