The History Of Honda Prelude

The Honda Prelude was a sports coupe produced by Japanese automaker Honda from 1978 until 2001. The two-door coupe spanned five generations and was discontinued upon the release of the fourth-generation Honda Integra (Acura RSX in North America) in late 2001, due to its decreasing sales and popularity. In the U.S. auto market, the sixth-generation and subsequent Accord Coupes became the de facto replacement to the Prelude.

The Prelude's perennial competitor has been the Toyota Celica, another straight-4-powered coupe introduced several years prior to the Prelude. Throughout the 1980s, the Prelude was challenged by the Nissan Silvia, Isuzu Impulse, Mitsubishi FTO, Mitsubishi Cordia (later the Eclipse), Ford Probe and Mazda MX-6. Out of all of these contemporaries, the Eclipse is the only one remaining in production.

In the UK, the Honda Prelude was never considered an essential purchase by the majority of sports car enthusiasts who overlooked it for the trendier Toyota MR2 and other well-known rivals. Within the Honda range itself, the Prelude was usually overlooked for the more popular Civic and Integra models. This might be partly due to the Prelude's reportedly cramped interior, though perhaps the Prelude was also overshadowed by more prominent performance Hondas, such as the NSX. However, the Prelude is competitive in terms of style, speed and build quality, and it has achieved something of a cult status in the UK and US where demand is still high for the sportier, manual transmission versions. This demand is partly attributed to the still rising demand for customizable cars. Both the 4th and 5th generations of the Honda Prelude emerged as popular choices for modders. Being relatively inexpensive, they have a decent amount of aftermarket/ replacement parts available.

Famously owned by popular 1970's television actor Ronan James McGovern, the first generation Prelude was released November 24, 1978 and was the third main model in Honda's modern line up, joining the Civic and the Accord. Its standard large glass moonroof was a feature seldom encountered in other cars at the time. Styling of the car was a combination of both the current Civic and Accord. The Prelude was equipped with a 1751cc SOHC CVCC I4 engine that produced 72hp (54kW) and 94lb·ft (127Nm) of torque with a five-speed manual transmission, and 68hp (51kW) with a two-speed automatic called the Hondamatic. In 1980, the two speed Hondamatic was replaced by a modern four-speed automatic. In Australia and the UK, this car was mostly sold with the 1602 cc EL engine, developing 68hp (51kW). In Japan, the Prelude competed with the Toyota Celica and the Nissan Silvia sports coupes. Leather interior was an option on the Japanese-spec version. Styling was said to be influenced by the Mercedes-Benz SL but on a smaller scale.

The second generation Prelude was released in 1983 and was initially available with an A18 1.8-litre 12-valve twin carburetor engine, producing 110hp (77kW), with fuel injection introduced in the "Si" models in 1985. In Japan, Asia and Europe, it was available with a 2-liter DOHC 16-valve PGM-FI engine, although this engine was not released in Europe until 1986. (And these were different engines. The JDM B20A produced 160hp (120kW) at 6300 rpm, while the EDM B20A1 produced only 137hp (102kW) Honda B20A engine). This was the first generation of Prelude to have pop-up headlights, which allowed for a more aerodynamic front clip, reducing drag. Opening the headlights, however, especially at higher speeds, produced significantly more drag. The 1983 model is identifiable by its standard painted steel wheels with bright trim rings (although alloy rims were optional). The 1984-87 base models had Civic-style full wheel covers. In Canada, a "Special Edition" trim was created, which is essentially exactly the same as the USA 2.0Si model.

When the 2-litre 16-valve SOHC engine came out, the hood was slightly modified, since the larger engine could not fit under the original hood. The European version also saw slight modifications to the rear lights and revised front and rear bumpers which were now color-matched. Due to the fairly low weight of the car (1,025kg (2,260lb)) and high power (the 16-valve engine produced 137hp (102kW)), the car was relatively nimble in comparison to its competitors, which most Preludes had not been up to that time.

