Long before VTEC, before four-wheel steering and before pop-up headlights, there was the first-generation Honda Prelude. Launched in 1979, the Prelude was pitched as a sportier alternative to both Civic and Accord, wrapping parts from both in a rakish (for the time) two-door coupé body.
And yet you’ve probably not seen one in years. Popular in some markets, the first-generation Honda Prelude is vanishingly rare in the UK. It was uncommon even when new, restricted like many Japanese cars of the era by protectionist import quotas. Combine rarity with indifference, unfamiliarity and an unfortunate tendency to rust, and you can perhaps understand why dealer Oakwood Specialist Cars in Whitley Bay has seen fit to list this 34,000-mile example at an eyebrow-raising £19,995.
Claimed to be one of only three left on the road (a tricky figure to corroborate thanks to wonky DVLA categorisation, but probably not far from the truth), this 1979 car features the original 79bhp, 1602cc engine and five-speed manual gearbox, as well as a remarkably glossy coat of the original Tudor Red Metallic paintwork.
Viewed with four-and-a-bit decades of hindsight, it’s quite a handsome shape. Well-balanced proportions mask the fact that all Preludes powered their front wheels – still a rarity in its class at the time, Volkswagen Scirocco aside – though with MacPherson struts at all four corners, it was more sophisticated underneath than its trailing-arm rival.
And while it’s not as wedgy as the pop-up headlight generations that followed, Honda clearly appreciated the first-gen’s shape enough to reprise its more conservative three-box form, with headlights raised above the grille, for the final, fifth generation car in 1996. If you squint a bit.
The interior was airy, and is easily appreciated given the originality of Oakwood’s car. Preludes were well-equipped – note that sliding smoked glass sunroof – but the first-generation model also boasted an uncluttered dashboard design, with many controls gathered around the instrument cluster rather than spread across the dash.
The radio, for instance, requires just a finger-stretch from wheel to the pod-mounted controls, while the Mk1 Prelude’s most notable interior feature was its concentric speedometer and tachometer – something Fiat would reprise for its reimagined 500 in 2007. Drivers even got warning lamps which changed through green, yellow and red based on mileage, as to when the engine oil and filter should be replaced, and when you should rotate the tyres.
Suffice to say all of this is still present on the car you see here, and for twenty grand, so it jolly well should be. The ad promises a rust-free structure, which really is a rarity if true, and a fine drive. The brochure lists no performance figures, but think of the Honda Prelude more as a cruiser than a sports car. Experience with a ‘70s Civic would suggest stately progress but accurate steering and unerring, well-oiled precision to every control.
We’ve seen privately-offered Preludes for less – they’re definitely still out there, and those that remain are generally in decent condition too – but perhaps somewhere out there, there’s a buyer for whom only the best example will do, and has the money to indulge in this rare and appealing car.