Back in 1987 the only V8 I knew about was made out of tomatoes and some weird spicy stuff. I was all of 14 then, and my concerns in life were little more than the infrequent dating opportunity and eating out (my mom didn’t believe in cooking). There was college… but that seemed as far away as the drop dead gorgeous brunette who sat two desks in front of me in Spanish class. I was terrible in Spanish, and with good reason. Back then I remember trying in vain to read my Spanish homework at the local Audi customer’s lounge. A place my mom frequently visited and despised for 5000 good reasons. Later that evening, a 60 minutes expose would result in our Audi being taken straight to a dealership one more time. But this time the sign up front said ‘Acura’.
The Acura Legend was second in a long line of brilliant purchases made by my late Dad. My brother Paul got a 1984 Celica Supra new and kept it for 15 years. Mom had the Legend. Dad snapped up one of the last new Lincoln Mark VII’s for peanuts, and I ended up with a Toyota Celica GT-S. What you see below is exactly what the Acura looked like. On the surface it was a very bland three box design in a 1980′s car world that was loaded with them. Slight angle up front, right angle down back, and done. But in between the bumpers this car was a quantum leap in the very definition of luxury.
Open the door and say hello the best leather seats short of an S-Class. The Saab 900, Volvo 740 and Audi 5000 (a.k.a. the Legend’s real competiton) could all lay claim to great seats by this time. But as an affluent Jewish kid with Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and older cousins who had them all, I can safely say that the seats in the Acura were the absolute best bar none. You sat in them and they seemed to just mindmeld with the body. Twenty-three years later I had the same exact feeling with the Acura below I bought for $350 at a dealer auction. Unlike the leather seats that would eventually wear out, the cloth ones on this ancient car had virtually no discernible wear at all. Amazing.
The lack of wear held on to the rest of the car… so long as the name said Acura and not the deservedly defunct Sterling. When the Legend was first released in 1985 Honda offered a tried and true Honda 2.5L V6 with all of 151 horsepower. Don’t laugh but that was a class leading number. The 1000+ pound heavier Town Car offered only 140 horsepower and had to do it with twice the cubic inches. All the normally aspirated versions of it’s European competition? Substantially less. 112 to 135 to be exact. At the Legend’s 20k price point, and with all the powertrain goodies, it offered plenty of bang for the Yuppie’s buck.
During the first couple of years the Acura Legend pretty much melded with the competition. It did well, but not great because of the lack of brand cache. Then all hell broke loose for the Legend in 1987. Someone at Acura’s advertising agency realized that the Legend’s middle-aged clientele needed ‘validation’ for buying such a little known brand whose only other car was a cheap hatchback. Enter the J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey. In 1987 you couldn’t watch an Acura commercial or visit a dealership without that accolade being smeared all over the place. The Acura slogan? Who knew? But chances are you already knew all about the J.D. Power Award once you visited the dealership.
The award would be featured predominately throughout the 1st generation’s model run. The second kick in sales performance came in the form of a Yamaha engine. The numbers varied from 160 to 170 horsepower. But the Yamaha C27 engine was amazingly fast and well-tuned for it’s time. Before Ford would ante up for it’s Ford Taurus SHO, Honda decided to make Yamaha it’s sole engine for the Legend. It was a great boost in every respect.
Once the coupe was released in 1987, the Legend’s performance was undoubtedly at the top of the class. A 1987 Acura Legend coupe with a 5-speed could hit 0-60 in 7.7 seconds. That number matched a Toyota Celica All-Trac, and beat the BMW M3 of the same year. All the while the 1st Generation Legend offered a level of luxury that was comparable to a Mercedes E-Class which cost nearly 50% more. Within a few years Toyota and Nissan would come in with their own heavyweights and ironically, Honda would then decide that the Acura marque was far more important than the ‘Legend’ name. Oh how wrong they would be…