The Honda Prelude never enjoyed the prevalence or subsequent nostalgia that makes enthusiast-spec Civics and Acura Integras so desirable today. But it was a damn good car in the late ’90s, it’s a good car now, and as of this afternoon we have a solid yardstick for seeing what a really well-sorted one is actually worth.
This 1998 Honda Prelude Type SH in exceptional condition with a manual transmission, 59,250 miles and a recent timing belt and water pump service just sold on good ol’ Bring A Trailer for $9,200. Most of the commenters over there are calling it well bought, and I’m inclined to agree.
Interestingly, the seller posted that the final price fell below his reserve, but he let the car go because Bring A Trailer subsidized the difference, which is undisclosed. Regardless, like anything else, a car is worth what people are willing to pay for it, and that is apparently $9,200 today.
For your reference, the car would have cost about $26,000 at a dealership 20 years ago. An inflation calculator reveals that shakes out to about $40,000 in today’s money, which, wow. Frankly I don’t remember these being that fancy, but I guess that has something to do with why I also don’t remember... seeing all that many of them.
Though we can’t say the example here is a perfect Honda Prelude, because the car got an extra five horsepower one model year later (sorry), or the ultimate Honda Prelude, because a high-compression 217 HP Type S existed in Japan only, this Type SH may well be the cleanest living example of the car’s best U.S.-spec.
The ’98 SH was rated at 195 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque produced by its 2.2-liter DOHC VTEC H22A engine. The car weighed about 3,000 pounds, according to Honda.
I would have preferred cloth seats and high-performance tires here, but the only thing egregiously wrong with this Prelude seems to be the aftermarket radio (bleh) and that’s barely worth complaining about since the classified ad claims the seller threw in an OEM cassette deck for irrational period-correct freaks like me.
Stepping back, the clean-cut lines of this car have aged remarkably well. To be honest, I’m inclined to fall in love a little harder for the ridiculously dated pop-up headlight’d third-generation of the Prelude. But that car looks too wacky to be taken seriously as a daily driver in 2017. The fifth-gen we have here, however, blends into today’s traffic rather nicely and would be a lot more livable for regular use than most anything from the ’80s.
While the Prelude’s last look did not get the four-wheel steering that made it into some earlier cars, the Type SH employed a then-revolutionary torque vectoring system to mitigate torque-steer and keep the car tracking true under hard acceleration called the “Active Torque Transfer System”.
On top of a stiffer and more robust suspension, ATTS was the Prelude Type SH’s primary value proposition. Per an old Honda-Tech thread, edited for clarity:
“ATTS is located on the left axle. It is essentially a smaller transmission, it hydraulically activating gears in the unit to route the power. When you are traveling at speed and you corner there are sensors measuring the cornering force, speed, and throttle input and can send as much as 80 percent torque to the outside wheel when cornering. There is a standalone unit that controls the ATTS unit itself, it is also connected to the ECU. So if there is any imminent danger to the ATTS it will tell the ECU to cut power.”
Practically speaking, the idea was to arrange power distribution in the most efficient way. As Brent Romans from Edmunds.com experienced when he shook down the car in 2001:
“With most front-drive cars, applying too much throttle too quickly when exiting a corner unloads the front suspension and causes the car to understeer... Enter ATTS. Hit the gas past the apex of a corner and the Prelude simply pulls itself around. Being able to accelerate through turns pays big dividends, as this allows the Prelude to carry more speed on the straights. It also gives the car a much more neutral handling bias, and our editors said that driving the Prelude almost felt like driving a rear-wheel-drive car. Despite having a curb weight and horsepower rating similar to the Eclipse (not to mention 49 lb-ft of torque less), the Prelude was more than 2 seconds faster per lap. Its fastest lap, a 1:26.0, was the second-quickest lap time of any of the front-drivers.”
Car & Driver had good things to say about the final form of the Prelude too, when it was new in 1998: “We can’t imagine a driving enthusiast who would not thoroughly enjoy this car.”
So if you didn’t realize why the fifth-generation Honda Prelude was worth giving a damn about, now you do. And you also know what a super-clean example of the car sells for in an open auction.
A casual blast through Los Angeles Craigslist turns up a few similar-spec cars in rattier shape with moon mileage for a lot less money, but who knows, even some of them might be worth investing a light revitalization into if you’re a Honda fan who wants to stand out.