Most car guys dream of finding that untouched gem in some little old lady's garage. For Honda enthusiasts, it's that EF or EA Civic with 5,000 original miles on it, driven only to the local market and to church on Sunday.
When Chris Dodge really did find a pristine 1985 Prelude in a little old lady's garage near his home in Burke, VA., he had no idea what he'd gotten his hands on. He bought it to drive himself to school and had no intentions of making it a project car. But like many of us, Dodge caught the bug and started down a two-year stint of fast and furious rice-burning modification.
He racked up the usual list of misguided tuner-in-training parts: large, obnoxious muffler, generic intake and a set of neon green decals.
"Something about neon green on red seemed like a good idea at the time," Dodge says, as he recalls the mod that he was even more proud of: a real Veilside wing made for an (FD) RX-7.
"Yeah, it was real. I paid $900 for it-the worst $900 I ever spent."
One night at the flashlight drags, Dodge lined up against a Mustang 5.0 and miraculously won, due to the Mustang pilot's first- and second-gear mis-shifts. At the end of the night, the Mustang tailed Dodge on his way home and he awoke the next morning to a keyed-up paint job. This marked the end of the Prelude's rice days.
A couple of months later, Dodge awoke to another horrific sight. The Prelude had been fully stripped, enough for the insurance company to consider it a total loss and write Dodge a check for $2,000. He bought the car back for $900 and pocketed the rest, determined to get the car right this time.
He soon signed on with a Honda Challenge race crew called Wangspeed and learned the value of clean and functional mods. He met Matt Chambers, a former Formula Ford racer who started an autocross team called Naturally High Racing. Chambers and his crew had built an '87 Prelude Si to help keep local troubled youths off the streets and into racing. Dodge ended up buying the Prelude from Chambers and used nearly every part that would swap over, most notably one of two sets of Ground Control coil-overs ever made for the second-gen 'Lude.
Dodge soon got the JDM fever when he linked up online with a Canadian guy importing parts from Japan. At first the Canadian importer sourced small parts like corner lamps and license plate brackets. But as Dodge got the sickness for the rare and obscure, his northern friend turned up gems like a base-model rear decklid lip spoiler, rear light cluster and 220-kph gauge cluster.
Where there is JDM, one is bound sooner or later to find Mugen. Dodge got his hands on a Mugen SW-36 steering wheel and a set of 13-inch CF-48 wheels. He's yet to find his Holy Grail though, a Mugen front bumper for the Prelude.
After acquiring a stock of JDM bling, Dodge had the car repainted factory Phoenix red, just before it came to our attention. Then just days before HT planned to shoot the car, the Prelude's original motor with 207,000 miles on its clock came unglued. The bad news was that we'd have to postpone the shoot. The good news was that Dodge now had a chance to scrap the bone-stock ET-2 Prelude DX motor and replace it with a built, high-compression dual DCOE carbureted ET-2/A18 hybrid. If this rush of letters and numbers has you confused, don't worry. Just think LS/VTEC circa 1985.