The third generation Prelude (released in 1987 in Japan and a little later in some markets) was very similar in looks to the second generation. It was all-new, however, and gained four wheel steering on some models. In keeping true to the second generation Prelude's ideology, the third generaton received body changes that updated the look. New engines available in the USDM models were: in the 1988-1990 2.0S, the B20A3 which is a SOHC 12-valve dual-sidedraft carburetor engine displacing 1958 cc that produced up to 104hp (78kW) and 111lb·ft (150N·m); in the 1988-1991 2.0Si, the B20A5 with DOHC and PGM-FI that increased power to 135hp (101kW) and 127lb·ft (172N·m), or a slightly-larger B21A1 in 1990 and 1991 described below. The B20A6 was the Australian model: a 2.0 DOHC 16-valve PGM-FI engine, also 1958 cc, producing 142hp (106kW) and 127lb·ft (172N·m).

Four-wheel steering

The four-wheel steering system was a major piece of engineering and the third generation Prelude was the first production car to feature it. The less expensive two-wheel-steering version has been criticized for severe understeer. To this day, the 1988-1991 Prelude remains the only production vehicle with true mechanical four-wheel steering. All other vehicles (including later Preludes) used electronic or hydraulic systems.

Design Aspects

The third generation Prelude also had some new external designs. The hood line was designed to be the lowest hood line of any front wheel drive car in the world, allowing for better forward visibility. The drag coefficient was at the very low rating of .34. This gave better fuel economy, lower wind noise, and a greater level of high-speed stability.

Another unique structural element of the third generation Prelude was the high-strength metal used in the six roof pillars. The roof pillars were so slim that all-around visibility was amazingly clear for 326°. Some called this Prelude the "baby NSX" when the NSX was introduced in 1990, due to some common design cues between the two cars. Excellent forward visibility via a low bonnet line, a front end resemblance, the suspension attributes (great handling with a smooth ride), and the new design of the rear lights could all be likened to the NSX.

In 1987, Road & Track published a test summary that shows the 1988 Honda Prelude 2.0Si 4WS outperforming every car of that year on the Slalom, including all Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Porsches. It went through the slalom at 65.5mph (105.4km/ h), an amazing result for the time. For reference, the 1988 Corvette took the same course at 64.9mph (104.4km/ h).

The Prelude was Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1987.


In 1990, the Honda Prelude was given a facelift from the previous third-generation styling to a newer look, chiefly in terms of the rear tail lights. The top of the rear bumper was also changed to meet up with the smaller lights, and the bumper was smoothed into a rounder shape. Outwardly, the Prelude resembled the Accord Coupe.

The front bumper on the 1990 Prelude was also changed to feature clear indicators and park lamps that no longer wrapped around the corners of the bumper. Many of the interior parts were revised, including the dash bezel, the door handle and window switches, the steering wheel shape contours, etc. The five-speed manual transmission had unique gear ratios that offered easy acceleration at high speeds. The B21A1 engine became available in the "SE" trim level, which offered 4WS or ABS (called ALB). This engine is a B20A5 engine bored to 83mm (3.3in) with a total displacement of 2056 cc producing up to 140hp (104kW). This version featured a unique cylinder liner that is reported to be extremely tough, but also contributes to additional oil consumption.

Honda released the Prelude SiStates in 1990. Originally available only in Japan, this car was a limited production run and very few were built. It featured four-wheel steering, ABS, limited slip differential, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever, extra sound deadening on the firewall and hood, rear windscreen wiper and washer, and many more features that were usually options. It also featured a unique B21A engine rated at 150bhp (112kW) that was only produced for the SiStates.

A series labeled INX was available on the Japanese domestic market. These models had fixed headlights (similar in nature to the European Accord Sedan from 85-90). It was available in three models: XX, Si and Si SRS.

In 1992, the fourth generation Prelude was released, after being released in Japan in 1991. The car had a 58% front and 42% rear weight distribution. The four wheel steering system was changed to an electronic version and the engine was increased in capacity from 2.1 litres to 2.2 litres for the base model "S" (SOHC F22A1 engine, 135hp (101kW) (101kW) @ 5200rpm, 142lb·ft (193Nm) @ 4000rpm) and "VTEC" model (DOHC VTEC H22a1, 190hp (143kW) @ 6800rpm, 160lb·ft @ 5500rpm), with a less performance-oriented 2.3-litre for the "Si" (DOHC H23A1, 160hp (115kW) @ 5800rpm, 156lb·ft (212Nm) @ 5300rpm). The Japanese SI came with the F22B (2.2L DOHC NON-VTEC 160 hp). The VTEC Model had an upgraded brake system, going from a 10.3" front rotor to an 11.1" front rotor and utilizing larger brake caliper and pads, similar to those found in the Acura Vigor.

