The Carchive: The Honda Prelude Mk1

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This week, apropos of absolutely nothing whatsoever, it’s Honda Prelude week in The Carchive.

First, though, let me announce right now to all those rabid fans of the Mk5, the final post ’97 generation, regrettably that car won’t be featured this week, through the simple expedient that I can’t find the brochure. I know, it’s ridiculous. I know it’s in there, somewhere, but I’m damned if I can track it down. I’ve used sniffer dogs, I’ve sent archaeologists down into the caves, even a mining crew with a caged canary, but to no avail. I promise to run it when it eventually surfaces.

Today though, let’s head to 1978 and orchestrally swell for the first Prelude.

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“A perfect harmony of performance, luxury and safety. a symphony of style. A classic composition.”

And enough music puns to last the rest of the century.

Automotive Journalists often overlook one of the most important statistics that should be considered when looking at a car, the ratio of Styling Per Square Inch. Here, the figure is a very high one indeed, something like 0.72. With the first Prelude, the stylists ran amok, literally styling everything they could, inside and out.

The Prelude wore the same facial expression as other Honda products of the time, and indeed the dear old Ballade-based Triumph Acclaim, but in a heavily stylized way with a swept back chrome ring framing the inset headlamps and blank mesh grille with its offset Honda badge.  Then there was that big hood bulge and the twin air extractor vents. Along the flanks was a deeply scooped swage line which incorporated the wheelarches in basically the same way as those on the Ford Focus would twenty years later. Garnished with chrome highlights around the daylight openings, it was fair to say there was a lot going on. But still, it was a very neat, pert, inviting little car, and one of the more distinctive shapes of the era.

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“The Prelude has been equipped on a lavish scale, offering you a list of standard equipment which is unique in its class”

Indeed it was. Crowning it all was a power-operated glass sunroof, the like of which British motorists had rarely seen, or indeed, needed, for ages. More relevant were the broad array of additional amenities; trunk and glovebox illumination, side glass demisters, a coin compartment, variable dashboard illumination, the kind of thing that wouldn’t individually cause too much arousal, but overall the Prelude made for a very well furnished package indeed.

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There were some properly strange features, too. The digital clock could be read while the ignition was switched off, pressing a panel on the front saw the green-blue numerals glow into life and then fade away again. My Triumph Acclaim clock did the same and I wish I’d kept it. Stranger than that, though, was the radio, an MW/LW/SW unit integrated into the side of the instrument binnacle, with just three controls. Tuning and volume made up one cylindrical knob jutting out from the side, while there was a tone dial on the front. The tuning display was a drum which rotated against a fixed needle. Fascinating bit of design, and a total PITA should you want to install an aftermarket unit instead to enable FM reception or your 10CC cassettes to be played.

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“Here we see a fundamental reapraiasal of a design concept. The speedometer and rev-counter have been made co-axial so that the driver’s eyes can collect their data more quickly and easily. with less eye movement”.

When I used to study design at University I did so under my own definition of the discpline: “Design is to successfully create and present a solution to a problem that may or may not exist”. The speedotachometer installation in the Prelude, whilst enjoyably interesting and obviously novel, was another example of their designers not really knowing when to stop. I have severe doubts as to whether the claimed ergonomic advantages actually hold any weight whatsoever. This layout remained a Prelude Mk1 exclusive and was notably absent in the NSX, where surely any benefit would have been tangible.

Of more use to the driver was the electronic display for doors open, bulb failure, and even a cautionary bulb that illuminated to remind you to rotate your tyres. Cute.

“Engineered to provide you with a beautifully balanced combination of performance and handling characteristics which make the car a real joy to drive”

This was the Prelude philosophy, and pretty well summed up the mantra for many Hondas since then. Honda have always managed to deliver absolute adequacy of engineering.

The original Prelude came with a 1602cc OHC engine which span out a very game and enthusiastic 80bhp. Not exactly a tower of power but the all-round McPherson strut suspension and low unsprung weight meant that every one of those horses could be exploited fully. And this was the magic of Hondas from this era; they would veritably fizz down the road, not with outrageous outright pace but zingily and with responsiveness. Prelude achieved with with some aplomb, and the same characteristics would go on to become a hallmark of the model.

As Prelude Week goes on, lets see how Honda kept piling on the technology with every model generation.

 (Disclaimer: All images are of genuine manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Honda, who don’t really build anything like this any more. Or like the CRX, or the Civic Shuttle, or the Mothalovin’ NSX. Yet)

About RoadworkUK

RoadworkUK is the online persona of Gianni Hirsch, a tall, awkward gentleman with a home office full of gently decomposing paper and a garage full of worthless scrap metal. He lives in the village of Moistly, which is a safe distance from London and is surrounded by enough water and scenery to be interesting. In another life, he has designed, sold, worked on and written about cars in exchange for small quantities of money.

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