Prelude to Easter

The Editor Thinks Very Well of the 12-valve Honda EX coupe, Looks at Part of the MCC Land’s End Trial with it, and uses it for some Scenic Holiday Runs

This year my “Easter egg” was an exceedingly smart and well-finished Honda Prelude EX coupe, with almost every conceivable item of useful equipment, handed over before the holiday in spotless condition, just like a brand-new car, although it had done more than 3,000 miles, so was nicely run-in, and with all the paperwork in impeccable order. Its quartz silver metallic finish was much admired; the boot lid carries a rubber “spoiler”. The upholstery was of blue and black cloth. As Mrs Thatcher’s Government is encouraging the establishment in Britain of the Nissan factory I no longer have any compunction about road-testing Japanese cars and it has to be said right away that this Honda EX coupe is exceedingly hard to resist…

So I was soon speeding along the M4, close to which the Chiswick premises of Honda UK in Power Road are conveniently situated. From the commencement it was readily apparent just how sensibly contrived this Honda is. It was quiet and its four-cylinder 1,829 cc 12-valve engine — shades of Ettore Bugatti — notably smooth, as the car cruised at just below 3,200 rpm at 70 mph in the fifth speed of the truly excellent gearbox, the changes on which are literally of the “knife thro’ butter” kind, with no baulking into 1st or reverse. In a cross-wind the all-independently sprung (coil springs, wishbones at the front, struts at the rear) FWD Honda deflected hardly at all and I was enamoured of the simple lh stalk control of the single-blade screen-wiper positions, with rear wipe / wash, the lamps and turn-indicators being controlled, unusually but to my mind correctly from the rh stalk, both substantial controls. Convenient, too, Were two slides and six buttons for detailed heat / fresh air distribution. The sunroof was very appropriate to the Easter weather but wind noise was high with it open, inspite of the automatically raised air deflector.

Totally revised in 1983, the Honda Prelude has since been further improved. The normally recessed Stanley headlamps now pop up when the flasher-control is used, although the raise-button is retained, an automatic throttle-opener has been applied to the twin side-draught CV carburettors to aid hot starting, and the anti-lock braking system, a very worthwhile extra, costing £590, not on the test-car, has been further refined. Automatic transmission is another option.

Already I was beginning to appreciate this Honda EX, which is as well-arranged beneath its front-hinged bonnet, with the fuse-box very accessible, for instance, as it is well-trimmed within, as I drove home to Wales. On this run, and subsequent pottering about locally it returned 30.7 mpg of 4-star. The Japanese provision of remote opening for boot lid and fuel-filler flap, the easy bonnet release, on the correct tide, the sensibly illuminated dials and clock (with rheostat lighting control) ever easy to read but entirely non-dazzle, the effective holds for the two doors of this 2+2 coupe, its top-comfort seats, the front ones with 190 mm slide adjustment and 18 squab-rake variations and upholstered wide boot, electric window lifts incorporating quick action when needed, electric sunroof with sliding panel below, the light clutch action and small steering-wheel, practical stowages including lockable cubby, coin locker and front-door bins, a National radio / cassette-player, and the Michelin XVS 185/70 HR1 tyres, combined to make me anticipate splendid transport for the Easter vacation. The heat / ventilation, controlled by a row of buttons and very neat slides also appealed.

The Land’s End Trial

It is no longer possible to look forward to the Brooklands Easter Race Meeting, but Easter still means the Motor Cycling Club’s Land’s End Trial, which originated in 1908. This year the 63rd of the series had an entry of 366 cars and motorcycles, proving that the trial retains all its old appeal and is as significant as ever as a premier sporting event. It was not possible to see it in its entirety, but I covered the Bristol start, and have prevailed upon VSCC President Threlfall to report on some of what happened subsequently, he being a Travelling Marshall in his well-used 1928 Model-B Ford Tudor saloon. The weather could hardly have been better as competitors were waved off on their long journey from the convenient illuminated expanse of the Gordano Service Area adjacent to the M5. For additional lighting on the start-line one of those compact Honda charging plants was in use.

The motorcyclists looked the part of seasoned MCC devotees, three of them on sidecar outfits, of which Gagg’s Triumph Metisse had a coil of exhaust piping to warm the navigator’s feet and other ingenious fittings, Potts’ Halo a big front disc brake and sprung front fork, while Williams’ 650 cc Triumph two-stroke departed in a reassuring haze of oil smoke. Soon the cars were arriving for scrutineering and food before their long run to the last Observed Section, the dreaded Blue Hill’s Mine, and the finish at Newquay. In contrast to the pre-war entry, there was Bradbury’s well-contrived VW Buggy, with gull-wing doors and spare wheels mounted above the engine. The “Chain-Gang” were out in force, in the guise of Leigh’s 1934 Meadows-‘Nash, Hall’s sister car, Johnson’s 1933 Meadows-‘Nash and Blakeney-Edwards’ 1929 Frazer Nash, but we did not see Freddy Giles or Still, with their 1928 and 1937 ‘Nashes while we were there. Sue Halkyard’s familiar Austin 7 Chummy was wearing its Uniroyal-165 rear tyres, and Barry Clarke’s A7 seemed to have some just as bulbous. Foreshaw seemed to be rebuilding most of his MG before the off, and it was horribly bad luck on Blackburn that, after driving his 1936 Singer Nine tourer “Buttercup” down from Manchester, it holed No.3 piston a few yards from the car park, having to retire and be taken home by the RAC Recovery Service. Jane Arnold-Foster’s smart 1926 12/50 Alvis two-seater had a fit of nervousness and was for a time reluctant to start, Rolfe’s M-type MG Midget, having broken its crankshaft last year, was using a Ford Ten engine, Campbell’s 1930 Model-B Ford was there to give Threlfall’s company, and altogether the scene was set for an excellent, if dry, “Land’s End”. As for the Honda, having brought us down to the M4 / M5 via Builth Wells, Talgarth and Abergavenny in the midst of much crawling holiday traffic, we ran back through the warm night along the at first twisting, then fast, road from Chepstow to Monmouth, with tantalising glimpses of the River Wye and fine hotels every so often, to join the arterial stretch of the Head-of-the-Valley road back to Abergavenny. Tom Threlfall’s report on the Land’s End is on page 672.

