With under-the-radar looks and a reputation as a ‘soft’ option for performance fans, the Prelude is the underdog of the Honda tuning world, but these two fifth generation modified Honda Preludes prove you should write them off at your peril.
From Fast Car. Words & Photos: Dan Sherwood
When it comes to performance Hondas, some models carry much greater weight than others. For example, ask anyone to name a hot Honda and they’ll likely reel off iconic monikers such as Civic Type R, NSX or Integra. And rightly so. But there is another performance Honda that seems to have fallen off the radar of UK tuning fans over the years – if it was ever really on it at all – and that’s the Prelude. In top of the range, JDM Type S spec, the sleek, fifth-generation, four-seater packs a decent 217bhp punch from its 2.2-litre, H22a engine and, combined with the trick electronically-controlled active differential to bias torque to each front wheel – known as Active Torque Transfer System (ATTS) – handling is sublime. Equivalent UK cars aren’t quite as potent, topping out at around 182bhp, but still provides plenty of VTEC-induced thrills, especially considering you can pick up a decent example now for under £3000.
“I’ve been fascinated with the fifth generation Honda Prelude Type S since doing the A class license tests in the original Gran Turismo game on the PlayStation back in 1997, and then a fourth gen car in the follow up, Gran Turismo 2,” reveals 34-year-old Scott Ratcliffe-McClelland, the owner of the stunning white fifth-gen example on these pages. “Being a Honda fanboy and liking the rarer underdog too, the Prelude is perfect, as it’s not your typical Type R Honda.”
Having owned a string of H-badged beauties before this one, including three earlier generations of ‘Lude, Scott feels he’s now reached the pinnacle of Prelude ownership and sees this latest example as a keeper to cherish for the long haul; and being 12-years into the man-and-machine relationship already, he sees no reason to cut ties anytime soon.
“I bought this JDM Type S model for £3500 back in 2009,” Scott tells us. “It was in immaculate condition and the engine had just been freshly rebuilt.”
A step up from his previous older generation Preludes, Scott was loving the Type S and quickly added a P-Spec short shifter to speed up the gearchanges to better keep up with the free-revving motor which was equipped with a lightweight flywheel.
“It was an awesome car… until the engine failed just under a year later,” Scott winces. “The previous rebuild had not been done properly and the motor burnt a lot of oil, eventually leading to it running low and destroying a bearing.”
Still at university at the time, the engine issue led to Scott becoming disheartened with the car, not to mention in a financial pickle, so he sidelined the Prelude for a few years while he concentrated on his studies.
“I still tinkered with it from time to time, including stripping, rust-proofing and undersealing the chassis along with swapping the factory sound deadening for an aftermarket alternative,” he says. “But it wasn’t until 2012 that I finally got it back on the road again when it had a replacement engine fitted by Richard at Performance Autoworks in Gloucestershire.”
His enthusiasm renewed, Scott, who is a smart repair technician by trade, equipped the ‘Lude with a set of BC coilovers, BiXenon headlights and an optional OEM lip kit before respraying the whole car himself in original white diamond pearl.
The following years saw Scott turn to extracting more performance from the H22 with a Hytech exhaust manifold and Mugen exhaust system before finally biting the bullet and opting to head down the forced induction route with a Jackson Racing supercharger and GReddy E-Manage ECU.
“The supercharger boosted power to well over 300bhp, but unfortunately, the H22 has relatively weak piston rings and the extra cylinder pressure soon saw them failing and the tell-tale oil burning issue raised its ugly head again,” he explains. “Not wanting to have the engine eventually fail as had happened before, I decided to get the engine rebuilt with forged internals to better cope with the extra grunt.”
Deleting the ECU-controlled ATTS system at the same time meant that Scott could also upgrade to a Hondata ECU which, along with the rebuild and supporting mods completed by Performance Autoworks, gave the Prelude a meaty 330bhp and 260lb ft of torque.
“An upgrade to a shorter ratio gearbox, rebuilt with an Mfactory LSD, uprated synchros and a shorter 4.64 final drive really transformed how the car performed,” Scott remembers. “Combined with a set of wide 9 x 17in Enkei RPF01 wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, plus a change to MeisterR coilovers, polyurethane bushes and a Tanabe rear anti-roll bar meant that I could really use all of the extra power and the car was a weapon!”
