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The Self-Made, 400+ Horsepower 1997 Honda Prelude

Playing the long game with a turbocharged 2.3L “blue top” 5th gen. Prelude

Dec 12, 2020
Photographer: William Walker

There's something to be said for guys like Arturo Castillo, owner of this 1997 Honda Prelude, who dove into the import performance world with the money he'd worked hard for, then proceeded to build the car exactly the way he wanted with his own two hands. It's not entirely uncommon, but for an industry in the midst of taking heavy doses of social media influence that seem to lean further toward the "just a drop and wheels" mentality, the DIY'ers that put in the hours and hang on to their projects to continue building are the unsung heroes and the driving force behind any sort of progression in this community.

002 1997 honda prelude Photo 22/22   |   The Self-Made, 400+ Horsepower 1997 Honda Prelude

Start 'Em Young

Arturo's high school years are where he first took notice of '80s and '90s imports in general, but more specifically it was the various Honda chassis that really caught his attention. "I've always had a soft spot for Hondas," he recalls. "From Civics, Integras and CRXs to the NSX, Honda was definitely my favorite. I used to love watching videos on YouTube of these really fast Civics beating Lambos and other exotic sports cars. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and since then, I knew I'd have to get something like that for myself someday."


He wasn't gifted his first car or given the "ok" to pick something used and reliable, so Arturo took it upon himself to get to work. "Right after high school, I found a warehouse job, and for months I worked hard and saved every penny I could to be able to buy my first car." Though it would have probably been cheaper to pick up an older model Civic or Integra, after researching his options, Arturo went a different route with the fifth-gen. Prelude chassis. "I thought it was a unique car that not many people were modifying. I really loved the long, slick body lines and thought it had a timeless design with a lot of potential." After finding a clean version for sale after weeks of online searches, this '97 Prelude was all his.

003 honda prelude jdm front Photo 22/22   |   The Self-Made, 400+ Horsepower 1997 Honda Prelude

Daily Gone Wild

For the next three years, the car sat comfortably, lowered and on a set of wheels with its main job serving as Arturo's daily driver. Here and there he'd make small additions when money allowed but the changes were admittedly very mild. A few years after that, he moved out of his parents and into his own place and finally had his own garage - a space that would soon serve as the Prelude's operating room and shelter, as plans that had been circling in his head for so long were finally able to begin. He notes, "The goal with the car was to build something that I could enjoy all around, taking it road racing and on canyon runs, and still enjoyable and comfortable enough to drive on the street."

Run Down the Entire Prelude Family Line:
Widened 1st gen. Prelude

Weber carbureted 2nd gen. Prelude

K24-swapped 3rd gen. Prelude

Supercharged 4th gen. Prelude

Mugen, supercharged 5th gen. Prelude

Don't Get Lost in the Sauce

Over a three-year period, Arturo's Prelude, which had only seen a handful of minor modifications, was getting the long list of changes he'd dreamed of for years. He pulled the engine out and had the entire car and engine bay painted Ford Magnetic Gray Metallic. JDM front end pieces were added to the color change, as were PCI side skirts and a Mugen rear valence, offset by a custom front splitter. The rich, deep paint tone pairs nicely with bronze GramLights 57DR. It's enough to signify some personalized touches but not a drastic change from those factory bodylines that appealed so much to Arturo from the very beginning.

004 turbo h23 prelude Photo 22/22   |   The Self-Made, 400+ Horsepower 1997 Honda Prelude

New Body, New Heart

With the paint complete, the original H22 wouldn't make its way back into the bay, as that space was reserved for an H23 "blue top" swap. Strengthened with ARP head studs and a Supertech valvetrain, a KS Tuned balance shaft eliminator kit was installed and the long block bolted in place. Those changes were in anticipation of a complete Enticed Motorsports turbo kit, based around a Comp Turbo 58/58. Keeping the 2.3L cool is a Rywire-spec CSF radiator and custom AN lines that connect to a one-off TracTuff swirl pot. Additional updates, like the 1,000cc injectors fed by an AEM 320lph pump, the coil-on-plug conversion, and Hondata S300 V3 help support the now boosted H-series that pumps out 427hp with almost 400-lbs.-ft. of torque.

005 nardi steering wheel Photo 22/22   |   The Self-Made, 400+ Horsepower 1997 Honda Prelude

Dual Purpose

In order to stick with his vision of a street-friendly, track-capable build, the factory panels inside the cabin are still intact but the OEM seats were replaced by lightweight Buddy Club buckets and the OEM shifter and shift cables upgraded. The Honda steering wheel was also removed and replaced by a Nardi version, and you'll notice a number of gauges on either side to keep tabs on the boosted setup.

006 rywire csf radiator Photo 22/22   |   The Self-Made, 400+ Horsepower 1997 Honda Prelude

In terms of project cars, Arturo's Prelude has been with him quite a bit longer than most builds we come across, and it wasn't always easy. He adds, "I've gone through tons of hiccups and setbacks along the way, but I never gave up or lost motivation. At the end of the day, even after all the struggles, I still had fun with my friends helping me, learning and building the car just the way I wanted." This isn't goodbye, either, as there are some lofty goals that still lie ahead. "My future plans in the works are to put in a built block and transmission, do an AWD conversion and maybe install a standalone engine management system with a digital dash display." Based on Arturo's ability to apply himself, we have no doubt those upgrades will make their way to his fifth gen. in no time.

Car 1997 Honda Prelude

Owner Arturo Castillo

IG @artcastillo_

Engine JDM H23A blue top; Enticed Motorsports custom turbo kit, 3-in. stainless steel exhaust; Comp Turbo 58/58; ARP head studs; Supertech dual valve springs, titanium retainers; KS Tuned balance shaft eliminator kit, timing belt tensioner; Skunk2 adjustable cam gears, Pro Series intake manifold; KTuned 74mm throttle body; Grams 1,000cc injectors; AEM 320lph fuel pump, fuel rail; Vibrant oil catch can; Rywire/CSF tucked radiator, coil-on-plug plate; Tractuff swirl tank; Mishimoto coolant reservoir; Evolution alternator bracket; Total Race coil-on-plug conversion kit; BBA billet motor mounts, power steering delete plate, cooling plate; Rosko Racing distributor delete; Hondata S300 V3; BWR billet oil cap; C's reservoir covers

Power 427hp/393tq

Drivetrain JDM T2T4 transmission; Clutch Masters FX350; KTuned race-spec shifter, shift cables

Suspension Riaction USA coilovers; Energy Suspension polyurethane bushings; SPC front upper ball joints; Truhart adjustable rear upper control arms, rear toe arms; Innovative traction bar

Brakes Wilwood brake master cylinder; Richewerks custom stainless steel hard lines; Acura RL front calipers; CSR 350Z track edition rotors; EBC Red Stuff brake pads; Goodridge stainless steel brake lines

Wheels & Tires Rays 57DR 17x9 +38; Kumho Ecsta V720 245/40

Exterior JDM front end; Ford Magnetic Gray Metallic; Seibon carbon fiber hood; Aerocatch hood pins; Slick carbon sunroof delete plug; PCI side skirts; Mugen rear valence

Interior Buddy Club P1 Limited V2 seats; Status Racing harnesses; Nardi steering wheel; NRG quick-release; BWR weight shift knob; Autopower roll bar; Enticed Motorsports battery relocation box

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