By on February 5, 2016

1997 Honda Prelude SH

It’s time for everybody’s favorite parlor game, “Remember When?” where the good old days are magnified and revered.

Today’s subject: Remember when Honda made fun, affordable cars? Nowadays, the Civic Si all the H-brand has to offer, though the Type R might restore some mojo. Back in the day, one could buy a CRX, a Civic Si, a del Sol, a Prelude, or an S2000 from your friendly Honda store — and the Integra across the street from Acura. They’re all gone, replaced by crossovers.

Yes, I left the CR-Z out, as my arbitrary criteria for this list requires actual fun.

I’ve looked at several hot Hondas in this series, but the Prelude has eluded my gaze until now. Today, I bring you a great example of the final generation, this 1997 Honda Prelude SH. The SH refers to “Super Handling” in Honda’s always-creative model nomenclature, which means this car received an “Active Torque Transfer System” and a slightly redesigned front suspension.

The ATTS system acted much like a complicated limited-slip differential, allowing power to be better applied in corners. It’s been some time since I’ve driven one, but my recollection is that it truly felt like an LSD. I’ve read that it’s not the best at handling higher power from a modified engine, though. This one seems cosmetically perfect, lacking the rear-quarter-panel rust so prevalent on cars north of the Mason-Dixon.

If I had to buy one used car to do everything — from commuting to back road jaunts to track fun — for the next 10 years or more, a Prelude would be near the top of my list simply because of its awesome reliability. For example, I found over a hundred Preludes for sale while looking for this one. A couple dozen had over 200,000 miles, and some had over 300,000. With around 80,000 on this one, it has plenty of life left, and $5,995 seems perfectly reasonable.

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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84 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1997 Honda Prelude SH...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Before reading, I’m going to claim $6k max is what anybody should spend on even a very tidy Prelude. Owners of these always think they’re coated in special sauce.

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    I had a ’99 in Nighthawk Black with Black interior. It had a multitude of minor issues, like a leaky windshield and interior chrome that peeled off within a year of service. But the big issue was incredible oil consumption. The H22A4 engine was notorious for it, as I recall, due to improper piston ring installation? I was pouring a quart in every 500 miles or so. The engine passed compression tests, so Honda threw their hands up in the air and said “that’s normal.” I sold the car at 55,000 miles. Anybody else with the final Generation Prelude deal with this?

    • 0 avatar
      VQ35JPM

      I had a 2000 Nighthawk Black Pearl with black interior and it had the same oil consumption problem and the same response from Honda. I knew it was bad when I ran out of oil with 3,000 miles on the odometer in front of a Honda dealership and they offered me no help. It’s a shame because it turned me off of their product. I drove that Prelude for 90,000 miles and loved every minute of it. I eventually traded it for a Nissan Maxima – back when it still had a 6-speed manual – and loved that car. I miss that Prelude but I love the Nissan V6 even more.

      • 0 avatar
        MrGrieves

        When I bought mine, there were 5 or 6 on the lot, all Black with Black interior. This was at a Honda dealer in Torrance, CA, circa March 1999. I got an insane deal on it because nobody wanted to buy them! I remember the sales “closer” coming in and telling me “You name your price on that car, we want it sold.” Probably got it for a couple thousand under invoice? I might have the sales contract somewhere in my files… it still remains the absolute best deal I’ve ever made on a car.

        At the time, the perception was they were pretty ugly and just not desirable. They had poor low-end torque which was compensated by revving the holy h-ll out of it when ascending freeway on-ramps. Plus, the idiot kids kept stealing the “H” off the trunk lid, a problem which was never remedied until I left So Cal.

    • 0 avatar
      scrubnick

      The H22A4 switched to an open deck block with FRM cylinder liners (an aluminum matrix composite!) Supposedly good for emissions, but terrible for oil consumption. Or making mo powah! My factory engine used a fair amount of oil. I built one using the older closed deck block with cast iron sleeves. If you have an SH, though, you are SOL because they use a special block.

  • avatar
    vtnoah

    This was the ultimate for my highschool crew back in the late 90’s early 00’s. If you had a prelude, you had it made. That was until the WRX showed up and shit all over everyone.

