Within the dedicated groups of specific Honda model enthusiast circles, few carry as much pride and bravado as the Prelude family. That feeling seems to flow throughout all five generations of Honda's sporty coupe, but the dedication seemed to come on strong years after the manufacturer ceased production. Plagued by declining sales and the public's fickle interest being pulled toward other, more affordable options, the Prelude saw its final production year come and go. Not that any of that matters to diehards — guys like Big Mike, for example.
Prior to diving into the first version of his build trilogy, Mike had just called it quits with an EH Civic project that landed him in the pages of Honda Tuning Magazine. Having only tinkered mildly with his '92 Prelude, he made the decision to go all out, and that meant a switch from H-series power to an F20B JDM Accord swap, ITB setup, and a classy wine color that once again landed him in HT, but this time it was a cover. Years later, Mike decided to tear the car down entirely, opt for a new, somewhat controversial color, and incorporate an even cleaner bay. The version 2 build garnered a ton of attention and once again his Prelude was front and center on the newsstand. By now, many car owners would have either sold the car and went on to something new or kept the build to make minor changes here and there so as to keep things fresh. Mike decided to keep the car but felt a third iteration was in order. The final version (well, maybe not the final version; we are talking about Big Mike here) would not only address any shortcomings he felt the previous pair of builds might have been hiding, but a nod to a more serious performance side and a level of customization few, if any, Prelude builders have ever been privy to.
Perched comfortably in the Torco USA booth at SEMA 2016, Big Mike's Prelude sticks out like a sore, oversized, dislocated thumb. What I mean by that is it's not very common to run across a Honda build in the SEMA halls these days, and I can't recall ever seeing a Prelude make that claim to fame in all of my visits to the yearly Las Vegas Convention Center pilgrimage. Still, pushing my disbelief aside, a few things are very apparent the moment I lay eyes on the booth and the vehicle. First, people are taking notice. Not just Honda or import-centric people, but people in general. That's major when just footsteps away are American classics, cutting edge technology packed supercars, and questionable models with even more questionable personas all vying for show-goer attention.
I'd been waiting to see Mike's car for quite some time now. The build has seen its fair share of delays, and even though he flaunts an "all good, it'll be done when it's done" attitude, knowing Mike for so many years, it's obvious to me the annoying minutia that pesters a build of this level has taken its toll and the last 12 months have stung a bit. Nevertheless, the finished product speaks for itself. On the surface, the car's latest hue (now its fourth color) is sprayed perfectly across an almost unnaturally straight Prelude body that includes a Jun hood and modified front bumper, custom fenders and PCI side skirts. The chosen livery will no doubt cause some commotion and, as if to offer a silent rebuttal, Mike's touched on the finest of details to keep that feel and those colors moving throughout different parts of the build. "The entire car was planned and built with the 'whole' in mind, so there is a color scheme and overall flow to the entire car," Mike explains.
A clean, well-prepped and sprayed Prelude exterior isn't exactly uncommon. Guys have been doing that right for years, but what they haven't been doing can be witnessed once the hood is popped. Long gone is the naturally aspirated, Bisimoto-blessed power plant that motivated the car for so many years, here replaced with a Garrett GTX28 that violently forces air into a custom, velocity stack-equipped intake manifold matched in efficiency by yet another custom piece, an equal-length, bottom mount V-band turbo manifold. A signature Rywire radiator, Wisecraft swirl pot, and Garrett intercooler core with homegrown end tanks all pitch in to keep under-hood temps tolerable. Calling the shots is AEM's Infinity, which sends commands through a one-off wiring harness created by Rywire.
Witnessing Big Mike reach his goal of landing on the red carpet of the biggest automotive aftermarket event in the world is something any car fiend can appreciate. While seeing some of the interactions on the show floor, I couldn't help but mentally make reference to Rywire's Integra debut last year that blew everyone's minds. The two cars are quite different, but the level of intricacy is very similar, as was the reception, as multiple show attendees voiced their congratulations on a job well done. Something's changing in the climate of privateer import car building and at this level, when even the most anti-import pessimists stand up to take a closer look, you realize how far we've come.
The fine line between style and absolute function has never been thinner. Here, Mike's CE28 and Azenis wheel and tire combo fit perfectly under a set of reworked fenders and partially conceal Wilwood rotors that, of course, have been modified to match the car's theme.
The bay and exterior weren't the only areas to receive major upgrades. The real estate inside the cabin was stripped and covered in matching paint or material, and the stereo and other creature comforts were left to version 2 of the Prelude. Even the advanced (for its time) digital dash of the fourth gen. is banished in favor of an AIM display, while a Rywire keypad takes commands in the center of the dash.
Attention to detail can't quite describe what went into this build. From the incredibly functional swirl pot to the Downstar Inc. hardware that holds the Prelude together, everything has been addressed. As Mike puts it, "The colorway of the AN lines and fittings, the interior and the livery of the car are all planned in congruence with one another, as well as all of the powdercoating, anodizing."