I’ve been driving a few cars with rear-wheel steering recently – most recently, many Range Rovers from the big ‘un to the latest Sport last week. That, plus seeing a Mk5 Honda Prelude last weekend while I was in Nottingham, reminded me just what a handsome and interesting car it is. It made this one jump right out of the screen when I was perusing the classifieds this morning. And my first thought was "Is that a salvage car?" A car being sold on after an unfortunate heavy hit with a kerb that had broken the rear control arm. I just couldn’t compute that the Prelude’s rear-wheel steering turned the back wheels that much. I mean, look at it. That’s an amazing angle.
The Prelude’s innovative RWS appeared first on the Mk3 that ran from 1987-91. It wasn’t a huge hit in Europe but the home market loved it. According to reports, Honda expected take-up of 30 per cent in Japan but, in the end, 80 per cent of Japanese buyers opted for RWS in the car’s first year of production. Apparently it helped the Prelude blitz the competition in Road & Track’s slalom test, completing the course at an average speed of 65.5mph – and seeing off the challenge from Porsche and Ferrari as well.
Unlike today’s systems, which are electric, Honda’s first RWS system was all mechanical. There was shaft running from the steering rack at the front to a box on the back axle that operated the rear track control arms and turned the wheels. The steering angle and direction was controlled by a planetary gearbox. It still worked along the same principles as today’s systems, though. When small steering inputs were applied, it boosted high-speed stability by moving the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts by up to 1.5 degrees. When more steering lock was added (if the steering wheel was turned past 246 degrees) the system would steer the rear wheels at up to 5.3 degrees in the opposite direction to the fronts, cutting the turning circle by about 10 per cent.
There were other manufacturers doing similar things, of course. Honda beat Mazda by a matter of weeks when the latter launched RWS on its 626 and MX-6. Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota all came up with their equivalents at around the same time as well. It was almost as if the Japanese manufacturers were spying on each other, but they wouldn’t have been doing that, would they? Surely it was all just a happy coincidence rather than espionage?
That said, Mitsubishi’s and Nissan’s RWS was more advanced. Those versions had no mechanical link between the front and rear steering systems and, instead, used computer controlled hydraulic actuators to move the rear wheels. And by 1991, when the Mk4 Prelude arrived, Honda had emulated that set-up and gone further. Its new system used a computer to direct the rear wheels using an electric motor, which, in effect, is the same system we see on modern cars.
Every version of the Prelude has a certain stylistic appeal as far as I am concerned: the original, for its classic 70s look; the oh-so-80s theme of the Mk2 and Mk3; and the cohesive curves of the 90s Mk4. But there is something about the Mk5 that wins out. I think it's because this is one of those rare pieces of design that’s left pure and simple. It was the work of Manabu Konaka, who had joined Honda’s design department in 1990 and, by 1996, he was lead designer for the Mk5 Prelude. There’s a hint of NSX-R in the Mk5’s headlight design, but otherwise it's thoroughly original and fuss free. Is there anything you can point to, from its nose to its tail, that looks unnecessary, over designed or out of place?
Along with its sublime looks and the fascination of the extreme angles produced by its rear-wheel steering, there’s also a VTEC motor lurking under the bonnet. Here it’s the H22A5, which isn’t quite as pokey as the 212hp H22A7 red-top in the Accord Type R, but it's not far off that high watermark. It can still muster up a healthy 185hp, and on the way to producing that power it’ll rev to a glorious 7,000-plus RPM. Yes, I know it’s attached to a four-speed auto, but with classic cars – especially rare ones; it seems just 173 2.2 VTIs are taxed in the UK right now – you can’t always have everything you desire. And the gearbox is not enough to quell my desire for this car. What say you?
Specification | Honda Prelude 2.2 VTI
Engine: 2,157cc, four-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Transmission: four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 185 @ 7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 152lb ft @ 5,300rpm
Recorded mileage: 70,000
Year registered: 1998
Price new: N/A
Yours for: £7,995
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