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

  • GranCab 19 Oct 2012


  • doogz 19 Oct 2012

    The Gen5 2.0 was sloooow!

    I loved my Gen3 2.0 though smile

  • James1972 19 Oct 2012

    It a Honda so it will go forever - but no Vtec Noooo

  • ADP68 19 Oct 2012

    No thanks. It doesn't thrill. I prefer the big, bargain barges in this column. Sorry

  • djdestiny 19 Oct 2012

    Might as well of just written an article about Setright

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