Home » This Incredibly Rare Honda Prelude Solaire Is The Japanese Convertible You Never Knew You Needed

This Incredibly Rare Honda Prelude Solaire Is The Japanese Convertible You Never Knew You Needed

Honda Prelude Soltaire Topshot
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When it comes to shopping for convertibles, you can generally only pick two from the criteria of rare, cheap, and good. A nice MGB is cheap and good, but not rare. A Lexus LC 500 cabriolet is rare and exceedingly good, but definitely not cheap. A Daewoo Lanos with the roof unceremoniously sawn off while imbibing a case of Michelob Ultra is rare and cheap, but not objectively good. However, this Honda Prelude Solaire is the holy trinity, a rare and cheap convertible that’s actually good. It’s so rare that it makes a Lamborghini Diablo VT Roadster seem common, so good that it helped build Honda’s iron-clad reputation, and so cheap that it’s almost “screw it” money.

Honda Prelude Solaire Profile

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

You’ve probably never heard of a Prelude Solaire, but that’s okay. Most people haven’t because it’s not an official Honda vehicle. [Editor’s Note: A unibody vehicle that has had its roof sawed off — especially one with a three-speed slushbox — can only be so good IMO. Consider me skeptical of this whole “holy trinity” claim. -DT].  Santa Ana-based conversion specialist Solaire took the nifty first-generation Prelude, chopped off the roof, and then sold the finished vehicles to a handful of discerning customers. Reported production figures vary, but all sources agree that fewer than 100 Prelude convertibles were built by Solaire, making this one seriously rare Honda.

Honda Prelude Solaire Rear

Aside from the snap-on tonneau cover that looks a bit shabby, just like every other snap-on tonneau cover since the first one, this really looks like it could’ve been a factory job. So many panels appear to be retained from the standard Prelude from the doors to the trunklid. The curvatures of the quarter panels have been subtly altered to accommodate the new roof, but they seem identical to the stock panels from the character line down. Likewise, the cut behind the windscreen header looks clean and very professionally-finished. Once dropped, the roof sits where the parcel shelf used to be, which means there’s likely been some extensive surgery in that area. Solaire even beefed up the window channels and the underbody bracing to maintain a sense of solidity. It all adds up to a rather impressive conversion.

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Solaire Ads

Solaire was immensely proud of its conversion, claiming in advertising materials that its Prelude was “SIMPLY THE FINEST CONVERTIBLE AVAILABLE FOR UNDER $40,000…WAY UNDER!!!” Hang on, $40,000 was an insane amount of money in 1981; what did this thing actually cost? Thankfully, a period Road & Track review reports a price tag between $14,000 and $15,000, which is still a lot of money once inflation is factored in – between $46,722.57 and $50,059.90 today. However, it’s not supercar money, which makes you wonder what on earth Solaire was thinking with those marketing materials. Here’s a clue: $40,000 was more or less the base price of a 1981 Mercedes-Benz 380 SL.

 Interior

Most cars from the turn of the ’80s were so badly-built that these little Hondas felt like miracles. Everything fits, you’d be hard-pressed to find a run or similar imperfection in the paint, all doors shut with a solid thunk, and the various electronic gizmos simply worked. Sure, cars with the CVCC engine had a reputation for stumbling in part-throttle, but that’s the early smog-controlled era for you. Since BMW hadn’t yet sold a 3 Series cabriolet in America by 1981, the Prelude might just have been the finest sub-SL convertible at the time, if only because everything else wasn’t that brilliantly assembled.

CVCC engine

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Speaking of the CVCC engine, every U.S.-spec 1981 Preludes comes with a 1.8-liter EK CVCC four-cylinder engine with a fantastically unusual three-barrel Keihin carburetor. That three-barrel carb was necessary due to its auxiliary bore with its own bowl and float, feeding the pre-ignition chamber, and making the CVCC magic happen. In this particular Prelude, all 1.8-liters of fury are harnessed by a three-speed automatic gearbox with third as an overdrive. Imagine how long those first two ratios must be. Still, with 72 horsepower on tap, it should keep up with modern traffic without laboring too hard.

Honda Prelude Solaire Top Up 1

If you wish to make this Honda Prelude Solaire yours, it’s up for grabs on Facebook Marketplace in Stevensville, Mich. for a very reasonable $3,650. Sure, it could use fresh paint and its owner claims that it needs tires and a new top, but so long as you keep it a fair-weather cruiser, it could be a cheap and unusual entry into top-down motoring.

