A bit of retro Japanese action

I knew saving up for 2CV restoration was a dangerous move. You see, normally, I can easily resist cars for sale because I have no money. Buyers tend to demand an exchange of the stuff for whatever it is they’re selling so if you don’t have any, you don’t get very far.

Now German Classics magazine is live though, my income has received a pleasant boost. Straight away, I shuffled most of it into my savings account, thinking it’d be safe there. I kept a little to pay for things I needed, like new walking boots as my old ones have fallen apart at long last, and the occasional pleasant lunch out. Truly a treat.

But stashing the money in my savings account was not enough. When I found a Honda Prelude Mk4 2.0i for sale on a certain forum, my will was tested. And proved about as robust as a bridge made of Pringles. I chucked in a low offer and to my distress, this was accepted. Oh dear. So, I found myself on a succession of trains to Devon all of a sudden, where the steed was located. I hadn’t expected to get up on Monday and buy a car but I was now frantically searching for cheap train tickets (www.splitticketing.com helped here) and by Tuesday, was on my way south. Well, North, West and eventually South because trains are rubbish.

Prelude black

A temptation too far for my feeble will power.

I was in a hurry to collect as I’m currently editing another new magazine, to follow on from German Classics. It’s called Retro Japanese, and perhaps now you can see why my head was turned!

I’ve owned Hondas before, and I like them. Even the 1990s Civic posesses something of the Soichiro Honda flavour that so defined this famous Japanese brand. You can feel the precision of engineering, and the car sits so low to the ground.

Prelude rear mk4

Not a hatchback but a two-door with rear wiper!

Clambering aboard the Prelude for the first time – I’ve never so much as driven one – I found myself almost lying on the ground. The scuttle is just as low as I’d come to expect from the Civic, and also Rover’s shared 1980s designs. I like that. I don’t like a scuttle I have to peer over.

Driving home the next day was enjoyable. Sure, it’s only a 2-litre automatic, but it still packs a 133bhp punch, which is plenty for me. I’m a firm believer that there is more to going quickly than out-and-out power, and I was able to hustle the Prelude along very nicely thank you very much.

Prelude engine bay

‘Only’ 133bhp, but more than enough for me. Goes well!

The ride is a little unrefined, but I’d come to expect that. I think Japan probably has smoother roads, and the double-wishbone suspension lacks travel. Something that frustrated many a Rover engineer. It all feels very good in the bends though. The Civic had hideously over-assisted steering but around the straight-ahead, the Prelude feels like it doesn’t have any assistance at all frankly. It turns into bends beautifully and surprisingly even weight distribution and that firm suspension conspire to make it behave wonderfully. No bodyroll, no deviation. I look forward to pushing harder once the weather improves. Frosty or sodden roads do not great confidence make, though the Prelude felt utterly secure.

The automatic gearbox seems to work well, and the fact that the torque converted locks up at about 52mph probably explains why I was able to extract a creditable 34mpg from it. It isn’t overly smooth though, despite what many would regard as a fairly low 89,500 miles. It’s fairly low by my standards, that’s for sure!

Automatic gearbox not the smoothest, but easy on fuel.

Automatic gearbox not the smoothest, but easy on fuel.

The ride then is not cosseting and nor are the firm sports seats, though the bolsters grip me in a far more effective way than the massive lounge chairs in the XM. I did have some backache after several hours, but then to be honest, that’s true of most cars.

Having chosen to read reviews only after I’d formed my own impressions, I learned that the Prelude was considered one of the best handling cars in its class back in the early to mid 1990s. Naturally, most press tests were of the more potent models – VTEC kicked in YO! With those, 185bhp is enough for a 0-62mph time of 7.1 seconds and a top speed of 140mph. I reckon mine is closer to ten seconds for the acceleration dash, and is probably all done by 120mph. Plenty fast enough really. The VTEC could be specified with four-wheel steering too, though I haven’t seen much to suggest this really makes any difference. It seems little more than a fad of those times. Remember the Mitsubishi Galant with four-wheel drive AND four-wheel steer?

A little bland perhaps, but purposeful.

A little bland perhaps, but purposeful.

Anyway, in real-world conditions, what I have is more than enough. The 2-litre really is wrongly overlooked. In fact, aside from the poor ride, I haven’t found very much that I don’t like. The ergonomics are a bit Japanese – the mirror adjustment requires you to stuff your elbow down the side of the seat, and the dashboard dimmer switch is obviously located behind the handbrake – but as a driving machine, it feels like a very purposeful one, that’s also more than capable of cruising along at a goodly rate with no stress at all. There is a clonk from the rear suspension, but this seems to be a very common Mk4 and Mk5 Prelude trait that can be solved by inserting washers above the rear damper bush. Hopefully, it’ll prove to be a  good buy!

Flourescent dials add a touch of glamour.

Flourescent dials add a touch of glamour.

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