Blue Ridge Cruise with JCVA and the Prelude XR

Blue Ridge Cruise with JCVA and the Prelude XR

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Japanese Classics of Virginia, aka JCVA, invited me out to join them for their 6th annual “Rollin’ Up The Blue Ridge Vol. 6” event back in the middle of April. I accepted after considering taking my Honda Prelude out of the garage for the winter and figured it would be a great driving opportunity for the old girl before I started it’s restoration process this summer.

The group, which was entirely new to me, has been active in Virginia since 2012 and was started by avid Japanese purists in the Richmond area. Though a small group, these guys are attempting something that I strongly believe is rare amongst true enthusiasts on the east coast and that’s to unite all pre-1995 Japanese models in the commonwealth together. Having arrived a little late to the event, I didn’t get a good chance to talk or meet up with the group, but I was massively stunned by the organization and matureness of their event as a newcomer. These guys had it planned out and the “no car left behind” act was strongly in place.

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The route was simple, meet up at the Devils Backbone Brewery in Roseland, VA off of interstate 151 and cruise down to I-56 to cross over the Blue Ridge Parkway via Crabtree Falls Highway to a fuel station north of Lexington. We would then refuel, take a much needed piss break and snap a group photo before heading back over the grab some lunch at the Wild Wolf Brewery, north of DB. The 24 mile trip across the Blue Ridge mountains through Nelson county is a daring drive and actually taught me more about my cars suspension geometry than I ever could have imagined.

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My 1980 Prelude XR is a RHD model that is currently the only one known in the US to be imported and I was very excited to have it out for one last good drive. It’s 1.8 EK1 engine layout is by no means a power house, with only 72hp @ 4500rpms and 94 lb·ft @ 3000 rpm. When you combine the unique CVCC-II layout the engine offers, it’s emissions gets in the way of robbing potential power the iron block can produce. A 32/36 Weber Downdraft carb was fitted on it 4 years ago to replace the aging Keihn and without having dyno measurements, the engine’s pep and responsiveness greatly improved.  A quick checkup earlier that morning at my house lead to everything looking good, minus a small crack in the rubber brake line, but was remedied before departure.

With only 94k miles on the odometer, the car is completely original, but unfortunately it spent it’s winter months with previous owners in Michigan and Ohio state where the road salt started the Preludes body cancer. The cars unibody is still in great shape, but massive efforts are needed to restore panels and sections as the core support beam under the driver is showing some body flex while the shock housings are corroding badly. Its important to note the springs were cut from a previous owner and though it looks great lowered by 2″, it’s handling is greatly changed from stock.

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After departing in groups of 5-7 cars from DB, the 1.8l engine came alive as I followed a beautiful A60 Celica Supra, while my wife driving my daily BB6 behind us. As my co-pilot and I talked about the route we were about to embark, we cracked open the sunroof and rolled down the windows to enjoy the beautiful, crystal clear weather that surrounded the Shenandoah Valley. Our 33 mile route consisted of cruising down a long stretch of I-51 before turning right onto Crabtree Falls Highway and starting the adventure up the mountain. All systems checked good on the cluster, tires felt good and the exhaust hummed at a smooth 3k rpms in fifth as we followed the group upwards on the curvy backside of Blue Ridge.

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The Prelude did surprisingly well climbing the ridge as the car wanted to constantly grab its torque in 4th gear. The Weber sucked in as much air into it’s venturis as it could handle with the throttle constantly planted in the long stretches. The car just felt great and natural taking the climb, but when we started to get into the turns, all four wheels were cemented to the asphalt and it felt surprisingly reassuring for the cut spring setup. With the VW inspired torque rod, sway bar setup in the front that the 1st generation Prelude and 2nd generation Civic share together, first thought would be the front is very unforgiving. Truth of the matter, the suspension layout worked beautifully, the car literally hugging every moderate corner I tackled.

When we reached the peak of the climb, zipping past the Skyline Drive entrance, the downward journey was the worst of the trip for everyone I believe. The group warned very early on before departure that this road would be aggressive to your brakes and after explaining to my friends later on how it was, the best words I used were, “I survived”. With almost 35-36 extremely tight turns that motorcyclists would find slightly challenging (referencing youtube review videos here), the Prelude did well, but I felt it barely kept up with the stressful nature of the cornering. Many times I downshifted to ease the fade on the brakes, but found myself hugging the corners on the edge with the tires barely grabbing traction. The Cooper GT radial tires are generic at best, but the weight of the car constantly shifted around at this point, keeping me in battle of not sliding off the side in certain turns. The look on my friends face during some turns was frightening as his hand gripped the passenger handle tightly. Luckily with driving on the opposite side, I could gauge how far in a turn I was which I absolutely loved.

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Once the road smoothed out and we came up to the fuel station near Lexington, we all pulled off to let the brakes cool, chat and grab some cold drinks (non alcoholic of course) at the station. After almost 45 minutes of chatting with some of the coolest people I’ve spoken too in a long time at a car event, we started the engines back up and headed back over the road once more.

Before departure, I adjusted the fuel mixture screw on the carb to for a more richer mix to help aid the altitude climb and I felt the car pull harder as we went up. This time the road seemed more enjoyable as the Prelude hit all the corners hard and took one corner like butter. The brake fade on the upgraded Accord calipers had went away and the pads bit harder than before on the way back down. There was a few straight stretches that allowed me to accelerate hard and let the engine scream. I kept the tach mostly buried in the 4-5k range while in 4th which is rather high for the 1.8l. Unlike the newer Honda engines, the torque was always there when I needed it, which meant not having to keep up with super high revs to get the power output I needed.

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Once the fun was over, the group all cruised to the Wild Wolf Brewery while my co-pilot and my wife ventured to the Devils Backbone for lunch and to meet up with a good friend. A cold lager from tap and a burger was enough to complete the trip while talking it up about the cars performance and Honda’s in general.

I want to give a huge thank you to JVCA for the invite and allowing me to follow them up for a memorable trip across the ridge. The group plans a fall event similar to this one and I’m looking forward to attending again soon!

For information with their future events or if you’d like to get in contact with the group, check out there Facebook link here: JCVA – Japanese Classics of Virginia – Car Club