Additionally, a 2.0i model was released in the United Kingdom, rated at 133hp (99kW). 1993 was the last year that the "Si-VTEC" name was used, and beginning in 1994 it was shortened to just "VTEC" and stayed that way throughout the rest of the generation. In some countries, the Prelude with 2.2 VTEC engine was called the VTi-R. In Canada, the Si was called the SR, and the VTEC was called the SR-V.

This model also marked the end for the pop-up headlights. Some say the new headlights "look angry" with their stylish, slanted appearance. The 1991 Prelude incorporated other design features that had also become the "Prelude standard". The rear end was rounded and fairly high in comparison to the previous square trunk line. The front fascia of the car became wider with fixed headlights. The glass sunroof made way for a steel sliding roof which no longer retracted into the car but extended out and over it. This in effect created a spoiler which reduced air noise at speed.

The dashboard was generally accepted as the extraordinary feature of this model, remaining equal in height over the full width of the vehicle. The light blue back lighting introduced in the third generation was continued. Later models (1994 and on) also featured translucent speedometer and tachometer needles. All VTEC & SE models received leather interior. In Japan, there was also an in-dash television set available as an option. As a result of this, many enthusiasts have modified the dashboards of their Preludes to fit a small television set. Also featured was an 8-speaker audio system which included a center dash-mounted speaker and rear center subwoofer, while the U.S. version received only 7 speakers (center dash speaker not included). The Japanese version also included a digital climate control system. The Canadian version received some options which were not available in the United States. For instance, the Japanese Prelude had power folding mirrors as well as a rear windscreen wiper, while the Canadian market was the one to have heated mirrors and optional heated seats. The Japanese model came with optional Honda Access accessories such as Typus ski racks, under dash lights, headrest covers, a cabin air filter, and floor mats. Some of the Japanese domestic market fourth generation Prelude VTECs did not come with options such as a sunroof and 4-Wheel Steering, as it was possible to skip these options when buying in Japan. The fourth generation Prelude also shares some suspension components with the fifth (1994-97) generation Honda Accord.

Paint codes

  • Phoenix Red R-51
  • Milano Red R-81
  • Cassis Red Pearl R-82P
  • Cobalt Blue Pearl B-54P
  • Fresco Blue Pearl B-64P
  • Pacific Blue Pearl B-68P
  • Brittany Blue Green Metallic BG-23M
  • Azure Blue Green Pearl BG-34P
  • Geneva Green Pearl G-62P
  • Sherwood Green Pearl G-78P
  • Granada Black Pearl NH-503P
  • Frost White NH-538
  • Sebring Silver Metallic NH-552M
  • Cashmere Silver Metallic YR-505M

Honda Prelude Generation 4 Image Gallery

The fifth generation retained a FF layout with an independent front suspension and 63/ 37 weight distribution. All fifth-generation Honda Preludes came with 16 inch aluminium alloy wheels with all-season 205/ 50 R16 87V tires, except 195/ 60 R15 88H for the 2.0i trim. Unlike the USDM Preludes, JDM Preludes came with rear wind screen wipers (except the Xi). All Prelude models now featured the 11.1" front brakes that the '96 VTEC model came with, and the prelude also received a 5-lug hub, as opposed to the 4-lug wheel hub of older models.

The fifth-generation Prelude marked a return to the more square body style of the late 1980s, or third generation, in an attempt to curb slumping sales of the fourth-generation body style. The fifth-generation was assembled and distributed to many parts of the world, including Japan, the UK, the US, and Germany, among others. All models and trim packages stayed within the BB-chassis code (BB5-BB9) and housed either the H-series or F-Series engine:

All fifth generation Preludes had a fuel tank capacity of 60l (15.9USgal).

