From Prelude To Aftermath
Some of you may know me as "that guy that dailies a turbo MK3 Supra with a welded diff", and that, generally, is an accurate description. Recently, my 31 year old Supra is showing its age. It's been driven hard, and it needs a minor restoration, and in preparation, I've been stacking up the parts boxes and pulling apart the car. This has left me wondering exactly how to get to work, since the Supra is the only (working) car I own.
I strongly considered giving in to the more rational, carefully planning side of me. I went to a local Mazda dealer, test drove a 2018 6 manual, searched out financing, and budgeted for years of loans on it. As discussions carried on, it became clear the dealer thought they had a live one and they rapidly turned what should have been a great deal into a horrible purchase. After three weeks of waiting for the manual model to come in, and four hours sitting in the dealership arguing with some of the only people I’ve ever disliked immediately upon meeting them, I walked away disgusted, and without a daily driver. There was a bright side, however.
An internet friend of mine had recently listed his 1988 Honda Prelude 2.0 SI for sale while I was in the process of looking for a new car. The cost was less than what I’d be making as a down payment on a dealer car, it was in fantastic mechanical condition, in my favorite factory color, had working A/C, and no real issues besides needing a starter and new tires. The catch was that it was located in north Indiana, and I live in southern Texas.
However, Spirit Airlines offered a direct flight from my hometown of Houston to Chicago, about an hour from the car, for $75. My friend was willing to take it in for new tires and replace the starter for me in advance. With this in mind, I immediately cast those reasonable ideas of a reliable new car aside and decided to go retrieve my new daily driver and make an adventure out of it, a fairly not-me decision. While I do enjoy driving and buying ridiculously antiquated sports cars, previous road trips in my also-ancient Supra have gone horribly, and being alone so far from home definitely made me nervous, but it was such a great deal on the car, and so much cheaper to retrieve it myself than ship it, I convinced myself it was the smart choice.
Before I left Houston, I decided to purchase a used Nikon F4 (manufactured in the same year as the Prelude), a few rolls of film, and some very old manual prime Nikkor lenses. I hoped that shooting on film would help make the photography more of an experience to enjoy, rather than a chore. Because of the luggage restrictions that Spirit has (and being on a fairly tight budget) this film camera setup and a few changes of clothes was all I was able to bring with me, so I would need to rely on my bare hands and limping the car to a parts store with rental tools if anything broke on the trip home. I had more butterflies in my stomach than I normally do for air travel as I took off for Chicago, no small feat for someone who is already white-knuckled on every plane landing.
Immediately upon landing in Chicago, however, excitement overwhelmed fear, and the fun began, as I hopped in my friend’s track-prepped NA Miata. It was set up for road racing at GridLife, an American motorsports festival, but he brought out on public, potholed roads, just to pick me up from the airport. We never had met before in person, but we hit it off immediately nonetheless. We took a quick detour to see another internet friend of mine, the creator of the blessed @itsvantime on Twitter, who was in town for the Indy 500, and then we stopped at a local diner and spotted this mint Grand National out front with a spot open next to it. I am ordinarily very cynical, but something about this trip made me very superstitious, and I took the menacing, rare turbo Buick as a blessing from the car gods above for good luck on my journey.
Very early next morning, I left my friend’s house in Indiana. I had already hit the first major snag - Indiana didn’t offer temporary license plates to private sale cars (instead, it is legal to drive a new car with no plates), and Texas didn’t offer temporary tags to vehicles sold out of state (a recent law change). This meant I had to drive through virtually the entire Midwest in a car with no plates, which was legal, but still anxiety-inducing.
A few hundred miles through rural Illinois, however, and I began to feel better. The car was performing great - it was comfortable, running like it was brand new, and even getting great mileage. The only modern convenience added to it since it was sold was a new head unit, so I could play music through my phone easily. Everything else was exactly as it was sold, minus the 80s-era Centra wheels with fresh rubber mounted. Driving the rural farm roads so early in the morning, I would go ten to twenty minutes without seeing another car, and it was easy to forget what decade it was as I blasted synthpop in this glorious time-capsule of a Honda.
The first planned stop was Peoria, IL. I have another internet friend there who I wanted to visit (how often does a person from Texas find themselves near Peoria?) and he told me about a park that I could use as a photograph spot. In 1922, this bridge was constructed in the middle of Illinois, as Japanese design and architecture influences made their way to the West after the opening of Japan in the late 1800s to foreigners. Almost 100 years after it was built, it made a gorgeous backdrop for pictures of my 31 year old car that itself was a significant marker of the appeals of Japanese design to Americans.