    • 0 avatar
      sckid213

      Same here! I graduated in ’01. Will never forget the day one of the hottest girls in school pulled into the lot in a brand-new red Prelude. The entire school stopped in its tracks.

      I’ll bet money you saw the original Fast & Furious in the theater more than one time (I saw it four times).

  • avatar
    threeer

    In a way, I kind of always liked the gen 1 and gen 2 better. Clean and open lines of sight. I attempted to trade my 1984 Audi 4000S for a 1985 Honda Prelude one year, but on my way to the dealership, the Audi unceremoniously threw a rod. Yeah, guess I should have bought a Honda to begin with instead of the Audi. My sister traded her 1989 CRX Si for a 1992 Prelude and regretted it. Sure, the Prelude was fancier, what with its leather interior and all, but the CRX Si was the more entertaining driver. Yes, I’d be happy with an earlier variant Si, not that you can find one in any kind of decent shape anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I think I prefer the new for 92 model over this one. The look was much more balanced and clean.

      http://www.japanesesportcars.com/photos/d/132524-1/1993-honda-prelude.jpg

      The spread out dash was cooler also.

      http://www.moibbk.com/images/honda-prelude-interior-2.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Clueless Economist

        Personal preference but the 4th gen was my least favorite. Never cared for the styling.

        Gen 5 was the clear winner in design. IMO

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I liked the 4th generation’s styling just fine, but the Oldsmobile instrument panel was a deal killer for me.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Ha, it DOES look like the Ninety-Eight in there. Maybe that’s why I like it.

          *In reality, I liked it because it was similar enough to the unobtainium Mazda Cosmo dash.

          • 0 avatar
            Featherston

            Wow, an image search does confirm CJ’s claim. Sadly, the N-body design comes from an earlier time, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to coin the term “Prelude 442 W-41,” much as I’d like to. Corey’s Ninety-Eight call is more accurate.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        Liked the MMC of the third gen the best. Honda hit its absolute peak, IMO, around 1989-1990.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      For me it’s Gen2/Gen3>>>gen5>gen4>>gen1

      Our family’s indie Honda mechanic had a really clean ’85 Si that he welded up a custom manifold for and slapped on a small turbo from a Daytona Turbo, ran it with a mild 5psi with minimal fuel management. Really fun car, the quick spooling, small turbo gives just the right midrange kick in the pants that these already fun Preludes need. He later got a bit greedy with the boost and blew it up.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I don’t think gen 1 should have been called a Prelude, it was just too Accordy in nature.

        Couple years ago I saw an absolutely perfect looking gen 1 in brown at the grocery store. I must have looked at it for three minutes, so rare to see. Especially in salt areas.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Yeah, much the same here (although I’d put 4 above 2). People do ask stupid money for gen5’s, simply because a clean SH with a stick is fantastically rare these days.

      • 0 avatar
        N8iveVA

        gtemnyky “For me it’s Gen2/Gen3>>>gen5>gen4>>gen1”

        I agree 100% with that. For me I’m all about the pop-up headlights on Preludes. If it doesn’t have em, I’m not interested.

    • 0 avatar
      Chris Tonn

      I prefer the 2nd and 3rd generation myself. I just can’t find any good ones left with three pedals.

      If I find one someday, it will appear here.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        You can find them on the west coast pretty easy, usually 0 rust, and not very expensive. Shipping by rail is cheap but takes a while.

        To others: Yes, the gen one was Accord based, so were most if not all gens. With the flip up headlamps, they look just like a late 80s Accord coupe with slightly different rear styling. I mean if youre gonna dog gen 1 for being too much like an Accord, it isnt fair to single it out when others were as well.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Meant Gen 2 and Gen 3…while the Qualude was, um, quaint, I really didn’t start noticing the Prelude until 82/83.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I think it’s had a new bumper and rear put on, which is why there’s no badging. The CarFax indicates a rear end accident in 2014. The bumper alignment is now pretty poor.

    They’d have to take some off before I’d pony up for this one. The lighter interior colors got a two-tone dash as well, which really made it look more upscale in there.

    Seems like all of them have a steering wheel cover that’s a different shade than the wheel and buttons.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Steering wheel cover looks normal, that’s just how they are on Preludes of that generation. But I agree on the bumper resprays, and especially the misalignment in the rear (see big gap under right taillight). I’d check inside of the trunk and underneath to see how serious of a hit it may have been, or simply walk immediately.

