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The SN Honda Prelude reminds us of a prettier past

Chris Haining December 16, 2016 All Things Hoon, Cars You Should Know 5 Comments


As Honda releases its new generation Civic, a riot of curves, lines, grilles and pointy bits that will give us headaches until we get used to it, let’s not get upset. It’s progress, they say. It certainly seems inevitable that the more bloated and bulky cars become to accommodate mandatory safety, comfort and  anti-pollution equipment, designers have to resort to sleight of hand tactics – adding as many visual distractions as possible to disguise the sheer mass of the car.

Since we’re approaching Christmas,  a time to look at the past and dream mournfully of years gone by, lets put tomorrow on hold for just a minute. Once upon a time, when the Earth was a younger, more innocent little planet, Honda released a gorgeous little coupe. It was named it Prelude, and in some respects it was a sign of things to come. In others, sadly, it wasn’t.


This particular prelude is a JDM example imported to the UK through unofficial channels. I’m not wild on the dark glass and slight over-chroming, but  I still spent some time gazing at it, wistfully remembering when there were loads on my local roads, and that I would marvel at the flip-up metal sunroof. I always liked these, and as somebody with a slightly unhealthy obsession with the way cars are designed, I particularly enjoy seeing how so many Honda design trademarks of the time were integrated into its low, elongated form – rather like an elasticated Civic notchback.

It’s full of delightful details, nowhere more than on the interior where the co-axial gauges on the dashboard foresaw the chronograph-layout of the Toyota Altezza by over two decades. And there’s that fascinating integrated radio, too – which must have deeply frustrated anybody looking to fit an aftermarket upgrade.


Once upon a time I owned a Triumph Acclaim, the British built and hastily rebadged version of the Honda Ballade, which was basically a booted Civic. And walking around the Prelude there are loads of touches that I recognise from my dear old Triumph. The chrome around the headlamps and grille, of course, but also the little air-extractor vents on the top of the hood, as well as the fresh air intake for the heating system, the sliding controls for the interior ventilation and even the font on some of the switches and minor controls.

It was such a delicate looking thing, and – though we all have our favourites – there was never a bad looking Prelude. Rather sad, then, that the Prelude disappeared altogether in 2001 and, while we got Civic and Accord coupes, the sporty personal-luxury Prelude was never directly replaced. A few years ago I ran a Carchive Prelude Week, and I really would like to add another instalment, should the badge be reintroduced.

(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2016)

  • Pete

    Had one of these circa 1989, lovely and brilliant little car, fun to drive, and definitly one of the best dashboard designs ever. But it rusted like nothing else……

  • Papa Van Twee

    I almost bought an ’82 in 1988. Wound up getting an 83 Civic instead because it was in better condition for the same price. No regrets, really. Both are great cars.

  • “Once upon a time I owned a Triumph Acclaim….”

    Yes, yes. Rub it in.

  • stigshift

    That dash design featuring the overlaid tach/speedo, was called the Target Meter. It was replaced by a more conventional design for ’81. You mention a pop-up metal sunroof, which must be a UK feature. All US spec Preludes had a glass electric-powered sunroof. I believe they were the first Japanese cars to feature an electric sunroof.

  • longrooffan

    My wife to be owned a black 79 when we first started dating back in the day. Loved that car and its awesome 5 speed and power curve. Saw it years after it was sold and the tin worms had worked their magic all over it. I’d take another in a moment though and not because of the memories of my wife to be.