Throughout the 1960s Honda’s quirky little 5800 sports car had provided a touch of performance frivolity against the solid backdrop of the well-built economy cars that were the Japanese company’s stock in trade. The 1970s proved the value of that sober approach, establishing Honda as a major international exporter, but with that job safely done the Prelude was introduced in 1978 to compete with the successful Toyota Celica and broaden a Honda product range that then consisted of the sub-compact Civic and the mid-sized Accord.
The design of this neat two-door notchback coupe reflected that of the other two models, though the Prelude also had distinct echoes of the Mercedes-Benz SL. It was described by Honda as a sports compact and one unusual feature was the standard sunroof. Another was found on the dashboard, which featured a concentric speedometer/tachometer combo, with the former encircling the latter.
First generation 2+2 Preludes had excellent build quality, good fuel consumption and were a pleasure to drive, though back-seat accommodation was cramped. They came with one of two overhead-cam four-cylinder engines (depending on which country they were sold in), the larger of which came out of the Honda Accord. Drive options were initially a five-speed manual gearbox or two-speed Hondamatic automatic transmission, though a more conventional four-speed automatic soon appeared. The Prelude had independent suspension all round and rack-and-pinion steering, giving excellent roadholding ability and nimble handling. It’s fair to say that performance was brisk rather than outstanding, with early cars not quite capable of hitting the ‘ton’ and not therefore appealing to the sportiest of drivers.
The first generation was only produced until 1982, but set the scene for future progress. Thereafter four more generations would carry the Prelude triumphantly into the 21st century.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1978 (until 1982) (First generation)
1,602 cc or 1,751 cc Straight Four
With 1.6 I engine – top speed 98 mph (158 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) 11.3 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Early Preludes remain great fun to drive and are becoming quite collectable, but it’s important to look for a solid example that is rust-free (a generic problem) and has manual transmission (automatic transmission saps performance).