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I Flew Across the Country to Buy a $5,700 Car Sight Unseen

This is my new 1992 Honda Prelude Si five-speed, which passed 100,000 miles last week while I was driving it home from Tampa to Tucson.

The car was for sale on eBay and I was in the market for a vintage stickshift Prelude as the ultimate souvenir from my Honda days. In addition, my wife and I had always wanted to do a cross-country drive. My sister and her husband recently moved to Florida, a hundred miles south of where the car was located. My wife had never been to New Orleans. We decided, what the heck, let’s buy the car and drive it home.

Did I mention that this Prelude was the closest thing to a barn-find car I’ve ever bought?

I first spotted the Blue ‘Lude on eBay a few months ago, advertised at $7,600. It had a near-perfect pedigree: owned by an elderly New York couple who kept it stored in the garage of their Florida home the majority of the year for 23 years. It was subsequently purchased by a young man who installed a new timing belt, water pump, hoses, Yokohama S tires and Brembo rotors. He was in possession of all the car’s documentation back to the original 1992 invoice from Honda of Saratoga Springs, New York, showing a purchase price of $18,057.

The seller was a Japanese car enthusiast, owner of a NB Miata and a 300ZX with only 30,000 miles. He was also a clever marketer; witness the first line of his ad:

“For sale is my very rare, unmolested 1992 Honda Prelude Si that is in pristine condition with only 97,863 original miles. That’s right, no hideous aftermarket wheels, no sub-woofers, and no penile shaped pod filters.”

A couple of weeks ago, he relisted the car and dropped the asking price to $6,900. I made a couple of bottom feeder offers that he rejected. On my third offer, the last allowed by eBay on Best Offer items, I bid the most I was willing to pay, $5,700, and he accepted. I admit I paid all the money for the Blue ‘Lude, but it helped that we Arizona residents pay no sales tax when we buy a vehicle from an individual.

My wife and I hopped a plane to Tampa from our home in Tucson. We met up with the seller and, other than a few tiny whiskey dents and a hole in the muffler, the car was as described. The luster of the Prelude’s paint was amazing for a 25-year-old vehicle.

Heading out, I was immediately impressed by its five-speed transmission — it shifted as slick as new. It brought back memories of the Prelude company cars I drove. I imagine the only new cars today that shift better than this would be any other Honda and the Miata. How does Honda do it?

The clutch, brakes and suspension were excellent. We would discover various squeaks, bugs and broken bits over the course of the next week, which was to be expected on a 100,000-mile car — but the electric antennae worked!

I have always rejected the perception of the Prelude being boring. (Q: What car did the Honda Quaalude replace? A: The Plymouth Valium.) We found some curvy roads outside of Crystal River and the ‘Lude was definitely entertaining to drive. The car weighs only 2,840 pounds, nearly identical to a Honda S2000, and the combination of light weight and a great stickshift always makes for a fun automobile.

In typical Honda style, the car does everything well, but nothing really great or really poorly. I imagine auto journos back in the day used the word “balance” a lot to describe Honda cars, as in its balance between ride and handling, its balance between power and gas mileage, and so on.

We headed west from Florida and it was 1992 all over again, the strange half-digital, half-analog gauges glowing in the dark, enjoying the NBA player-worthy front leg room, slapping the dash with my palm to quiet its creaks, and hey, let’s put in Garth’s new cassette! We went to the famous Flora-Bama bar, spent two nights on Bourbon Street, toured the Tabasco factory, gawked at a Buc-ee’s convenience store in Texas and ate at La Fogata, our favorite restaurant in San Antonio.

We also enjoyed the couple of times a fart can Japanese sports car would zoom up alongside and the occupants’ facial expressions would change from admiration to surprise upon seeing an old white guy behind the wheel. We did not see another fourth-gen Prelude the entire way.

The Blue ‘Lude was a good but not great highway cruiser. Wind noise was a bit tiresome above 75 mph. We achieved 29 miles per gallon for the 2,600-mile journey — terrible by today’s standards for a four-cylinder automobile but good for its day. I had forgotten how low cars were geared back then: the Prelude’s 160 horsepower motor spun 3,900 rpm in fifth gear at 80 mph!

I plan to shell out for a muffler, axle, floor mats, a modern Bluetooth sound system and some paintless dent repair for my new toy. I do not see a problem getting most or all my investment back if I ever decide to sell it.

I now own a cool “vintage” Honda and enjoyed a great road trip — but what does the future hold? So, Best and Brightest, what do I face here, buying my first 100,000-mile car? What is your experience in purchasing a six-digit mileage vehicle?

[Images: Austin Hartman and Steve Lynch]

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