(Photo credits: Facebook Marketplace seller, Solaire)

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Ward William
Ward William
3 months ago

I had both the 1st and 2nd gen Preludes back in the day and I would have loved to see a ragtop version of the 2nd gen.

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
3 months ago

I knew a woman who had an early ‘Lude – the one with the cyclops dash. It was a Hondamatic, which I recall was a two speed semi-auto and an absolute turd to drive.

We never got the CVCC engines in Canada, BTW.

Last edited 3 months ago by Mr. Canoehead
Widgetsltd
Widgetsltd
3 months ago

Even though it was showing its age in 1981, the Bosch fuel-injected Fiat Spider 2000 with the proper 5-speed manual transmission would have been such a superior choice. A proper rear-drive sportscar with a well-designed folding top!

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  Widgetsltd

except, you know Fiat, so the Honda would slowly wander by the Fiat on the side of the road daily.

Isis
Isis
3 months ago

Those CVCC engines got crazy gas mileage.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

Why does it look better than a regular 2 door Prelude from 81? I guess it strangely might be a thing if the 81 MY 2 doors came with the at that time somewhat popular after market fake convertible roof setups.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
3 months ago

Tiny roadster+automatic=no dice

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
3 months ago

I’m not sure if I’m with DT on the structural integrity – I’d certainly want to get it on a lift, open both doors at the same time and then close them, that sort of thing.

I am with him on the slushbox. Really, on any ’80s/90s/00s Honda. For that matter, on the new ones that offer manual; getting an auto on a Honda is like ordering the chicken at a seafood restaurant. You know it’ll trigger FOMO and regret, you know it’s not the house specialty, so just why then?

Parsko
Parsko
3 months ago

Price confuses me. If this was in my yard with a cardboard sign, yeah, $3650, maybe. For some reason, on a national scale, this should be worth more, right? Antique Honda, of which only 100 were made? Confused.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
3 months ago

Where exactly do you buy a top for a aftermarket 100 production car? This is one step above some other dudes project.

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
3 months ago

I see a trip to a custom shop in the buyer’s future. It’s not going to be cheap.

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
3 months ago

Any good upholstery shop should be able to handle it. Much like getting seats redone, as long as the frame is in decent shape they have all they need.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago

you have it made from remnants.

Bob Rolke
Bob Rolke
3 months ago

“Rural King” battery?!?!?!?!?!

Chris Hoffpauir
Chris Hoffpauir
3 months ago
Reply to  Bob Rolke

Must be the battery of choice in rural Michigan.

Frankencamry
Frankencamry
3 months ago
Reply to  Bob Rolke

It’s just a rebadged Exide.

Rural King is a string of farm & home stores if you’re not familiar.

EXL500
EXL500
3 months ago

Straman did this with the first generation of the CRX. Here’s a link from the German lighting site: https://jalopnik.com/i-just-bought-this-super-rare-honda-crx-convertible-1767626604

Last edited 3 months ago by EXL500
Ryan B
Ryan B
3 months ago
Reply to  EXL500

That CRX vert looks so much better.

JDE
JDE
3 months ago
Reply to  EXL500

Can we get a thumbs down button for those linking to that craptacular site.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
3 months ago

I’m a little disappointed this doesn’t have the original Quaalude dash with the radio tuning knobs sticking out out of the binnacle and a Citroën style drum for frequency. I’d still go for it if I had the money

David Reynolds
David Reynolds
3 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

The cyclops dash was just the first two years, ’79 and ’80. After that they switched to a conventional dash.

Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
3 months ago

As always, the answer is Miata.

“But DDRDan,” I hear you thundering somewhat inebriatedly from the peanut gallery, “those arent rare!”

Try finding stock, driver-quality NA or NB. I’ll wait. If that’s still a little too common, feel free to buy one and wait a decade as more of them are victimized Ebay exhausts and questionable suspension packages.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
3 months ago

“Try finding stock, driver-quality NA or NB. I’ll wait. If that’s still a little too common, feel free to buy one and wait a decade as more of them are victimized Ebay exhausts and questionable suspension packages.”

OK, challenge accepted!:

https://sfbay.craigslist.org/nby/cto/d/san-rafael-1991-mazda-miata-mx5-na/7620519184.html

https://sfbay.craigslist.org/eby/cto/d/concord-1997-mazda-miata-na/7624276612.html

https://sfbay.craigslist.org/eby/cto/d/pleasanton-2003-mazda-miata-manual/7626896691.html

Took but a few seconds.

