1991 Honda Prelude Si: Refinement Is key
When the Honda Prelude was first introduced, it was intended to be a more stylish commuter than the Civic. For those wanting maneuverable size and good fuel economy, but a little bit of style. I haven’t seen a first-generation Prelude in years, but they were pretty sharp. With the 1983 model year, however, the Prelude was completely redesigned and took on a more sporting flavor, oh-so ’80s wedge-shaped nose, and with the Si model, became a very decent performer in its class.
The Prelude first appeared in 1979. It added some dash and style compared to the Civic, much like the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia did versus its more prosaic Beetle stablemate. It was introduced right around the time Honda really started to take off. The first-gen Accord was a success right out of the box, though it was initially available only as a two-door hatchback. The Prelude was caught up in the wave.
By the early ’80s, it was time for a new version, and the 1983 Prelude was very much a product of its time. Sporty compact coupes were all the rage. The appealing albeit somewhat stubby lines of the 1979–82 model were replaced with a longer, lower look—and an impressive drag coefficient of 0.34. Its clean three-box styling was kept from being too anonymous via a sloping hood line with pop-up headlights and full width tail lamps. The new Prelude was now 172.2 inches long, with a 96.5-inch wheelbase. Early second-gen models were powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 110 horsepower and backed by either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual. This version continued, with some cosmetic updates here and there, through 1987.
Full disclosure: I don’t know too much about Hondas, so bear with me. My most direct involvement with these ’80s Hondas was my high school principal, Vern Soeken, who bought a new gunmetal gray 1986–87 Accord LX-I. I was used to Volvos, and my dad’s old ’51 Porsche 356 hibernating in the garage back then, but I did think Mr. Soeken’s new car, with its sports car style nose and flip up headlights, was pretty sharp for a four door.
Anyway, the ’86 Accord’s swoopier design owed a lot to the ’83 Prelude. And for the 1988 model year, the Prelude was refreshed, though it still was very similar to the 1983–87 car. Looks can be deceiving, however, as the wheelbase increased to 101 inches and overall length was up by 3.4 inches. The gray trim found on the headlight covers and the upper grille of the earlier car was removed for a much smoother look. It was very reminiscent of the Porsche 924/944 and second-gen Mazda RX-7.
The standard model was the 2.0S with a 2.0L 12-valve, SOHC four-cylinder version with dual carbs, good for 104 hp and 111 lb-ft of torque. For more fun, buyers could opt for the Prelude Si, which received a fuel injected, DOHC 2.0L four with 135 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque.
Those numbers don’t sound so hot when compared to today’s 250+ horsepower Accord V-6s, but for their time they were very respectable. Another nifty option, available on the Si, was four-wheel steering. It would continue to be available in the next-generation Prelude.
The 1990 models received a mild facelift, with clear turn signal lenses and smoother, color-keyed bumpers and side moldings. The seats, door panels, and instrument panel were updated as well. I remember seeing a lot of 1990–91 models when new, and they really looked good, especially in that chrome yellow. Sadly, they seemed to rust rather quickly, and I hadn’t seen a nice one in years. As I’ve mentioned in prior columns, I usually drive up to Iowa City in the summer to meet up with my aunt and uncle and go to the monthly cruise night at the nearby mall. On one such occasion in 2012, we were almost back to the house when we passed this very nice, black Si.
Even then, almost a decade ago, I hadn’t seen a non-rust bucket or non-beater status Prelude in a long time, so I made Dave stop so I could leap out and take a few pictures. Even better, it was an Si with the cooler wheels and nicer trim.
These were sharp coupes. Although most of you regular readers know I have a perhaps unhealthy obsession with Cadillacs, Lincolns, and Oldsmobile Ninety-Eights, I do like other kinds of cars. Believe it or not. Anyway, 1991 was the last year for this generation of Prelude. The all-new ’92 Prelude was waiting, and while it lost the now-trademark flip up headlights, these models were pretty interesting as well. Now that I think about it, I haven’t seen one of those in years either!