Comprehensive 32 Year, 160,000 Mile Road Test
A lot of people know me as a Honda fanatic - I currently own four (soon to be three, and then probably a fourth again) of Sochiro’s creations - and I frequently encourage people to consider them for their projects, daily drivers, fifth cars, and so on. I thought it would be time to delve a bit into why I am so devoted to a brand that, like any major corporate conglomerate, is just a company attempting to make and sell a product like any other corporation with shareholders.
The main joy I have with writing for Trust in the Machine is the ability to write about cars as I currently get to enjoy them. The newest vehicle I have ever owned is a 2003 model year. The median year of every car I have owned is 1990. I frequently get cars decades after they were relevant and had a new car smell, and as a result, what I look for in a car is skewed from your normal automotive writer’s perspective.
I look for cars that have stood the test of time. While I grew up idolizing Car and Driver’s 40,000 mile long term tests, and I aspire to have a car I own while the sixth digit of the odo is still blank, those reviews are not very pertinent to me as I dig through craigslist sort-by-cheapest, max-price-$3,000 listings.
First off - holy hell, they really don’t stop running. I have had my share of electrical maladies and normal “old car” problems with my ownership experiences, but my 32-year-old, 155k mile Prelude drove 1,400 miles from the seller’s house to my house without a hiccup. Having owned classic Toyotas, Mitsubishis, and Mercedes, for a car in the sub-$3,000 class to pull this off is no small feat. If you do oil changes and brake jobs, they’re going to keep running, and you’ll find this story echoed throughout Honda forums the world around.
Photo: Honda EU
Next, to me, their styling from both the distant past and more recently hold up extremely well to the test of time. Honda makes Normal Cars, and so while the styling tends to reflect the trends of the era. Whether it’s the 80s Prelude’s svelte wedge or the just-released Honda e’s friendly face and LED lighting, they distill the current trends down to the most simple and enjoyable elements, so ten or fifteen years down the road you end up with a car that doesn’t look like a caricature of the era, like a Delorean or a ‘59 Eldorado. If you simply want the most shocking car on the block, it might not be for you, but driving a car that feels like a time capsule for its era without the in-joke era excesses appeals to me greatly.
At this point, the only extremely “cool” sporty cars you can buy for a $3K budget are 80s-90s vehicles, and so I have ended up with several,. I have never been inside 80s cars that had interiors that held up as well as my Hondas. I have no idea if they were able to keep up this trend with later cars, because we need more time to pass to be certain, but if there was a JD Power award for interior quality after 150,000 miles and 30 years, Honda would have swept the category for the past decade. An uncracked dash in a ($25,000 original MSRP) ‘88 Supra is worth more than the car surrounding it; an uncracked dash in a ($16,000 original MSRP) ‘88 Prelude is simply taken for granted. Seat bolsters look untouched, and for god’s sake my OEM shift knob still has the gear pattern legible. When they say “they don’t make them like they used to”, they mean 80s Hondas interiors.
The final and most relatable point across all generations of Hondas I have ever had the pleasure of driving, is that when they build a sports car they aim solely for fun. I am not a talented enough driver to tell you if you could shave a few tenths off an autocross run with a similarly prepared AE86 vs. a 3G Prelude. What I can tell you is that you will probably have just as much fun in the Honda at a fraction of the cost.
I have used a lot of manual transmissions in my life, and the only ones I consistently expect to feel good are Honda manuals. Their front wheel drive cars have a friendly, smooth understeer upon breaking traction that is incredibly simple to recover from. If you don’t like the understeer, you can order springs on a whim, and boom, the car is tail happy under even the slightest of braking.
The steering even in examples with 30 year old bushings is still precise, full of feeling on center, and responsive. Modifications for almost every model and year abound from dozens of tuners and cost half as much as upgrades for other makes. Once you get those parts in your garage, installation will most likely be simpler than almost any other car you can buy barring perhaps a Miata. There is something so relentlessly simple and yet completely overthought about every model I have owned that it leads to moments where you think of the original designer and thank them, rather than curse them.
While I do joke about being a “Collectrix of Vintage Hondas” on my twitter, I do actually believe there is something special about these cars. Most likely at, say, a $50,000 price point and the money for some devoted mechanics, there are better choices. I have never owned a car that danced with that number. For me, Honda’s greatest hits of the 80s have done the trick.