The 1980s were the Jurassic Park of Japanese car design. Engineers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. A case in point: the all-mechanical four-wheel steering system in the Honda Prelude Si 4WS. Too expensive, insufficiently practical, but totally wonderful.
The funny thing about 4WS, as Regular Car Reviews notes, is that you can’t park right up next to the curb and then crank the wheel to turn away from it. Your 4WS Prelude will cock its back wheels over and happily bash your rear quarter into the curb itself. The whole point of the system—to help you turn at low speed, as well as offer stability at high speed—is negated by how it works.
It was expensive, too. You spent nearly $1,500 for 4WS, and this was on a car that retailed in the mid-to high teens. You got no more power and you got little more prestige than nice wheels and some badges.
But! Look at how cool it is. I had no idea how tight these cars’ turning circles were. Look at this Prelude circle a truck tire:
What’s also interesting is this was an all-mechanical system that was set up more like four-wheel drive than anything else you’re used to seeing. It has what looks like a driveshaft running to what looks like a rear differential. That works what look like halfshafts. In actuality it’s more like a power takeoff running to the rear gearbox, pushing around what are really tie rods.
The whole thing steers the wheels in as well as out, helping you turn tightly at low speeds (turning against the direction of the front wheels) and doing things like making lane changes at high speeds (turning in the same direction as the front wheels), though the genuine benefits of both were somewhat suspect.
Few saw the point of the whole thing at the time (other than car reviewers like LJK Setright) and once Japan lost its endless supply of cash to boost its high-tech aspirations when the Bubble Era came to a resounding close with the economic crash of 1991, all of this stuff disappeared.
But we miss this stuff when it’s gone. Pointless, maybe, but wonderful.
Update: August 20, 2018: 6:03 p.m. ET: The owner of this lovely Prelude chimed in and would like you to know you can find the wonderful vehicle @Atreyu4WS on Twitter and @atreyu_4ws on Instagram. Check it out!