  • avatar
    Irvingklaws

    The 80’s and very early 90’s were the golden years for all these cars. This era not-so-much.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Honda had too much overlap. Civic Si, Integra, Prelude, Accord V6, CL…

      The big irony is, the 8th & 9th gen Civic Si, and open diff aside, the 03+ Accord V6 6 speed, are all Honda’s best FWD offerings this side of an ITR. I had a lot of DWB Accords and drove a lot of DWB Hondas… I have an 09 Civic now and I don’t miss the DWBs. It’s just as fun and only a little less precise

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    This thing was not affordable new…. it cost $26K back in the day or $38K today. A current Civic Si coupe is every bit as good for like 1/2 the price lol. With a cheaper and better mechanical LSD.

    What really killed these off was the Accord V6 coupe. Between the less demanding available V6, the usable back seat and the gorgeous NSX inspired tail, for 99 out of 100 buyers the Accord was just a better deal. Little did those buyers know what Honda had in store in the transmission….

    I am lukewarm on these. I prefer the previous ones, with that cool dash and sportier shape. They are pretty much all beat to absolute hell and beyond though. Still, super fun to drive. Both of them handle like go karts and really outhandle their 3000lb curb weighs…

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I never did like that 99-ish Accord Coupe. It always looked to “ass-up” at the back. If it were a little more long and low, it would have looked fine. I suspect that’s the cost of chopping a sedan platform though, and keeping the hard points.

      Plus by then, the CL V6 was around, so just have that!

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        I didn’t either, because of the lack of stickshift, and that “My First Car” interior. The center console just looked like it was designed for children….

    • 0 avatar
      Demetri

      You could get the base Prelude without ATTS for $23,600 in 2001, which was only $1,000 more than the Integra GS-R. I would take the Prelude.

    • 0 avatar
      fvfvsix

      @sportyaccordy

      Yup – I lusted after one of these when I graduated from college in ’98. There was no amount of financial stretching I was willing to do in order to make it happen, though. Bought a Civic instead. 2 years later, I got a dot-com style raise and nearly bought one of these, but my crap credit conspired against me. Got a Mitsu Eclipse instead. You can guess how that turned out.

  • avatar
    balreadysaid

    My friend had a 93 Sh. It took corners on 890 in schenectady as fast as it would go. Good motor too. Was impressive.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      No SH in 93… maybe 4WS? In any case those 4th gens handled like go karts. My buddy had a bone stock 96 VTEC that easily outhandled my heavily modified 93 Accord. It was not even close, and I had a nice suspension setup at the time.

  • avatar
    VoGo

    I really liked the Prelude. What a pity Obamacare killed it.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      Yeah! Thanks, Obama *sarc*. I remember that there was a specific provision in the ACA that really doomed this particular car, retroactively – don’t know how that worked, but my GOP representative in Congress emailed me about it, so it must be so.

      On a more serious note, I seem to remember the first two gens of this car being referred to as the Quaalude.

      I young friend of mine in med school had a 1981 model, and I remember being able to soundly beat it down any stretch of road in my 1979 Fiesta S, with 66 hp.

      If you parked the first several generations of these cars in a garage, closed the door, shut off the compressor and the fluorescents and listened intently, you could HEAR them rust.

      The later generations were light years better, with the last being the best.

    • 0 avatar
      fvfvsix

      Still up in arms over Jack’s article, huh?

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    I dont get all the hate for the CR-Z. Although I havnt driven one yet, the reviews Ive read or watched seemed to praise the car for good handling and a slick manual trans.

    So, if it handles well, has more power than a CRX Si, same or better mileage than the CRX HF (which was a DOGGGG to drive due to lack of power and tall gearing), and it has modern crash protection and safety features, why do people (on the internet) hate it so much?

    Is it a pure sports car? No, but take off your rose-tinted glasses and remember that the CRX Si wasnt either. They are/were “sportY” economy cars. Ive had three CRXs and they were not God’s gift from above. Dont get me wrong, I really liked them, and part of me still wants one, but they were noisey, usually gutless (in the unofficial “DX” trim or the HF especially) and rusted easily even though they were west coast cars that never saw salt. Fun to drive? Yes, especially the Si. Economical? Yes, especially in HF trim, and even the unlabled “DX” trim was decent. Comfortable? No, not really. Easy to see out of? No, especially compared to “normal” small cars of the day. Cool? Yes. Better than Escort EXP in this Ford-guy’s opinion? (quietly) yes except for the later 1.9L HO version, but the Honda still looked better.

