Here in America, the Honda Prelude is remembered as a fun, sporty little car, a reminder of a time when everything Honda made was clever and reliable, and the Prelude was their way of having some fun without sacrificing Honda quality. People in America have fond memories of the Prelude, which is why finding out that it was a flop in Japan is so hard to imagine. What’s even harder to wrap your head around is part of why: it had a “pervert lever.” Wait, what?
Yep, I said “pervert lever.” I’ll admit I had absolutely no idea what the hell a pervert lever was or what the hell it had to do with the sweet, innocent Prelude until I saw this twitter thread from @chibitech called “The Lewdness of the Honda Prelude.” @Chibitech is based in Japan, and, as such, she’s privy to an entirely different perception of the Prelude, one that was somehow entirely lost to us here in America.
I’ll embed her thread here, but I’ll try and do some summarizing as well. It’s absolutely fascinating.
The Prelude’s unpopularity was actually a bit more complex than just the pervert thing—which I’ll get to soon—though that was a huge factor. The Prelude was always sort of a compromised car, a sporty car yet not a true sports car, a front-wheel-drive car that handled well and looked sporty, but would never really compete with similar-sized but more performance-oriented and upmarket cars like the Nissan Skyline coupés, with their rear-wheel drive and much more genuine sports car handling and power.
The Prelude ended up being part of a new category of cars, sporty cars with sleek looks, lots of tech, but not necessarily stellar performance. Cars that were targeted at young men hoping to impress young ladies. These became known as “Date Cars.”
Okay, so, the Prelude was a Date Car, but so were cars like the Nissan Silvia and the Toyota Celica—so why was it that the Prelude specifically earned such an unsavory reputation?
Because of this:
Yes, that’s just the seat reclining lever, used to adjust the seatback position so you can recline or flop the seat forward to get into the back seat. Normally, though, this is on the outer side of the seat, so it’s accessible as the person enters the car. Here, the passenger’s seat lever is on the inner side of the seat, meaning it’s accessible most easily by the person in the driver’s seat.
This is a puzzling place to put that lever, right? @Chibitech herself was confused as well, but unlike me, she was aware of the Japanese name for this lever:
“I was trying to figure a logical reason for this, and all I could think of is it lets the driver stay inside while they allow a passenger first access to the… tiny… back… seat? Japanese people weren’t fooled though; they nicknamed it 「スケべレバー」, aka the ‘Pervert Lever.’”
The Pervert Lever.
It looks like it was also referred to, hilariously, as the “horny knob,” or skebenobu.
While almost unknown here in America, it was absolutely A Thing in Japan, even being called out on televised news reports about the car, even as recently as last year. This report even went ahead and demonstrated how a Prelude-owning pervert would employ the Pervert Lever:
Yeah, that’s pretty much how I figured it’d work.
So, this alarmingly-placed lever that allowed the driver to quickly and easily move his passenger from seated to prone and vulnerable absolutely cemented the Prelude’s reputation as what we in America might call a Date Rapist’s Car.
It’s not like Japan, or even Honda, were particularly prudish about sex in cars; in fact, Honda marketed a small but roomy city car, the S-MX, with an ad campaign that made it pretty clear that it was a good car to get it on in.
The difference, though, is pretty clear: the S-MX was a car for consensual, horny people to get some time alone in, and the Prelude was for horny bastards to try to take advantage of women.
It’s absolutely worth reading @Chibitech’s full thread. I had no idea this existed, but as you can see, it’s an incredible example of how a minor technical detail can have huge cultural repercussions that can completely make or break how successful a car is.
(Thanks, Flexstyle on the internets!)