1999 Honda Prelude Design Analysis

To illustrate a discussion elsewhere here I have annotated a 1999 Honda Prelude, or the bits I am referring to.

1999 Honda Prelude: carwallpaper.com
1999 Honda Prelude

The very first thing one might notice about the Prelude is its wanton simplicity. There are no bump strips on the body side. The lamps are oblongs. There is no feature-line at the c-pillar to rear wing. The grille is a slat. And then you look again.

First, the bonnet line is very nearly, but not quite so flat as to suggest – suggest – it is inclined in a way opposite to one’s expectations. The window line’s lower edge is slightly curved and not dead straight like the two nearly-parallel lines on the body side. Those lamps aren’t square but very, very slightly oblong and make the front look narrower than it might be, offsetting the horizontal slat.

The boot is slightly higher than it might be so that there is not one line from front lamp to the rear. There is a small amount of noise in all the order and plain-ness. I can’t help feeling all of this was deliberate. Your eye never settles but roams over the shape, resting here and there and moving on.

1999 Honda Prelude: zombdrive.com
1999 Honda Prelude

It didn’t sell well. The Ford Focus Mk2 has something of the same austerity and that was hastily face-lifted to make it more digestible. All of those blank spaces on the Honda have attracted the tuning crowd. This apparent simplicity is too much to leave alone.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

10 thoughts on “1999 Honda Prelude Design Analysis”

  1. I have to say that I quite like the calm Honda designs of this time – much as I like the Mk2 Focus before it was killed by the facelift.

    It’s a very interesting concept how you think about the small disturbances. Maybe with a design of this simplicity, it’s really what distinguishes the interesting from the plain dull.

  2. LJK Setright seemed inordinately fond of his Preludes. And, in this version, there is a slightly Bristol like stateliness – a refusal to try to be fashionable – that is quite admirable. Though, I admit, at the time, I thought it duller than its predecessor.

    1. I did too but it’s not. The previous model is very homogenous indeed. This one intentionally or not has features that surprise. The bonnet line is the stand-out element, full of tension caused by being not quite as you’d expect- it’s a matter of a degree of inclination and a tiny amount of missing curvature. I could look at this car for aged whereas the predecessor (technically correct as it is) is quickly drained of interest.

    2. In hindsight I agree. I liked the previous Prelude’s rear light treatment and found the horizontal units on this one rather bland. But looking at the previous Prelude now, it seems a car of its time, which has got more bland with age.

  3. It’s an outright brilliant design. Simple, but far from dull – maybe something like Japanese design rationalism?
    But who laughed at the Audi 80’s boot?

    1. Indeed – there is temptation to write deceptively simple but I don´t know if that means simpler than it is or not simple at all. I mean, it appears simple but really isn´t. All of it has been nudged. The rear lamps: it could be that the designer wanted the viewer to read the folded surface they are located on and not the lamps. Also, they had to make the rear look a bit different too.

  4. Folded surface – yes!
    I very much admire this rear view:

    And one can clearly see the same form language emerging in the prelude.
    Does anyone know whether it’s actually the same designer?
    Seems about time to admit that I don’t know any Japanese designer by name…

    1. That´s one I have always admired. Notice the same folded surface and to emphasise it, the metal of the wing is flanged so the lamps are nicely framed by metal. That´s worth comparing the Lancia Kappa coupe. In this case no chrome is present and none is needed.

      As for a Japanese designer, how about Norihiko Harada at Zagato.

    2. I really like the Accord Coupé too but were the rearlights not crying: ” I want to be a kind of small Honda NSX” ?
      For me – this Prelude is more a younger sister of the Legend Coupé. Elegant and taut, but not aggressive at all.And the low body-line needs no lowering at all
      I hope there will be some more sporty cars besides the new NSX coming from Honda soon. Honda always puts some interesting technical ideas in their fast cars.

  5. I didn’t think of the NSX – maybe they wanted a visual link. In any case it looks pleasing. How are coupe sales in Europe? Is the A7 a success, or middling? The mainstream makers have left this market: no Calibra, Cougar/Capri, no 508 coupe etc. Guess what, I ask: Hyundai and Kia will decide to have a go at one in the not too distant future.

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