    All in all, it seems like the CR-Z is a modern example of the original, with modern technology (IMA) that combines decent performance with stellar MPG instead of making you choose between the two. Should Honda throw the Civic Si powertrain to make a “CR-Z Si”? Yes, but that doesnt mean the current version isnt doing what its supposed to do. No, it isnt competing with the ST’s from Ford, but it does deserve some respect. People act like its Honda’s Dodge Caliber, and I just dont get that.

    On the Prelude. Love the car, would try to find one cheaper if I could. Ill say again, my favorite car to wear the Prelude name is the 5th gen SH.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I think the problem was that the people who actually wanted a re-imagined CRX weren’t looking for a half-assed hybrid with cutesy styling and a (typical modern Honda) whacked-out instrument panel. it shows that Honda of today doesn’t realize or remember what people liked about their historical performance vehicles, and they think that throwing IMA and SH-AWD at everything is the way to go.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        Youre just repeating what everyone else has said.

        You call the powertrain half-assed, but dont acknowledge that its more powerful than any stock CRX we got in North America (not sure about JDM).

        2011 Honda CR-Z 0-60 mph 8.2 | Quarter mile 16.2

        1991 Honda CRX Si 0-60 mph 8.6 | Quarter mile 16.3

        Fuel economy.gov

        2016 Honda CR-Z manual 6 speed
        38 highway
        31 City
        34 combined

        1991 Honda CRX 1.6L manual 5 speed (Si)
        30 Highway
        24 City
        27 Combined

        Faster than the fastest CRX sold here, with a fairly significant jump in MPG to boot. As I said, CR-Z also has modern crash protection and safety features.

        The 91 CRX was “cute” in 1991.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          The CRZ is terrible. It’s a slow 2-seater that was the answer to a question that nobody asked. Honda would have been better off building a Fit Si.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          then why has it failed?

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Because no one wants a 2 seat hybrid that offers zero performance, isn’t fun to drive, and happens to be on the same lot as the Civic Si that is only $2000 more?

        • 0 avatar
          87 Morgan

          I think you are missing the point here on the failure of the current gen CRX(Z). It has not better performance than the 1991 CRX.

          The problem is now a 2016 Chrysler Town and Country loaded with mom gear and car seats returns pretty close to the same 0-60 time.

          To be competitive as a sport coupe in 2016 a level of performance needs to be delivered greater than that of a mini-van.

          Probably the same reason the Toybaru twins have done very well.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          <.5s over a 16s quarter mile is a driver's race.

          Pretty much all cars have made similar fuel economy gains.

          The car sucks bro.

        • 0 avatar
          Pecci

          IMO, I appreciate the low-end torque due to the battery, but I think the car falls due to it’s weight.

          I had a CRX and it was a lot of fun, but it was slow. It’s size and weight made it the success it was. That same car today would weigh hundred’s of pounds more, due to all the government garbage.

        • 0 avatar
          1UZ

          Mustang GTs of the day ran mid to high 15s. The fact that the CRX was just shy of that was a big reason they sold like crazy. They were performance cars and held their own for over 10 years. Much more than cute. But alas, mini van are putting down better numbers today. Honda missed the boat on the CRZ and i was heart broken over it. I could forgive it being a hybrid if they had just gave it some power. A mid 13 1/4 mile time would have given this car entirely different audience. They may have even been able to jump start the performance hybrid segment with it.

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        I love my 2000 Insight – but I’m on my 3rd IMA battery. 150K miles and three batteries is inexcusable, and the last one was out of my own pocket, a hand-built $2700 item from Bumblebee Batteries. Adding to my distrust with Honda is that they replaced my IMA computer – which immediately resulted in a reduction of range, fuel economy and power. It’s an open secret that Honda did this to increase the longevity of the terrible and fragile batteries they used – but I call it fraud. When I bought the car it promised 70mpg hwy 60 city and was quite fun in a CRX kind of way. When a car company sells a car that behaves one way, then reprograms it after you’re on the hook for five years of payments to behave another, that’s a swindle.
        I write this because as much as I wanted to like the CRZ, as much as I think it’s a very handsome design, I’ll NEVER trust a Honda hybrid again.

