The first-generation tuned Honda Prelude always looked faster than it was. But Honda aficionado Rich Voaden is working hard to turn that around, with his unique, insanely powerful and beautifully poised restomod project…
You don’t see a lot of Quaaludes these days, do you? That makes sense really, since they officially went out of production in 1985, and the world’s moved on a bit in the last thirty-odd years. What is this strangely-spelled word, some of you may be wondering? Well, Quaaludes were sedative-hypnotic pills manufactured for the treatment of insomnia, which counter-culture types in the 1960s quickly realised provided a euphoric high; known as ’ludes, mandies and disco biscuits, these little tablets are one of those bizarre historical quirks that represent something that was hugely popular for a long time, then quickly disappeared altogether – like the Cadbury’s Spira, or Bill Cosby’s career.
Thankfully, there’s another type of ’lude capable of providing a euphoric high in the 21st-century. We refer, of course, to the Honda Prelude. Japan has given us some pretty unusual car names over the years, and not just the overtly wacky ones like the Bongo Friendee and the Mysterious Utility Wizard, but the ones that fly under the radar. Prelude – that’s an odd name for a car; literally meaning an introduction to something more significant, what is it exactly that Honda’s niche sports coupé was preparing us for?
Honestly, it doesn’t matter, as the Prelude has always existed comfortably within its own skin and, while it’s never been one of the marque’s biggest sellers, it’s found a lot of happy buyers who tend to remain loyal. Prelude ownership is a badge of honour among Honda enthusiasts; it’s not as obvious a choice as its key contemporary rivals, the Toyota Celica and Nissan Silvia, but it’s a solid, dependable thing if looked after and the mechanicals are as bulletproof as you’d expect from a Honda.
The Prelude nameplate debuted in 1978, and it’s a 1st-generation Prelude we have here before the lens today. This sporty model had quite a lot of first-gen Accord mixed into its original recipe – the engine, brakes, and four-wheel independent struts for starters – but it had its own bespoke and all-new chassis, as well as (ooh!) a power moonroof. It has to be said, however, that the sportiness was more in intent than execution; you got either 80bhp from the 8-valve 1.6 or 90bhp from the 12-valve 1.8. UK sales were not massive, as it was relatively expensive and, unfortunately, relatively unexciting.
Sidling into the story from stage left at this point, with a wry grin on its satin-clearcoated face, is Mr X – or more specifically, MRX 9X, a genuine UK Prelude which has survived the ignominy of, er, being a bit slow, then being forgotten altogether for quite a long time, to find itself reborn as a fashion-forward and really quite quick example; a modern interpretation of what the Prelude always was, fusing Accord mechanicals with a slinky allure.
Rich Voaden is the man behind the transformation, and he knows a thing or two about making Hondas fast, faster, and even faster still; as Director at Performance Autoworks, he’s had a hand in more than a few hot Hondas (and Mitsubishis), with his skills being perhaps best known to the modding community in the form of the H22-engined DC2 Integra campaigning in the Honda VTEC Challenge race series. (What’s an H22? See the boxout for further details…)
But why a 1st-gen Prelude, and where on earth did this rare treat come from? Well, rewinding all the way back to 1981, this hypno-’Lude was originally a Windsor Blue plodder, cursed with the 8-valve 1.6 along with a dim-witted three-speed slushbox, and it enjoyed a fairly anonymous lifestyle until it was picked up by one of Rich’s mates, a fella named Gaz Attwood. Gaz had every intention of returning the now dishevelled and dog-eared ’Lude to its former glory, although Mother Nature seemed to have other ideas and refused to loosen her grip on the increasingly shabby Honda. Eventually, he reached a crossroads: throw a bunch of time and money at it, or throw it in the bin. This was the moment at which Rich was able to swoop in with a Plan C, and so he eagerly scooped it up, brought it home and… well, ignored it a bit, to be honest. The thing was already crumbling, there was no rush. He took a few months to figure out a plan of attack, and when the time finally came to roll up his sleeves and get busy, get busy is precisely what he did.
