SOTW: Honda Prelude

Just about anyone who attended a car launch briefing 10 years or more ago will be able to tell you a story about a slight man sitting on his own with a white, navel-length Robinson Crusoe beard, Jewish yarmulke skullcap and a Sobranie Black Russian tab on the go.

In private life, Leonard John Kensell Setright was an epicure, a fine singer, and a concert-standard clarinettist. In public, or as near to public as he got, you could easily make a case for him as the best motoring writer ever.

LJKS probably wouldn't have liked the wing
LJKS probably wouldn't have liked the wing
Possessed of a pumpkin-sized brain and a memory so sharp he never took notes, LJKS routinely used Latin or Homer quotes in his copy. No translations were offered. That was the reader's job.

Setright was a singular man, quite literally. His daredevil wheelmanship obliged car launch PRs to bend the 'two journos per car' rule, as so few other hacks were brave enough to ride shotgun with him.

The Setright view on what made a good car also tended to separate him from the motley throng of muttering rotters. In 1994 he wrote a story for CAR on what he would buy with the rather random sum of £540,000. Top of the list was a Bristol. Cars two and three were Honda NSXes. Car four was a Japanese-spec, four-wheel-steer Honda Prelude VTEC, "simply because no other car is as nice to drive".

Setright respected Hondas for the ingenuity and quality of their engineering, and for the fact that hardly any of them were diesel-powered. He rated the VTEC engines and the two-phase four-wheel steering that first appeared on Preludes as far back as the late 80s. Nowadays, of course, passive rear-wheel steering is taken for granted.

Fourth-gen Prelude a Setright favourite
Fourth-gen Prelude a Setright favourite
The fourth-generation Prelude that Setright was referring to in his piece would have cost £30K in 1994. Time's been kind to its shape: from some angles you wonder what brochures Maserati designers were reading when they penned the 3200 GT.

Honda's final, fifth-gen Prelude (1997-2001) made a commercially-inspired return to the angular look of the 1988-1991 third-gen model. Setright managed to see past the goofy headlights when he signed up for what would be his last personal car, a silver MY99 VTi with a big Pioneer sound system. As far as we know, that car is still being enjoyed by a UK Prelude Forum member.

Here's our Shed, in favoured Setright silver and on offer for a tempting £650.

Even saddled by a near-100kg weight increase over the Mk4 that took it to 1,380kg, this non-VTEC 134hp Mk5 will deliver 125mph, 0-60 in a not too embarrassing 9.2 seconds, and average fuel consumption on the right side of 30mpg.

Our Shed is manual but there's an auto too
Our Shed is manual but there's an auto too
You'll also enjoy many of the Prelude virtues that LJKS loved. This is a distinctive FWD coupe with independent front suspension, four seats, decent practicality, Honda reliability, and a sackful of toys in a cabin that's aged pretty well.

For ultimate Prelude thrills, there was a Japan-only Type S producing 217hp at a giddy 7,200rpm, but you'll be lucky to spot one of them at Shed money. Here's an affordable alternative from PH Classifieds. It's at the top end of our budget, and it's an auto, but making up for that is the full-fat 2.2i V-TEC 185hp motor that's good for 139mph. Money's been spent, and it's a VTi too. All you'll need to recreate that LJKS feeling is an intellectual approach to motoring and a stick-on ZZ Top beard.

Advert for the manual car is reproduced below:

1997 Honda Prelude 2.0i 2 Door Coupe, Silver, Petrol, Manual. 10 months MOT, 3 months road tax, good condition, cloth interior, sun roof, electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning, climate control, alloy wheels, new tyres, power steering, central locking, CD/radio, spare wheel. cambelt recently changed. Well looked after. I've had the car for over 4 years and it's never let me down, just general maintenence which i have receipts for, priced for quick sale.



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Comments (157) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Gaz. 22 Oct 2012

    doogz said:
    They weren't limited to 276bhp.

    The agreement was that they would say the cars only made 276bhp.

    Do you really think the R34 GTR, Supra and the like were only making 276bhp?
    They went a bloody long way to keep the facade together though:

    Different turbochargers
    Different fuel injectors
    Different cam profiles

    and any other things you can think of.

  • The Spruce goose 22 Oct 2012

    beasto said:
    4G Prelude was the one, which Honda then proceeded to remake as this Dullsville slab.

    Actually, Honda seems to specialise in turning silk purses into sow's ears, a present example being the latest Civic.
    looks are not bad not good either.

    But an engine that feels like no other make. Handling that makes cornering easy work, stay flat and precise with excellent wheel feedback.

    Sounds good too me, just slightly too heavy (150 kilos) and 15- bhp short along with average looks.

  • Kozy 22 Oct 2012

    doogz said:
    They weren't limited to 276bhp.

    The agreement was that they would say the cars only made 276bhp.

    Do you really think the R34 GTR, Supra and the like were only making 276bhp?
    No of course not, they were making ~320bhp, same as the NSX could manage in Type R form. Regardless of whether they were really limited, the manufacturers still had to reign it in from what they could have achieved at the time, and the turbocharged cars could easily be detuned from their easy 400bhp+ potential. Detuning an NASP V8 to ~320bhp as some people would have apparently preferred would have made it a somewhat un-inspiring engine with no easy fix like increasing the boost, all for nothing more than a (subjective) better noise.

    Given what they were supposed to do, the V6 was a great choice.

  • doogz 22 Oct 2012

    Gizmoish said:
    Because at the time there was a 'gentlemens' agreement' between the Japanese makers that they wouldn't make a car with over 276bhp.
    Kozy said:
    A V8 would have been nice, but somewhat pointless since they had to limit it to 276bhp.

    Besides, it's not all about the powaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar...
    They weren't limited to 276bhp.

    The agreement was that they would say the cars only made 276bhp.

    Do you really think the R34 GTR, Supra and the like were only making 276bhp?

  • JakobusVdL 22 Oct 2012

    djdestiny said:
    Might as well of just written an article about Setright
    Great observation dj, and a laudible think to do!
    I'm in favour of more articles about the great LJKS

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