On Easter Saturday there was an interlude, watching motorcycle racing at Donington on TV, with Haslam winning on the works three-cylinder Honda from his team-mates, a Honda 1, 2, 3, which lends a racing touch to driving a Honda car, especially as Honda say the suspension of the Prelude which incorporates zero-camber, zero-castor and resistance to bump-start, has benefited from their experiences in F1 car racing. . . .

On Easter Sunday and Monday the Honda was enjoyed further, being driven over some notably scenic routes, along picturesque by-ways, the daffodils much in evidence, and the Bank Holiday congestion largely avoided (but the traffic into Bridgnorth on A458, going the other way . . !), from Mid-Wales into Worcestershire as far as Malvern for planning in connection with future VSCC events and into Shropshire, as far as Bridgnorth where the Midland Motor Museum is based, motoring, as well as the car, being part of the game. . . .

More on the Honda EX

The Honda’s 12-valve engine, is more sophisticated than a Bugatti’s, for there is different timing for the two inlet valves and the plug fires from opposite one of the inlet valves. The result is good torque (114 lb/ft at 4,000 rpm) and 106 (DIN) bhp at 5,500 rpm. The single ohc cross-flow alloy-head 80 x 91 mm. power unit runs safely to a marked 6,200 rpm. The distributor is on the off-side end of the belt-driven camshaft. The rack-and-pinion steering had power-operation on the test car, arranged to diminish until there is no power above 25 mph, This enables high-gearing to be used (2¾ turns, lock to lock with a turning-circle of just over 33 feet) and for parking no effort is needed. I liked this steering but found it somewhat over-light for quick manoeuvres. The suspension veers towards hardness, but not aggressively so. Nor can its neutral cornering be faulted, except for a very slight feeling of front-end heaviness at times, which in no way spoils the response.

This impressive Honda can be whistled along very quickly while still being driven economically, using mostly the two higher ratios on normal runs, to give close to or better than 30 mpg, the fuel tank having the very useful capacity of 13.2 gallons. The engine only becomes somewhat noisy and rougher if high revs are indulged in, not really necessary in normal usage. The unusually slim radiator doubles as temperature booster and engine mass-dampers. The interior finish is as commendable as the exterior paintwork, with good carpets, four loose mats, etc, and driver-vision cannot be faulted. The upholstered boot swallows nearly 13 cu ft of luggage and remains locked until opened by one of the two keys or from the aforesaid so-convenient driver-release lever, and the rear-seat squab can be folded down. The wide doors hold open properly, even on a gradient. As I have implied, the switch-gear is neatness personified and only sheer clumsiness could make the headlamps pop up when closing the roof is intended (they have a switch for this, independent of the stalk-control) or the lamps to be extinguished while signalling a change of direction because their rotary control is on the turn-indicator switch……

There can be very few five-speed gearboxes nicer to use than the Honda’s, controlled by a short, gaitered lever, working in a non-dog-leg gate. There are disc brakes all round, and neat alloy four-stud road wheels, with the spare under the carpeted boot floor. Steering-column rake is adjustable, with provision for changing it to aid entry, and then automatically regaining the setting previously selected. The Halogen headlamps gave an adequate rather than a long beam. Heat and fuel gauges, with 2.2-gallon reserve light, flank the speedometer and tachometer. This is a car to enjoy, the exhaust note from the two chromed tail-pipes just sufficiently audible at sensible revs to give a sporting touch without attracting unwanted attention. The engine was always a prompt commencer and ready to pull away at once as if it had fuel-injection, not carbs. Two internally adjustable door-mirrors are fitted, the back seats had belts, and there is the expected indicator panel showing whether doors and boot lid are properly closed, etc. The heater has a quiet fan, door vents and side window de-misters. The external and internal door-handles function nicely but there is no centre-locking. Under the prop-up bonnet the dip-stick is very mildly obstructed but everything else, Yuasa battery included, is 100% accessible and all the fuses clearly labelled. The neat cam-box cover is proudly inscribed “Honda 12 Valve”. Extensive rust-prevention, a 12 month unlimited mileage guarantee and 7,500-mile servicing intervals are other bonus aspects. To sum up, the sunny 1984 Easter was much enhanced for me by the loan of this thoroughly likeable and efficient coupe.

Weighing 19.3 cwt and with a drag co-efficient of 0.36, it does 0-60 mph in under 10 sec and has a top speed of 110 mph. Honda may have been the last of the eight Japanese companies now selling cars in Britain to take up private-car construction, after becoming World motorcycle champions, but their products and marketing put them in the top category of such cars and unless you have Oriental prejudices I can think of no better way of spending £8,250 than on a Prelude EX. And if a link with motor racing adds allure to ownership for you, there is Honda’s V6 turbocharged 1½-litre engine developing some 600 bhp at 10,400 rpm now on the F1 scene. —W . B.