    • 0 avatar
      djsyndrome

      “I dont get all the hate for the CR-Z.”

      “Although I havnt driven one yet”

      There’s the issue right there. Drive it, and you’ll learn that the fantastic styling is completely let down by every aspect of that car save the gearbox.

    • 0 avatar
      glwillia

      I’ve driven two, a manual and an automatic. It feels heavy, isn’t quick or rev-happy or tossable, the handling is mediocre at best and there is zero rearward visibility. It’s not any less fun to drive than a modern Insight, but I think the hatred for it is because it harkens back to the much-beloved CRX without actually delivering any driving pleasure.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Mmmmmmm Preludey.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Am I the only one thinking why a 20 year old car has a nicer interior design than most cars today?

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The only “H-brand” for me is Hyundai.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2016/02/junkyard-find-1987-hyundai-excel-not-rare-enough-zero-options-package/

  • avatar
    Demetri

    I owned an Integra GS-R, but always wanted one of these instead. The styling was panned on release as being boring, but I feel like it has aged better than a lot of other stuff from that era, like the Eclipse. I love how it looks; much lower and wider in person than what shows up in pictures. Overall, a more refined package than the Integra; feels like it was built from the ground up as a sports coupe, while you can feel the Civic roots in the Integra. On the flip side, an Integra weighs significantly less, which many people will find more fun.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I have never driven one of these, but to me the design is pure and you know instantly that it is a prelude. As many have posted on this site, what happened? It seems like every car made today looks like the same offering across the street at the other dealership.

    To me the last generation is most attractive, the previous gen that was far more bulbous did not do it for me.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    Had an Eastern European friend of mine who I grew up with, he had a 4th gen Prelude. Same red color, but his was faded to an almost flat pinkish. Rusty rear quarters, of course. VTEC-equipped with the 5-speed manual.

    His was also equipped with fart pipes and an intake, IIRC. Always smoked like a sumbitch under heavy throttle, a nice plume of white smoke. But it also had 270k on the clock, so whaduyawant? He kept on driving it for another year or so after that, and I’d always hear it before I saw it. Haha.

    Another friend of mine here at the office had an early 90’s Integra, same color (faded red) and also had the VTEC option. Didn’t get to ride in it, but I remember the belt squeal it made when he would crank it up and start it. I noticed the same, white smoke at start up, similar to that of my bud’s red Prelude.

    He told me that his Integra had over 300k on it. I thought he was full of sh*t. Sure enough, I gave it a look see. 330k miles. Lmao

    (As for my buddy with the Integra, he only drives Acuras now, he drives a first gen MDX and his wife drives a TL with the 6MT.) I guess you stick with what works, needless to say.

    Clearly, both of these cars I mentioned had consumption issues, but that being said… they still ran the Hell out of them and they apparently held up just fine.

    Then, there’s mine. My ’06 Accord Coupe with the J30A5 VTEC. That’s the 244 hp 3.0L VTEC. Just for sh*ts and giggles I ran up to 5k for my oil change interval instead of my usual 3k, and checked my oil level. I was one quart of a quart low. Looks like they fixed the oil consumption issues, finally. I’m looking forward to seeing how many miles I can rack up on it. I’m at 170K now, so I’d imagine she’s got lots of life left.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    And Preludes are fun, sure. But there’s a 4WD Civic Wagovan on Ebay as we speak that I’d much rather throw my hard-earned coin at.

    I still notice lots of Preludes zipping around. But try finding 4WD Civics in the wild. Rare as Hens Teeth.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Jesus tap dancing Christ this still has the factory stereo.

    Someone save this unmolested virgin before the ‘yo VTEC kick in crowd get a hold of it and cut the springs, add a coffee can muffler, and “wired it for subs.”

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Around here theres only two Preludes, a smokey fourth gen in primer that never moves passed 40, and a primer fifth gen the cops pulled over.

    Only the fourth gen really appeals to me, and Ive given up finding any semi-decent examples.

