The Story of my 1999 Honda Prelude
This car was the first ever I was able to modify. I have been a “car guy” since I was old enough to car about such things and into imports since 1996. I bought the car just after graduation from college in 2002. My college beater was a 1986 Prelude Si. The car had almost 200,000 miles on it and besides a high idle ran great. But it was 16 years old and the e-brake cable was frozen, one of the seat belts no longer worked, and it needed shocks. My commute was going to be 75 miles/day until I found my own place so I needed something newer. The car was purchased “Certified Pre-Owned” and was leased before I bought it. It had 45,000 miles and everything worked perfect. I knew it would hold up because of my old Prelude and several other Hondas my family have owned. And I was a lot faster and handled better and a big bigger inside than my old car. And it wasn’t just another Civic or Integra. You see modified versions of those cars everywhere.
So from the beginning it was gong to be a daily driver that I could do stuff too to make it faster. I joined a couple internet forums catering to the car and bought my first two mods that fall, the obligatory cold air intake and cat-back exhaust. The next spring I started going to meets put on my members of the forums I belonged to and made a couple of friends out of the group. I also did my first “real” autocross that spring. I say real because I was introduced to autocross during college, wen I was involved with my school’s FSAE team. I did one autocross with the team but the car was not running very well that day. I like road racing and would do that if I could but autocrossing is all I can afford to do at the moment. And I really started to get into it. Once I started going I rarely missed a local event. My car, being mostly stock, did not fair against most of the Street Touring cars, the class where “commonly modified” imports were allowed to play. But I continued to try and focus on my driving.
Come the spring of 2003 and I was itching to play with the suspension of the car and improve it’s handling. I was wary of “coilover kits” and the stiff spring rates they come with as the roads around here are bad and full of potholes. But really I didn’t know what to expect so I opted for the safer and softer “lowering springs”. I purchased a set of H&R Sport Springs from the Tire Rack. The springs lowered the car about 1.4 inches and were about 25% stiffer. Along with the springs I got some new KYB AGX performance adjustable shocks. It was a nice look and gave a nice improvement in the “sporty” feel of the suspension but was not that good for autocrossing. The car still understeered at the limit, especially badly during the low to moderate speed corners found in autocross. And later on out found that the body roll due to the still relatively soft springs made the car sluggish to turn into a corner and sluggish to transition during slaloms. But it took me a while to figure all this out and I was STILL learning how to get he most out of the car.
My next purchase was a set of 17″ wheels, one inch bigger than stock, and summer only tires to go with them. I chose the Goodyear GS-D3 because every review I read spoke highly of them and they had excellent wet weather characteristics. The tire size was a 215/40R17. That is the widest 17″ tire I could get without making the tire taller which would hurt acceleration and possibly rub. The performance of these tires in the wet still surprised me despite what I had read. They are that good. They are the best in the rain! They are very good in the dry too. But the combination of a small sidewall that I felt couldn’t handle the car’s weight and other brands of tire that were much better in the dry and had even stiffer sidewalls and more grip than the GS-D3 means these tires didn’t perform any miracles at the autocross course. I did take these tires to my first track day, where I got to lap Beaver Run Motorsports Complex in western Pennsylvania. It was a blast and I learned a little about how to handle the car at high speeds and what it must be like to road race with traffic around you. If you ever get the chance to do an open track day or HPDE I highly recommend it.
My next step with the car was to get some coilovers with stiffer springs to combat the softness of the car when turning. I was still on a small budget & thought I could get away with buying an Ground Control kit to work with my existing KYB AGX. Maybe it was a fear of getting too much spring for the rear shocks but I ended up with the default spring rates of 380 lbs/in front and 250 lbs/in rear. That was a mistake. It’s not like the car handled horribly or anything but it was still a badly understeering setup. The car needed more rear spring. The shocks did OK, which was nice because the don’t have the reputation for being able to take extra spring rate like Koni Sports do. The only caveat is that since the AGX adjusts rebound and compression together the front of the car would skip over bumps, especially during the winter. I found out during this time that the front of the car likes the shocks to be soft, despite the higher spring rate in the front. Because of the spring rate I thought I had to run the front shocks at 3 out of 4. On the autocross course this caused a weird affect of keeping the car rolled for a bit after coming out of a corner. Consequently when I got on the gas I got a one tire fire. It was noticable even on the street, such as when changing lanes the car would understeer, then suddenly take it’s set. I found the best balance was with the front at 2. Set it and don’t touch it again. The rear likes 3 on the street and 4 on the autocross course. I dealt with this for about a year before my next round of changes.