CLICK THE PIC When it debuted in 1979 the Prelude wasn't much more than an Accord with all the pesky utility removed. By the time it left production 22 years later, it was, arguably, the finest handling front-drive car ever built and home to one of the world's great four-cylinder engines. First Generation: 1979-1982 Let's be blunt: the 1979 Prelude wasn't exactly handsome. With its high beltline and stubby proportions, it gave no hint to the sleek sport coupe it would become in later years. Built atop a 91.3-inch wheelbase (2.4 inches shorter than the '79 Accord), the first Prelude's chopped notchback body left little room for actual human accommodations. The front bucket seats were OK, but the rear seats were a joke — and not a very funny one. Beyond that, the dash was an eccentric mishmash that included radio knobs that protruded out the side of the instrument binnacle and a weird combination tachometer and speedometer where both instrument's needles swept along the same arc. Honda's designers indulged themselves with the first Prelude and it showed. But the first Prelude did have two big advantages: It was the most muscular Honda and it was, after all, a Honda. The Prelude's sole power plant was a 1,751cc version of the Accord's CVCC SOHC four producing 72 hp at 4,500 rpm and 94 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm, backed by either the Hondamatic two-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. That sounds pathetic today, but back then the Prelude was peppy compared to some of the competition — Motor Trend measured an early Prelude completing the quarter-mile in 18.8 seconds at 70 mph. Riding atop P175/70SR13 Bridgestone radials, the Prelude was the most generously shod Honda and the all-independent suspension provided both good grip and an excellent ride. "It is," wrote Brock Yates for Motor Trend, "by any sane measurement, a splendid automobile. I know; I own one. The machine, like all Hondas, embodies fabrication that is, in my opinion, surpassed only by the narrowest of margins by Mercedes-Benz. It is a relatively powerful little automobile by anybody's standards. (Can one imagine the ecstatic yelping if Porsche produced a 1.7-liter OHC capable of 100 mph for $7,000?)" Yet Road & Track fretted openly that "…we just can't get past the car's styling and basic layout." Car and Driver whined about the car's instrumentation, murkily observing, "Honda management obviously concluded that the difference between a sporty car and a sedan is gadgetry." The pundits at our sister publication Sports Car Graphic joined in the widespread denouncement of the Prelude's interior — especially its miniscule rear seat; "…being inside the Prelude borders on claustrophobia," was the semantic sideswipe they chose to describe the confines of the car. Honda replaced the Hondamatic with a three-speed automatic for 1980 and added some electronic warning bells for 1982, but otherwise the first-generation Prelude remained very much the same car throughout its production life. The first Prelude had its hard-core fans, but the next Prelude would impress everyone.