(first posted 4/27/2012) When the Honda Prelude was first introduced, it was meant to be a more stylish commuter than the Civic. While its performance didn’t set the world on fire, it was still a perfectly nice little car, as long as the tin worm was kept at bay. With the 1983 model year the Prelude took on more sporting tones, and with the Si model, became a very decent performer.
The Prelude was introduced in 1979. As shown in Laurence Jones’s excellent photo above, it sported attractive, if somewhat bland, lines and was no hot rod, but it added a bit of dash when compared to the Civic, much like the VW Karmann Ghia vs. the Beetle. It was introduced right around the time Honda really took off. The first generation Accord was a huge success, and the Prelude was caught up in the wave. Lots of these cars were sold.
By the early Eighties, it was time for a new version, and the 1983 Prelude was very much a product of its time. The compact, origami-like lines of the 1979-82 model were replaced with smooth lines and an impressive drag coefficient of 0.34. Its clean three-box styling was kept from being anonymous by an attractive sloping hood line with pop-up headlights and full width tail lamps. The new Prelude was now 172.2 inches long, with a 96.5″ wheelbase. Early second-gen models were powered by a 1.8L four cylinder with 110 hp and backed by your choice of a 4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual. The Prelude continued, with the typical Honda refinements here and there, through 1987.
Full disclosure: I don’t know too much about Hondas. I always thought the 1988-91 Preludes were a facelifted second generation model, but in the course of researching for this post, I found that it was an all new model. Well, the third generation Prelude does look an awful lot like its predecessor.
Looks can be deceiving, however, as the wheelbase increased to 101″ and overall length was up by 3.4 inches. The gray trim found on the headlight covers and the upper grille of the 1984-87 was removed for a much smoother look. It was very reminiscent of the Porsche 924/944 and second-gen Mazda RX-7.
The standard model was the 2.0S with a 2.0L 12-valve, SOHC four cylinder version with dual carbs, good for 104 hp and 111 lb ft of torque. For more power and fun, you would want the 2.0Si, which received a fuel injected, DOHC 2.0L four with 135hp and 127 lb. ft of torque. Yes, those numbers don’t sound so hot when compared to today’s 300 hp Accord V6s, but for their time they were very respectable.
1990 models received a mild facelift with clear turn signal lenses and smoother, color-keyed bumpers and side moldings. The seats, door panels and instrument panel were updated as well. I remember seeing a lot of 1990-91 models when new, and they really looked good, especially in chrome yellow. Sadly, they seemed to rust rather quickly, and I hadn’t seen a nice one in years. Last Friday I went up to Iowa City to visit my uncle, and on the way back from dinner we passed this very nice black Si. It’s in really nice shape, and I saw no rust whatsoever. These were really sharp cars! 1991 was the last year for this generation of Prelude, and although the all-new ’92 Prelude was also attractive and even sported four-wheel steering on some models, this ’91 is my favorite.