Various tweaks to the car’s interior, including a set of retrimmed DC2 Recaro seats and DC5 steering wheel, plus an extensive tablet-controlled audio system, were added over the years too, however, things took a downwards turn as the engine problems started to creep in again…
“Stupidly, I’d fitted a restrictive sports cat and a few other engine mods without having the car remapped to compensate,” shrugs Scott. “This had the effect of the engine running lean, the exhaust gas temperatures soaring and melting the internals of the sports cat, which in turn blocked the exhaust system. On top of this the supercharger belt kept slipping and the excessive oil burning started again. Things were not looking good.”
As much as Scott loved the intense hit of instant power provided by the supercharger, the constant reliability issues just weren’t worth the hassle, so it was decided to ditch the blower and switch to a high-output naturally aspirated setup.
“The final engine build features a Darton sleeved block with forged pistons, Eagle conrods and King Racing main bearings, plus a full complement of Supertech valves, springs and retainers, Skunk2 Pro cams and gears, a Skunk2 intake manifold and a 68mm Skunk2 throttle body,” says Scott. “The Hytech long-tube exhaust manifold has been retained, but the exhaust is now a decatted 2.75in Invidia Q300 exhaust system, that not only sounds great, but also optimises gas flow.”
Packing a not inconsiderable 262bhp and 180lb ft of torque, Scott is now happy to simply enjoy driving and maintaining the sleek white coupe at the level of tune it is today. But for Michael D’Arcy, a man for whom enough is obviously never enough, this was never going to be an option…
“It’s running around 500bhp at the moment, but it’s built to take nearer 700bhp,” grins the 36-year-old Prelude-fan as he pops the blue car’s carbon-fibre bonnet to reveal an engine bay dominated by a bright orange rocker cover and huge Nortech ram-horn turbo manifold. As a farrier by trade, Michael is used to dealing with horses, but this is taking things to the extreme!
Having a long and eclectic list of cars in his back catalogue it was a previous Prelude 2.2VTi that turned Michael on to Honda’s underrated coupe and when a chance to bag a turbocharged version presented itself, it was simply too good an opportunity to turn down.
“I’d only had my previous Prelude for around six months at the time, and I was really enjoying its mix of sleek looks, four-seat practicality and peppy performance, but when I saw a turbocharged one come up for sale for £6k, I just couldn’t resist,” beams Michael.
A short test drive was all it took to have the speed freak hooked and soon the 1999 Motegi edition was taking pride of place on his driveway.
“It was making around 380bhp back then and featured a Precision turbo, log manifold and forged pistons, however the block was not sleeved, which is generally deemed essential if you want to retain longevity under hard use, and after two years of regular trackdays, it finally gave up the ghost,” he explains. “It didn’t do badly though, having survived flawlessly for 10 whole years since it was first turbo’d, so I couldn’t complain.”
As it was always used as a second car and occasional track toy, when the engine blew, Michael was in no rush to get it up and running again and decided to shelve the project for a few years while he saved up some cash and started acquiring parts for the car’s eventual rebuild.
“I decided that rather than build it back to the spec it was, I would go all out for serious power,” he grins. “So over the next two years I started squirreling away parts including a replacement block, a new Garrett GT3076RS turbo, Nortech manifold and downpipe, plus a set of 1000cc injectors, an AEM fuel rail and a Skunk2 72mm throttle body.”
Once his bank balance was looking healthy enough to take a hit, and he had sourced all the parts needed for the build, Michael dropped everything off with Richard at Performance Autoworks for the work to begin.
“The main thing was to ensure the new bottom end was strong enough to take the boost from the bigger turbo,” Michael explains. “That meant installing Darton sleeves and a Supertech block guard, before dropping in new CP forged pistons and K1 conrods complete with ACL Race bearings.”
The head from the previous build was already modified with a full complement of Supertech valves, stem seals, springs and retainers and also a pair of H22a7/a8 camshafts, so was perfectly suitable to be reused in the new build.
“Richard at Performance Autoworks did a cracking job with the engine,” reckons Michael. “And once complete it was mapped on Owen Developments’ in-house dyno.”
Capped at 500bhp due to wheelspin shredding the tyres on the dyno, the Prelude was now hitting with a devastating punch, which Michael wisely attempted to tame with a set of BC Racing coilovers, polyurethane bushes and a K-Sport big brake kit utilising 330mm discs gripped by vice-like 8-pot calipers.
“The coilovers and big brake kit help keep things from getting too wild, but it’s still one hell of a white knuckle ride when the turbo hits full boost,” admits Michael. “To be honest, it’s probably too fast for most tracks now, and a car like Scott’s would probably be more fun to drive and just as quick on a circuit as you could use the power more effectively. This thing struggles with traction in the first three gears, but once it hooks up in third or fourth, it pulls so hard it’s scary!”