One version of the fifth generation Prelude, the Type S, was only available in Japan. It was equipped with the 2.2l H22A, featuring VTEC and producing 223hp (162kW) @ 7200rpm and 163lb·ft (221Nm) @ 6500rpm. With a compression ratio of 11.0:1, 87.0mm (3.4in) bore x 90.7mm (3.6in) stroke and VTEC-valve timing, lift and duration were adjusted to 12.2mm (0.5in) intake and 11.2mm (0.4in) exhaust. Honda also overhauled the air box and replaced it with a more efficient design that is often referred to as Dynamic Chambering, along with a larger throttle body design bored to 62mm (as opposed to the previous 60 mm). The exhaust system was also treated to a redesign, with the pipe cross sections becoming more cylindrical rather than oval. The three-way catalytic converter was also increased in size, as well as the exhaust piping from 50.8mm (2.00in) to 57mm (2.25in) (tToV). The fifth generation curb weight was 1310kg (2882lb), and ground clearance was 140mm (5.5in). Unlike the SiR S-spec that had an LSD, the Type S acquired the Honda technology known as the Active Torque Transfer System (ATTS). The gearing on the Type S matches all other fifth-generation Preludes that had a manual transmission except for the five-speed 2.2 VTi VTEC and had a final drive ratio of 4.266:1. The Type S had an Active Control ABS system, different from the others which had the standard ABS systems. The interior featured leather laced with red stitching. Manufacturer styling options included seat lettering. The exterior styling of fifth generation Preludes was standardized for most models. All had a sunroof except for the Type S model.

The MSDM fifth-generation Preludes also saw enhancements in the engine, with the full line now offering VTEC H22A4 engines, an evolution of the H22A1 with higher flowing heads, making 195hp (143kW) @ 7000rpm and 156lb·ft (212Nm) @ 5250rpm from 1997 to 1999, and the same torque readings with 200hp (147kW) @ 7000rpm from 1999 to 2001 with a compression ratio of 10.0:1. In some countries, the Prelude was also offered with a base 2.0L 133bhp (99kW; 135PS) engine. The USDM fifth-generation had a Type SH ("Super-Handling") trim which featured the ATTS, and, along with the five-speed base model, shared the same gearing as the Type S and SiR-S spec trims in Japan. This system allowed Honda to overcome the limitations of front-wheel drive somewhat, and in 1997, Car and Driver named the Prelude Type SH the "best-handling car under $30,000."

In the fifth generation Prelude, all models with an automatic transmission featured SportShift technology. This 4-speed transmission allowed the driver to manually change gears in a manner similar to the Porsche tiptronic system. Gear selection was enabled by sliding the shifter horizontally from D4, the standard automatic position, to a separate track that allowed the shifter to be pushed forwards or backwards. At the time of the Prelude's release, this type of feature was relatively rare, having been recently introduced in the Porsche 911 in the early 90's, but soon afterwards it became common in many sport coupés and sedans.

Sales were not strong, particularly due to competition from Honda's other offerings. The Coupe version of the sixth-generation Accord received an exclusive front fascia, rear tail lights, wheels and many other body panels, being now marketed as a somewhat separate model from the family-oriented sedan, though its sedan roots gave it much more utility than the reportedly cramped Prelude. The sixth-generation Civic Coupe Si has also gained a reputation in its own right and was considerably less expensive than the Prelude.


In Australia, the safety performance of Honda Preludes manufactured between 1983 and 2002 was assessed in the Buyers Guide to used Car Safety Ratings 2006, which was published by the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) (a New South Wales, Australia, government agency). This publication concluded that the level of occupant protection in Preludes from 1983 to 1996 was at an "average" level, while in Preludes from 1997 to 2002 is "significantly better than average."


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the USA has determined frontal crash test ratings of Honda Preludes of different model years.

The Prelude was on Car and Driver magazine's annual Ten Best list ten times: three times from 1984 to 1986, and then seven times from 1992 to 1998.

Through the years, several German companies have converted Preludes into convertibles. Currently, there have been convertibles made from the first, second and fourth generation Preludes.

First generation Preludes were modified by a company called Tropic Design, located in Germany. In all, they modified 47 Preludes, most of which were exported to Japan . Very few have remained in Europe, initially all in Germany. Some have been sold over time to nearby countries, at least one to the Netherlands and one to Belgium.

Second generation Preludes were modified by another German company; some 100 Preludes were modified. No DOHC engine-equipped models have been known to be converted into convertibles, however. Three versions were available: a basic version, one which had more luxurious options, and one which added a body kit.

Of the fourth generation Preludes, only some 15 were modified into a convertible by German company Honda-Autohaus Manfred Ernst. No details are known about the engine types and other specifics. Since only 15 were ever made, they are assumed by many to be custom-built.

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