Last edited 3 months ago by Cheap Bastard
Sensual Bugling Elk
Sensual Bugling Elk
3 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

I’ll argue that the first one is not nice (that body and paintwork is rough) and latter two are not cheap. But generally you have a fair argument: Miatas aren’t rare enough to be considered, well, rare.

Should’ve known better than to challenge a cheap bastard to find a good cheap car.

William Eby
William Eby
3 months ago

When I was a young lad, I was in the process of selling my ’83 Plymouth Sapporo Technica because it was rusting on the frame. Looking for a “new” car (it was 1988) I had narrowed it down to two cars, both Hondas. A 1982 Prelude and a 1983 Civic HF. Both were manual, both were dark red. I went with the Civic, but only because a fender on the Prelude was damaged. A part of me every time I see a Prelude from that era I keep wondering what could have been. It was much cooler, but the Civic was a hatch, which I liked a lot. Civic got 40mpg everywhere but the tradeoff was it was woefully underpowered. For that alone I wish I had taken the Prelude.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  William Eby

I had an 82 (?) Sapporo. Should have figured someone else here did as well. What was the Technica ??

Mr. Canoehead
Mr. Canoehead
3 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I had a 1978 Challenger – definitely had a love/hate relationship with that car. It got me through university but I was not sorry to see it go…On the positive side, it was 13 years old when I sold it and it had almost no rust.

William Eby
William Eby
10 days ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Technica was a package that gave you a digital dash, and it talked. It was black on the top, silver on the bottom. I would say it was a technology package, as it had the great stereo (Mitsubishi of course) cruise control and all the other 80s electrical gadgets.

kingRidiculous
kingRidiculous
3 months ago

the Murano CrossCabriolet has got all my money

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
3 months ago

I see that it’s a Prelude, but a prelude to what?

Timothy Arnold
Timothy Arnold
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

To a much more attractive 2nd Gen Prelude

Paul E
Paul E
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Being a MI car, structural taco-ing?

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
3 months ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

To a qualude to deal with.

OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
3 months ago

I am very down for this. Given the low, low entry price this would be worth re-topping, repainting, and doing a transmission and maybe a mild engine swap (nothing nuts like a K20, but maybe a late 80s Si engine).

ExAutoJourno
ExAutoJourno
3 months ago

Judging by some of the corrosion under the hood, I’d want to take a long, hard look at whatever bracing was added, just to be sure it wasn’t originally unpainted angle iron. I know nothing about these particular cars, but have driven a couple of drop-top “conversions,” and would be reluctant to shell out for one. One exception would be the Honda CRX convertibles done by Richard Straman. They were nice and tight, with none of the floppiness exhibited by some other conversions. Cute, too.

But you could be the only one at the next Cars & Coffee with a car sporting a “Rural King” battery!

Duke of Kent
Duke of Kent
3 months ago

Do these companies that make ad hoc convertibles still exist? I’d suspect that it’s a pretty niche market, but it brings up an interesting discussion question:

Which current car would be the best candidate for such a conversion?

I suppose a coupe like a Dodge Challenger that isn’t available from the factory as a drop-top would be the logical choice. But that’s too predictable. What else ya got? Some big sedan? SUV? Prius?

Chris Stevenson
Chris Stevenson
3 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

Convert a non-convertible Murano.

Outofstep
Outofstep
3 months ago

I’m sure whatever you come up with would still look better than the monstrosity Nissan unleashed on us.

MEK
MEK
3 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

There is still a company in Florida doing custom Challenger convertible conversion I believe. I think at one point you could actually order them through Dodge dealers.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
3 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

Not available yet, but Cybertruck. Getting rid of that pointy-head might actually make the looks tolerable.

BrakShowStarringBrak
BrakShowStarringBrak
3 months ago

The canopy could work as a fireman’s trampoline to catch any pedestrians the Cybertruck’s wedged front end flings into the air.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
3 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

I’d like to see a Honda Crosstour drop top

Dead Elvis, Inc.
Dead Elvis, Inc.
3 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

I would too, but only because there would be less of it.

Bob Rolke
Bob Rolke
3 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

ASC American Sunroof Company (nee American Specialty Cars) is still around. At least I think they are the same company that did the ASC McLaren Mustang/Capri and the Toyota Celica that were available through dealers. https://www.americansunroof.com/
I am sure for the right amount of money they would convert anything you brought them.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
3 months ago
Reply to  Duke of Kent

No way a challenger would be so fast the top would tear away. You cant cheap aftermarket 1,000 hp cars with convertible tops.

Wolfpack57
Wolfpack57
3 months ago

With enough crossbracing, I think a challenger is doable

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