The Fourth-Gen Honda Prelude Is an Underrated Driver’s Car
This fun little Honda hasn't seen the track as much as the Civic or S2000, but it's still quite capable.
The Integra, Civic, CRX, S2000, and even NSX have all been tracked extensively, and still are by many. But it seems the Prelude has always finished low-to-mid pack in winning over enthusiasts’ choice as the two-door Honda car they’d like to wheel on track, either as a race car, dual-duty street/track car, or angry time attack platform.
“Ehh, they’re kinda pigs, not really worth it” said my friend and usual go-to Honda guru Nick, when I once asked him why the Honda Prelude wasn’t more represented at the track. Well, he said something to that effect. I’ve always dug the look of the ‘Lude though, and it was even on my list of first-cars when I got my driver’s license way back in 2003.
I’d like to ask: Why not track a fourth-gen Prelude? I bet a lot of people would follow up with “well, then what about the fifth gen?” to which I reply, “woh hey now, I’d like to get at least two to three blogs out of the Prelude badge…. we can do that one next week.” Joking, kind of.
Today I do just want to talk about the fourth-gen in particular, the BA8 chassis that looked a little like a hawk and ran from model years 1991 through 1996.
The Prelude’s Heavy but It’s Also Powerful
To address this car’s weight, my friend was correct, they are on the portly side. By the way, it seems like the only Honda model that enthusiasts don’t use code nomenclature for is the Prelude.
It’s easy to see why Honda enthusiasts would call a curb weight hovering around 2,800 pounds piggish; that’s way heavier than an EF Civic, its wedgy sibling the CRX, the DC2 Integra, and so on. But what it lacks in lightness it makes up for in power.
Especially Si-trim models. These were the ticket, and still are if they can still be found in reasonable shape. Their heart was the H23A1, a 2.3-liter non-VTEC inline-four that claimed around 160 horsepower. Later in the generation’s run, Honda introduced a trim that was as frank as possible: the VTEC. This made a bit more power due to having VTEC integrated into its H22A1, which helped it net nearly 190 horsepower. Simple mods like intake, exhaust, and camshafts are quite prevalent. These would probably help a healthy engine reach well over 200 horsepower.
Like All Hondas, So Freaking Swappable
As the old saying goes, old Hondas are like goddamn Legos, or something like that. But seriously, so many great Honda engines can be much more easily swapped into different chassis than other brands’ cars, including any flavor of venerable K20 or K24, thanks to companies like Hasport. Speaking of Hasport, it built its own badass BA8.
That car ran a turbocharged K24, and according to this short interview session on YouTube, produces 350+ wheel-horsepower, has all kinds of suspension goodies, and in my opinion, a very fun livery. Brian Gillespie, owner of Hasport, swapped the K24 into the Prelude as it’s much easier to run bigger and wider wheels and tires. The Prelude donor shell has a history, too; it originally competed in World Challenge touring car racing, and went on to live a long life as an SCCA club racer.
The fourth-gen Prelude is still well-covered by the aftermarket. Coilovers by many manufacturers are widely available, aftermarket exhaust and intake systems are plentiful, and, thanks to it’s common bolt pattern, wheel choices are numerous as well. It looks like the fifth-gen shares the same suspension, which helps justify parts purveyors continuing to offer components.
All forms of turbo kits are available for the H23A1 and H22A1 engines as well. Though, like all front-wheel drive Hondas, pick any fun engine, get the right engine mounts, and go to town with the boost. Though it seems the H Series are weaker engines and require some upgraded internals to make any substantial power gains.
It Actually Has A Racing Pedigree, and Still Gets Raced
That’s correct, the Prelude raced in touring car racing back in the day! It makes sense; the car’s fully-independent suspension at all four corners, torquey engine, and longer wheelbases made it a prime candidate for racing duty. So much so, that North American touring car racing powerhouse and pride-o’-Wisconsin, RealTime Racing, utilized them to mop the floor with the competition in the mid-’90s.
You might also remember it as the safety car at the 1994 Formula 1 Japanese GP. No? You can see that at about a minute and 18 seconds into this video if you don’t believe me:
Diving slightly deeper into its fully-independent suspension, this is an important aspect for track purposes. The way the car gains negative camber under cornering for added grip, how sharp turn-in is, how adjustable the alignment is in general; these are all crucial for a car to truly get fast, and make the most of their speed-adding modification.
A brilliant Honda tuning blog by the name of StudioVRM.net goes over the fourth-gen’s benefits quite well: “The chassis and suspension package of the fourth-gen Prelude is amongst its most redeeming features. The 92-96 car uses a very mod-friendly evolution of the late ’80s to early ’90s Accord and Prelude suspension system, which have been long praised for their natural camber curve, bump steer-resilient geometry, and shock travel that allows for some very aggressive lowering. In addition, the longer overall length means that this generation of Prelude exhibits very stable cornering behaviors. In the handling department, it’s like an anti-CRX that can corner just as well.”
What this translates to is that it indeed has good camber-changing characteristics, and it doesn’t suffer bump steer. Bump steer is when bumps and other imperfections affect the steering, which lowered MacPherson-style front suspension cars suffer from. It’s easy to see why the Prelude avoids this, just take a look at everything going on in the wheel arch.
Unfortunately They’re Not Easy to Find
So why aren’t more people tracking these? One good reason: Unfortunately it seems hard to find decent candidates. Civics, Integras, and CRXs are also far more common. Plus, Prelude trims that came with the VTEC H22 engine in the U.S.A. also came with four-wheel steering (known frankly in Honda brochures as “4 Wheel Steer”). While engineered for better turning and grip, this adds complication. More complications usually always means more mechanical woes, especially on old cars used hard.
But what am I saying? Buy a two-wheel steering model and throw in something like a JDM H22 VTEC under the hood. Done. Do something different, that’s also a ton of fun and will most certainly turn heads in the paddock.