By on April 14, 2012

Remember how small the early Preludes were? It had been quite some time since I last saw one of these cars, so I was a bit startled by the diminutive dimensions of this example in a California self-serve yard.
The first-gen Prelude was smaller and much slower than the versions that followed later in the 1980s; the ’81 came with the same 72-horsepower engine as the Accord. Since the Prelude weighed just 2,130 pounds, 72 horses wasn’t as cement-mixer-slow as you might expect… but you had to plan ahead when attempting to pass on a two-lane blacktop road.
One of the best things about 80s Japanese cars was the unapologetically 1890-French-cathouse-grade red interiors you could get. This car had plenty of goofy style, something that seems to have been banished from the entire Honda line by about 1994.
I was tempted to buy this clock, but I passed because I didn’t have any means of testing it. I’ve learned that 99 and several more nines percent of mechanical-digital car clocks, even Japanese ones, don’t work.

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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1981 Honda Prelude...”

  • avatar

    No rust! My neighbor’s early 80’s model disappeared into a cloud of red dust in not too many years. Midwest road salt treatments.

    Motor Trend had a headline reading “a Prelude to what?”

  • avatar

    The ’88 Si was the first one that really lived up to what Honda was trying to do. My dad had one; very nice car for the time, quick and extremely nimble in the old-school Honda way. But yeah, you could have put one of these in its trunk, and it wasn’t all that big either.

    • 0 avatar

      A clean 3rd gen is still something I’d like to own someday. Sadly, in my part of the world, a clean 5th gen is about as close as I’m able to get, and you even pay a premium on those.

      • 0 avatar

        Dad’s was passed to me for awhile, and then sold cheap to a family friend who drove it until it finally failed inspection at 270k miles because of (of all things) rust in the *roof*, just behind the windshield. You’d probably have to do a lot of looking for a nice one, but I bet there are still a few out there, somewhere.

  • avatar

    The body on that car appears to be in great shape for it’s age, it’s too bad it ended up in the junk-yard rather than with someone who would have given it some needed love.

  • avatar

    Oh, there’s that horrid Honda vacuum plumbing again. These cars were all the rage when they came out, and this one’s quite clean.

  • avatar

    The early (1979-1980) Preludes had a very silly dash with a hard-to-read concentric speedo and tach. Honda gave the car a more normal gauge cluster for 1981. Cute little car, but Preludes didn’t really get good until the 1983 second-generation models.

  • avatar

    Looks real good for a junk yard find. Wonder what failure brought it there?

  • avatar

    Early Preludes, and this generation especially, are really neat cars. I would love to have one of these in my garage. You just don’t see these in the Midwest.

  • avatar

    I get to say it this time, the obligatory old Japanese engine statement: “those engines were bullet-proof and ran forever.”

  • avatar

    I’m guessing a head gasket finally blew.

    The paint doesn’t look fabulous in places and the passenger door was either repaired or replaced as the paint looks almost new and definitely shiny, the rest of the car, it’s pailer and flat, having lost all shine and some of its color over time.

    Otherwise, it does look to be clean and in decent condition, even the interior shows hints of being in decent shape, some fading not withstanding.

    I remember these back in the day, sadly, don’t see these much anymore but still see the 2nd gen Civics every now and then and I live where rust isn’t an issue, let’s just say, it forgot Puget Sound. :-)

    I drove the more pedestrian variant of this platform, the 1983 Civic 1500DX with the 5spd manual and working AC, once I got it recharged between 1992-1998, putting some 70-75K miles on it at the time and it had all of 67hp.

    As MM said, you had to plan ahead and then make use of ALL the available hp to pass or anything like that, but that was the fun of these things as they were zippy and loads of fun to drive, believe me, I know, I drove that Civic like a mad Banshee for much of the 6 years I had it. I miss that lil’ bugger as I loved it so, now, my Mazda Protege5 brings with it, much of what that lil Civic offered in driving fun as I’m itching to take it places, gas prices be damned.

  • avatar

    In the 80s Car and Driver did an article on one of these called the MERLUDE…an embryonic pimp my ride style article where they made a prelude Mercedes SL – like

  • avatar

    Am I the only one who remembers that these were commonly called the Qaalude?

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    In the early 90’s I bought a nice blue 5 speed 81 w/100k on it for $650. Nice sporty and fun ride but a little small for my 6’2″ frame and it had no A/C so I sold it to my sisters friend for what I paid for it and she drove it for years. What is interesting Honda only offered these in 3 colors Burgandy, Navy blue and Silver.

    2nd and 3rd gen Preludes are quite good and future collectibles.

  • avatar

    When I lived in Chicago in the early 1980s, my girlfriend at the time drove one of these with gold metallic paint and an automatic. Slow but cute whereas my lady friend was fast and cute. When I left Chicago in 1983 the little Prelude was falling victim to Jane Byrne’s road salt as was our relationship.

  • avatar

    I remember some of the auto magazines referring to this particular Prelude as the “Quaalude,” due to how depressing, slow, ugly, and boring it was.

  • avatar

    Car People wonder why coupes have dropped off face of earth, it’s mostly from insurance costs. A four door car is averaged out to include “slow” car owners. Coupes usaully were bought by teens or 20’s hot-heads* who love to speed, street race, weave, etc. Also, get stolen more often. So, due to rising insurance costs, bye bye 2 doors.

    * Todays younger generation are not into that, more into iPhones, video games, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      They haven’t disappeared at all. Even ignoring the hatchbacks, you can find lots of two-door models, ranging from the Kia Forte and Hyundai Veloster to the Audi A5/S5 and BMW 3-series. Even Honda offers the Civic Coupe and Accord Coupe.

      It’s the wagons that have disappeared, not the coupes.

  • avatar

    Back in “the day” the yard de la recycling sold, in time, pert-near every part in decent or better condition on every one of those Preludes.

    Much adored conveyances by the human herd in the Frisco Bay area.

  • avatar

    With the engine technology available today, I suspect this would make a hot tuner car.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I remember when these were new there was a total hysteria on the part of would-be buyers . I was living in Houston where thanks to the Carter era gas crisis was booming compared to most of the rest of the country and Honda dealers were despicably greedy back then , with dealer markups of thousands of dollars (in early 80s dollars ) common . A co-worker was obsessed with getting one and finally was able to happen on a car carrier with a Prelude on board and follow it to a dealership .She claimed she climbed on top of the car and wouldn’t get off until they agreed to sell it to her. For some ridiculous markup she was able to score one , but with a Hondamatic instead of the five-speed she wanted , and in this same color scheme.From day one she disliked the Hondamatic .

  • avatar

    My brother gave my his then girlfriends, I think 81 hatch one of these. I think he wanted me to store it for him if he ever wanted it, but I sold it for $800. That was about ten years ago. I did like how tiny the car was. He could not figure out why it kept dying on acceleratrion. I found a small pair of vice grips on the fuel line near the tank. Took em off and it ran great. Have no idea why they were there.

  • avatar

    “One of the best things about 80s Japanese cars was the unapologetically 1890-French-cathouse-grade red interiors you could get. This car had plenty of goofy style, something that seems to have been banished from the entire Honda line by about 1994.”

    Nope, it came back in the S2000:

    Blech. I know a lot of people love them, but it’s not too much REEEEED for me. Not as bad as the blue one, though.

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