Hammer Time: The Legend

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
hammer time the legend

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…

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  • ZCD2.7T ZCD2.7T on May 20, 2010

    We owned 3 Legends - a first-generation (1990) LS Coupe in Pearl White, a second-generation (1991) L Sedan in black, and a 1994 L sedan in white. I got compliments on the coupe all the way up until the day I sold it, with 140K miles on it. Only ever needed brakes and tires, plus a timing belt. Kept the 1994 sedan until it had 165K miles, again with only brakes and tires, plus a radiator around 140K (stoopid plastic top cracked and started leaking). All great cars. Sad that Acura has mostly lost their way ever since.

  • Ed Mendez Ed Mendez on May 20, 2010

    I bought a brand new 1987 Acura Integra LS back then. The dealer service was second to none (at the time my parents owned a BMW, an Audi and a Porsche but their dealer service was absolute crap). The car was cheap, fun to drive, frugal and reliable as sin. I put well over 250K miles on that little car and other than rust, no major issues or repairs at all. Fast forward 16 years to the end of 2003 when I bought a new 2004 Acura TL 6 speed. My, my, how times have changed. I had more problems (nothing major but still needed dealer visits) with my TL in the first year than I had with my previous Mustang GT in 75K miles. The dealer service was still great but the maintenance costs for the TL were prohibitive. I lost count how many times I had to bring the car in because one of the windows got stuck in the down position - once while on vacation in the middle of winter. I got rid of the TL after a couple of frustrating years and replaced it with a BMW 330Ci with the Performance Package. Happy days are here again!

  • DenverMike Column shifter in all trims? Thank god someone is listening. The console shifter is just the stupidest thing ever. Frick just make the whole area useful utility. Luxury means something different in trucks. Definitely removable and I’ll make my own work station.
  • Joh65689020 1. Drape/ Masking-tape paint.2. Blue Coral (or any brand) chrome polish on PowerBall with cordless drill-driver.3. Buff lightly with microfiber towel to crystal clear finish.
  • Bullnuke "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" - Gold Hat
  • DenverMike They seriously want to kill the auto industry.
  • Inside Looking Out I have a feeling that retracting headlights were designed by VW.