But even this isn’t enough for Michael, as his future plans include unleashing the turbo’s full potential to make his Lude even more ludicrous than it already is, albeit with traction control and boost-by-gear functionality mapped in to make it more usable… if that’s at all possible.
So whether it’s a naturally aspirated screamer or a turbo’d terrorist that floats your boat, it seems the Prelude is a car that can do it all. But don’t wait too long to get yourself a slice of this cool coupe, as, just like Scott and Michael, when people start to realise this underdog’s true potential, prices are sure to soar. You heard it here first!
Tech Spec: Modified Honda Preludes
White JDM Type S
2.2-litre, 4-cyl, 16v H22a engine, forged pistons, Eagle conrods, polished and balanced crank, ACL Race bearings, King main bearings, Darton sleeved block, skimmed head, 3 angle valve and seat cut, Supertech valves, springs and retainers, balancer shaft delete, Skunk2 Pro cams and gears, Skunk2 intake manifold, Skunk2 68mm throttle body, OEM Type S air intake with Pipercross filter, Hytech long-tube exhaust manifold, decat 2.75in Invidia Q300 exhaust system, Mocal oil cooler, Hondata S300v2 ECU
Performance 262bhp and 180lb ft of torque
Front wheel drive, ATTS deleted, M2P4 short ratio gearbox, Mfactory synchros, Mfactory 4.64 final drive, Mfactory stage 1 racepack Helical LSD, Competition Clutch 5kg flywheel, OEM Accord Type R clutch, Insane driveshafts
Fully stripped and polybushed, new OEM ball joints, Meister R GT1 coilovers, Tanabe 25.4 chromoly rear anti-roll bar, OEM front strut brace and custom rear strut brace
OEM Honda Accord Type R twin-piston calipers with 300mm discs (front), OEM rear discs and calipers, Hawk HPS 5.0 pads, Goodridge brake lines and Castrol Dot 4 brake fluid all round
Wheels & tyres:
9 x 17in ET45 Enkei RPF01 wheels with 245/40/17 Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres
2 door coupe, resprayed in original Diamond Pearl white, arches rolled and pulled, OEM option lip kit, OEM option bonnet spoiler and OEM flush rear spoiler, Azect eye lids, debadged, rear wiper delete, Bi-LED Morimoto Mled 2.0 headlight retrofits
Mix of OEM Type S interior with optional SIR red interior including red dashboard, red door cards, carpet/floor mats, centre console and roof liner, EK9/DC2 Recaro seats retrimmed in black leather/alcantara, DC5 Momo steering wheel, custom speaker pods in doors and kick panels, custom tablet install in dash, Innovate MTX-L A/F and MTD-D oil gauges in custom gauge pods, EK9 red stitch gear gaiter and titanium shift knob, Hybrid Audio speakers and subwoofer
Blue 2.2 Turbo
2.2-litre, 4-cyl, 16v H22a7 engine, Darton sleeves, Supertech block guard, CP forged pistons, 10:1 CR, K1 forged conrods, ACL Race bearings, balancer shaft delete, crankshaft journal polish, baffled sump, ported head, 3 angle valve and seat cut, Supertech valve springs and retainers, Skunk2 valve stem seals, H22a7/a8 camshafts, skimmed head, Skunk2 adjustable cam gears, ATR intake manifold, ported for throttle body and egr delete, Skunk2 72mm throttle body, AEM fuel rail, DW1000cc injectors, Sytec fuel pump, Garrett GT3076RS turbo, Nortech ram horn manifold, 3in down-pipe and custom 3in exhaust, TiAL 44mm wastegate and BOV, PWR intercooler and custom pipe work, K&N air filter, Hondata S300 ECU, A’PEXi A-VCR boost controller, Skunk2 radiator, Spal fan, Innovative engine mounts
500bhp+ and 305lb ft at 10psi
Front wheel drive, limited slip differential, ACT Streetlight flywheel, Stage 4 Accord Type R clutch
BC Racing coilovers, ES polybushes, Innovative front crossmember/traction bar, Tanabe front and rear strut braces
K Sport big brake kit with 330mm discs and 8-pot calipers (front), OEM discs and calipers (rear), braided hoses all round
Wheels & tyres:
7.5in x 17in Team Dynamics Imola wheels with 215/45/17 Toyo Proxes R888R tyres
OEM Motegi bodykit, carbon-fibre bonnet, side skirt extensions, front diffuser, roof spoiler, boot spoiler delete
SPA duel gauge oil temp and pressure, full Type S interior seats and trim, carbon-fibre arm rest, EP3 steering wheel, red stitched gear and handbrake gaiters, billet aluminium internal door handles, Sony headunit