Given his enthusiasm for the H22 engine, that was always inked in as motive power choice from day one, so the first order of business was to hoik out the boat anchor and mock up the architecture for the Type R makeover. Out came the angle grinder, brutally and mercilessly reimagining the engine bay, spurring Rich on to tackle the rest of the body resto. And what a resto it was! The non-exhaustive list of areas that seriously needed addressing included the floorpans, sills, A-pillars, front wings, doors, roof, scuttles, rear panel and lower rear quarters; the thing was as rotten as the proverbial pear, and the flawless straightness you see today is testament to endless hours of swearing in the workshop. Once straight and true, the retro silhouette was augmented by a set of 3” arch flares in order to cover the aggressively wide Rota Kyushas planned (which in itself required a huge amount of arch butchery), along with a custom chin spoiler and a unique ducktail spoiler cunningly reworked from an item destined for an E30 BMW. And with the body all the right shape and the engine choice decided upon, it was time to start on the total pain-in-the-arse job of working out how to make the chassis cope with a sodding great wodge of additional horsepower…
Obviously you don’t just buy upgraded suspension for these cars off-the-shelf; nobody makes them because nobody owns these things. But helpfully Rich has a long-standing relationship with MeisterR, who he was able to work with to develop some prototype coilovers for the 1st-gen Prelude platform. The front ARB was then modded for castor adjustment, and a couple of Group 4 strut braces were knocked up by JB Fabrication. All of this was beginning to slot neatly into place, so Rich was able to return to the body, and bury himself in endless hours of filling, sanding, priming and sweating, before delivering it to OHWorks for a delicious slathering of metallic gunmetal grey, toned down with a satin clearcoat – so no, that’s not a wrap, it’s a pukka paint job!
With all of this in the works, it was back to the engine build. Rich based the motor around a JDM H22 block, with a heavily reworked head, Piper cams, Type R intake manifold and throttle body, all governed by a Hondata to kick out a cheery 240bhp. Which is quite a lot in a car this diddy. The gearbox is a work of art too, and really demonstrates what a Honda aficionado this guy is: the Accord Type R ’box has been gutted and stuffed with 1st-gen Prelude first and second gears, Accord Type R third and fourth, JDM 4th-gen Prelude fifth, Type R final drive, and an LSD. Which is frankly so clever it makes our heads spin.
All in all, it took seventeen months of graft and ingenuity to pull this car together, and as it artfully angles itself before Ade’s expert eye (that colour’s a bitch to photograph, apparently!), Rich can allow himself a satisfied smile. That’s not to say he’s resting on his laurels though… soon after our shoot, the car ventured out on track at Castle Combe for a proper shakedown, Rich having increased the spring rates a bit and tweaked the ARB. It performed incredibly well but highlighted a few areas requiring improvement, mainly around steering geometry and driveshaft length. Little tricks and tweaks to get it perfect – and you can be damn sure it will be perfect when he’s done, as that’s just the way this guy works. What he’s created here is a psychotropic retro freakout. Who needs Quaaludes when we’ve got Preludes?
TECH SPEC HONDA PRELUDE
Full body resto, metallic gunmetal grey paint with satin clearcoat, front and rear arches sectioned with modified inner arches, 3” ABS wide arches, Toyota Hilux wing-mounted mirrors, Bedford Rascal clear headlamps, custom ducktail (modified from BMW E30 item), custom steel chin spoiler blended into valance.
2.2-litre H22A DOHC VTEC, rebuilt and ported PDE Accord Type R head, Piper cams, three-angle valve seats, Skunk2 vernier pulleys, balance shaft delete, manual-tensioner cambelt conversion, custom baffled sump, Accord Type R intake manifold and throttle body, carbon fibre airbox with custom sealed cold air intake, custom PLM Ram Horn exhaust manifold, custom stainless steel twin-silencer exhaust system, Hondata P28 S300 V3 ECU, custom Mk2 CRX VT fuel tank, custom engine mount housings, custom five-speed manual gearbox (based on Accord Type R unit – with 1st-gen Prelude 1st & 2nd gears, Accord Type R 3rd & 4th, JDM 4th-gen Prelude 5th, Type R final drive, and LSD), Exedy ST1 clutch, Competition Clutch ultra-lightweight flywheel, custom driveshafts, 4th-gen Prelude shifter mechanism and cables in modified trans tunnel.
8×15” Rota Kyusha wheels, 205/50 Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 tyres, custom MeisterR coilovers, custom front ARB with shim-adjustable castor, reinforced front LCAs, Superflex polybushes, Group 4 strut tower braces front and rear, front hub modified to accept larger VW bearings, EK Civic front spindles, channelled, reinforced and gusseted front chassis legs, FN2 Civic Type R front calipers with 280mm Ford Mondeo discs, 2nd-gen Prelude rear calipers on custom carriers with 240mm discs, Ferodo DS2500 pads, HEL Performance braided lines, Castrol React brake fluid.
Original interior fully refurbished, rear bench trimmed in tartan, leather Mitsubishi Starion front seats on custom rails, Momo leather steering wheel, auto pedal box converted to manual with clutch pedal and master cylinder, full rewire to accept PGM-Fi engine and Hondata management, Kenwood DAB head unit, JVC coaxial front speakers, Pioneer rear shelf speakers, battery relocated to boot.
Words Dan Bevis Photography Ade Brannan