Friday January 4, 2019
In 1979, you just knew that anyone who drove a new Honda Prelude was a sophisticated type; one who understood the intricacies of fondue cooking and who had one of those new “home computers” in their study. The family resemblance to the Civic and the Accord was unmistakable, but if the Prelude cost £800 more than the three-door version of the latter, it was nicely equipped and came with a definite sense of panache.
The Prelude was essentially a combination of the 1.6-litre SOHC engine, brakes and suspension of the first-generation Accord with a new chassis. It debuted in November 1978 and brochures for the key US export markets claimed that here was a car that was the ‘image of strength tempered with dignity’ - which was mildly over the top even by the standards of four decades ago.
British sales commenced in 1979 and as compared with its rivals; the Prelude was not especially rapid; the top speed was 98 mph. However, its price of £4,950 meant that it was cheaper than the Lancia Beta 1600 Coupe, the Volkswagen Scirocco GLS, the Vauxhall Cavalier GLS Coupe and the Ford Capri 2.0S Mk. III.
The Honda also had an image that subtly differed from much of the competition; it was both smaller than the Toyota Celica and as about as far removed from the standard “boy-racer” two-door as David Bowie was from Den Hegarty.
Autocar thought the Prelude would ‘attract a loyal following’ and Motor regarded it as ‘an extremely well-engineered car; we liked it immensely’.
Meanwhile, the AA’s Drive magazine regarded it as ‘an up-market house-person’s runabout for shopping and school runs’. In reality, the Honda was not especially suited to either role as space for luggage and passengers was distinctively limited. The wheelbase was over two inches shorter than the Accord, and the rear seat was suitable only for uncomplaining children. This was more of a touring car for a young chartered surveyor whose role model was Ian Ogilvy in Return of The Saint, even if the Honda’s performance was not quite on a par with an XJS.
The specification included alloy wheels, a remote control for the boot lid, five-speed transmission and – essential for any self-respecting “executive car” of the late 1970s – a LED digital clock. The power-operated glass sliding roof was a clever touch as was the integral radio, and anyone who recalls the original model will probably remember the concentric speedometer with the tachometer mounted inside the dial.
Towards the end of the production run, the EX version came with PAS and Connolly leather trim - £730 more than the standard model but still quite a bargain at £6,490 in 1982.
Car magazine grumbled that if you were in the market for ‘a car which has superficial sporting prestige, which is loaded with powered this and that, and which is no effort at all to drive to drive gently, then the Prelude is your car’. And for those who wanted up-market compact transport for a very reasonable price, the EX was the ideal vehicle.
By late 1982, the slightly more conventional-looking Mk. II succeeded the Mk. I and today you would be very hard-pressed to find a surviving early example. Yet, those who have experienced the Honda Prelude may well agree with the observations of the tester from Motor Trend – ‘by any sane measurement, a splendid automobile. I know; I own one’.