    Then theres always stories like this:http://www.carsurvey.org/reviews/honda/prelude/1995/#r125228

  • avatar
    roverv8i

    I like the 4th gen the least but if my memory is correct, it had more headroom. I always wanted a Prelude but never could go for one as they simply did not have enough headroom if your were much over 6 feet. 6.3 in my case. My assumption was that this car was designed more for the JDM. Another car with no head room was the first gen RX7. would ride in my buddy’s and would have lean the seat back and would still bump my head if he hit any big bumps. It had a sunroof so this my have made it worse in these?

  • avatar
    JMII

    Gen 3 Prelude owner checking in… I had 1989 Honda Prelude Si. Mine was top of the line missing only the rear-steering option. The 4th gen was ugly duckling, I think Honda realized its mistakes and fixed things for the 5th gen. Ditching the smooth curves and space ship dash by going back to the chiseled look of the 3rd gen.

    I bought my ’89 used with about 30K on the clock from an Acura dealer, as it was (to me) a kissing cousin to the Integra but affordable. Mine was school bus yellow with matching factory fog lamps, sunroof, 5 speed, black interior. Hands down the best handling car I’ve ever owned, that thing could take corners at insane speeds! Great seats, well laid out interior, with a low dash with perfectly placed controls, awesome clutch and shifter feel. The dash layout was so top notch and the seats were perfect – firm yet supportive with lumbar and side bolsters. It was really a cockpit on the inside, between the seats and position of buttons/switches you felt like you were one with the car, everything just felt “right”. Brakes could have been stronger and the engine was typical Honda: great on gas and flew at high RPM, but low on torque when you needed to pass on the highway. Only problems in many miles of hard driving were a bad clutch seal and weak brakes (or were both a result of my aggressive driving style?).

    I beat my Prelude silly for years, just like my previous ’85 Civic S1500 and loved every minute of it – truly a joy to drive at the limits. This car begged you to push it hard, then it reacted instantly to input and was always totally composed and in tune with the road. There are only a few cars that reach this level of zen-like road feel where everything about driving seems like an extension of your body.

    I was always thought the perfect FWD vehicle would have been an ’89 Prelude with my ’96 Eclipse GS-T turbo’s engine as that would have fixed the gutless Honda’s torque problem.

    • 0 avatar
      NeilM

      I had an 88 Si with the 4ws option. Wonderful car, and the mechanical rear steer really worked as advertised. Around that time I threw my back out helping a friend move house; the Honda’s anatomic seats were the only place I could get comfortable.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Torque problem? That’s not a problem, just an excuse to rev old Honda motors, as it should be! Even my Legend’s luxo-cruiser V6 really wants to be above 4000 rpm, where the sound suddenly takes on more urgency and the missing torque shows up.

  • avatar
    Big Wheel

    I had one of these, same year 1997, but it was the base model, not the SH, Sport Shift automatic, Nordic Mist Metallic (silver), black interior. Loved it. It was my third Prelude, after a 1986 Si (red/black), & a 1991 Si (black/black). They started out as my mom’s car, before I picked them up. Got the first two after she racked up 120k miles on them each, got the 1997 at “only” 75k miles.

    They were a revelation after a string of GM cars from the 1970’s & 80’s because my grandfather was a GM retiree. My dad has stuck with GM all the way, but after an early 80’s Buick Century (powder blue, Iron Duke 4 cylinder I think), my mom had enough of the mediocrity. The Preludes were a thrill to drive with their double wishbone suspensions & OHC multi-valve engines. The 1986 was a 2.0L, SOHC, 12V, with around 110 hp. The 1991 was a 2.05L, DOHC, 16V, with around 140 hp, no VTEC yet, but really came on the cam around 4000 rpm. The 1997 was a 2.2L, DOHC, 16V, with VTEC. Loved it when it switched over around 5200 rpm. The 1997 did use some oil at higher mileage, but I just kept it topped off & it wasn’t any different than the previous two cars with well over 100k miles.

    Cabins were bright & airy, thin pillars, lots of glass, seats flat on the floor, with your legs practically straight out like a chaise lounge. Loved it. All were very reliable as well. Drove the 1986 to 199k, the 1991 to 195k, & the 1997 to 175k. All were autos, but the SS in the 1997 was not particularly good like a lot of Honda autos during that time, & mine crapped out before 100k miles. Didn’t want to pay the $5k the dealer wanted, so I called Honda, told them it was my third Honda, here are the VIN’s, all dealer maintained by the book (I had the receipts, & they can verify with the dealer), so they gave me the trans for free, I just had to pay shipping & the standard labor for the swap, ended up costing me only about $550.

    Had no problem selling all three even at their high mileage. Sold the 1986 to the tech at the Honda dealer who maintained it, & he continued to drive it for some time. I had four people who wanted to buy the 1991 at 199k miles, ended up selling once again to the Honda tech (different dealer than the 1986 tech). Gave the 1997 to my brother in law who drove it daily for awhile before getting a new truck.

    The 80’s & 90’s were the peak of Honda before they settled into blandness. I recently walked into a Honda showroom after dropping off my wife’s Buick next door. Not a lot of excitement anymore, the Civic Si is the only thing remotely fun. Even the brochures are much different. I still have the brochures from the last two Preludes, they mainly talk about the drivetrain technology, the PGM-FI, multi valve head, VTEC, double wishbone suspension & engine cutaways, etc. Now? You barely find a mention of the engine, forget about anything showing the suspension, now it’s all about the infotainment system & safety features. Sigh…

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Good call on how even the brochures have changed. I too remember fondly how Honda was once all about their technology. Can’t really blame them though… today’s buyers only care ask about Bluetooth, can the car drive itself yet and are these the only CUVs you offer? Since visibility is so bad in most modern cars the only option seems to be going with higher seating position. Ironic since the thing that made the Prelude so great was how LOW you sat in it. Shame you didn’t have the manual as that was another Honda trademark. I remember shifting my Civic without the clutch because of how smooth and easy the gears were to engage. Pretty much the opposite of my current Z which feels like using a hammer to drive in a screw.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    If you miss the days that Honda made affordable fun cars the Prelude wasn’t it. They were expensive back in the day. In 94 I shopped one and ended up with a Probe GT instead. I didn’t understand resale value at the time though.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Honda had very high opinions of their two door vehicles in the early-mid 90’s. The Legend Coupe was priced like a BMW.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        And the sales seemed to justify that opinion. At least in the first couple years they sold every Legend they could import. Amazing how at the time FWD could compete head-on with RWD given sufficiently good design.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    The last Prelude I remember seeing was this super mint 3rd? generation example.

    http://i257.photobucket.com/albums/hh222/rockmanDX3/IMG_20150714_100701.jpg

    It even had a non-rusted original muffler! It was insane how clean it was. And it had 4 wheel steering too.

  • avatar
    kablamo

    Have one of these, stock, manual, with low miles (under 100k). It drives great, it’s always fun and the engine is eager to rev. It does burn oil, especially when you rev it a lot or have many cold starts. Just check it every 1000 miles or so and keep oil topped off, it’s a small inconvenience for an otherwise extremely reliable car.

    The styling is definitely an acquired taste. It looks so much better with painted sideskirts (which this car has). The front is OK IMO, but I can see why some don’t like it… from every other angle it’s a nice car. The interior is simple and functional, you can put a double DIN stereo if you want.

    Numbers are unimpressive by today’s standards but it’s enjoyable to drive in a way that numbers can’t capture. The manual version is still under 3000lbs, the SH and Auto are above 3000lbs. I used to have a 3rd gen which was also great fun, nicer front styling but the engine was less exciting (140hp, 6500rpm redline).

  • avatar
    05lgt

    When these were new I shopped/tested a red one, but it cost more than I wanted to pay and I liked the ’96 Integra’s steering and ballence more. That, and I had just walked away from a severe offset head-on in my ’93 Integra so I was feeling loyal.

  • avatar
    Reino

    What I love about this gen Prelude is that you can totally tell that Honda was paying a homage to the ‘long-hood/fastback’ style of the Camaro and Mustang. This is one of the most beautiful cars of that era

  • avatar
    Mr. Monte

    A good friend of mine had one of these for a good while from 97 to 05, it was a fun car to drive. Handled great, loved the clutch feel and the sound once it went into VTEC was joyous. I recall the SH being the best handling car under 30k in a C/D comparo and gave more expensive great handling cars a run for their money! http://www.caranddriver.com/comparisons/honda-prelude-sh-page-10


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