After a wonderful lunch with my friend and his wife at their inviting, Studio-Ghibli-movie level idyllic home, a tornado warning was issued for the segment of road I had to drive directly through on the next leg of the trip. I decided to burn some time in Peoria to dodge the storm, and got the chance to hit some true touge passes, thanks to my friend’s knowledge of the city. Peoria is built into the bluffs of the Illinois River, and they have many tiny, twisty roads with massive elevation changes built into the rocky hills. Here, the car shone.
I had been driving the car along relatively flat plains highways up to this point, and while it was clearly a great mile-eater, smacking apexes down tight, narrow downhill roads was much more its forte. Here I learned the true nature of the purchase I made: a car comfortable enough to drive hundreds of miles in without much thought, but also one of the best FWD sports coupes I’ve ever driven. The front end would gently plow with the economy all-seasons on the narrow Centras if I overcooked it into a corner, but it did so in a predictable and easy-to-control manner. The early variant B20, despite lacking VTEC, was more than peppy enough to have an absolute blast heel-and-toeing into downhill hairpins, and the suspension was firm enough to keep the car from ever feeling numb or difficult to predict. I fell deeper in love with this fantastic and dependable car.
After my joyous touge runs, it was time to hit the highways again. I spent most of the rest of the trip enjoying clear skies and good weather, and took full advantage of the (fully electric!) sunroof my car had been optioned with some thirty years earlier. After many quiet hours I finally approached the next planned stop, which I had put on the itinerary just for this one picture.
I was pretty happy when I got the scans back and this one came out well.
You may be wondering: This maniac drove across America with no license plates. Surely he didn’t make it back without incident. You would be correct! I was pulled over twice, the first shortly after leaving St. Louis. With insurance, a signed bill of sale and title, no previous driving infractions on my record, and an explanation of the situation, both times I was simply told to drive safely home after a VIN check. The second officer (a trooper in Texas) even let me take a quick shot of his cruiser behind me after the traffic stop was resolved.
After letting out a huge sigh of relief that I had been pulled over and not gotten my car impounded, I began to realize that the next stop might be slightly out of reach because of the tornado delay. I desperately wanted to make it to Memphis to see another city I would rarely have an excuse to be near again, but after 600 miles in a day in an unfamiliar new car with no plates, I gave up at the border of Arkansas and realized I needed to stop and sleep.
After a good nights’ rest, I began the drive through all of Arkansas. The next leg had no major planned stops - it was simply to get to Dallas, where I was staying with another friend of mine, and visiting some other friends (the ones who bought a BMW for 13 cents a pound and took it to Radwood Austin. They’re pretty cool).
The car had experienced its first anomaly the previous day - the speedo would sometimes take a break for a bit before resuming reading the speed I was going. I still had all other gauges, and it worked most of the time, and I had already memorized the speed-to-RPM calculations, so it was nothing worth stopping for. At this point, I had checked the oil repeatedly, and it had not lost a drop - an incredible feat for any thirty year old car, much less a high-revving Honda I had wrung out on some mountain roads in-between long, long highway stints. I had fully expected the car to have a major break down at least once, simply because my Supra usually does, but I had forgotten I was driving a Honda, and they simply don’t do that.
The one notable part of this leg of the journey was getting lost on service roads in Texarkana trying to find gas. For you non-Americans, yes, we just blended "Texas" and "Arkansas" together, and called a town that. As I stumbled along the side roads trying to find a gas pump, I found a Honda dealer. After an obligatory snap of it parked out in front, a few salespeople talked with me about the car and took a shot of me in front, which is the the only pic of me on either roll I shot. I look like trash, having skipped a shave that morning, and wearing the only pair of shorts I could cram into my single carry on, and this is definitely my new favorite pic of me.
After a great night with my friends and a film roll change, I was back on the road, driving through Texas from Houston to Dallas. I had already turned the odometer’s third digit over from when I bought the car, and the final leg was a relatively easy 300-odd miles. At this point, I was fairly excited to get home - the car had been fantastic, but my body is not, and I was sore from the thousand-plus miles I had covered so far.
The remaining day was largely uneventful, aside from being pulled over once. I had only one planned stop at what many would call the greatest Texas institution of all.
For non-Texans: This is a Buc-ee’s. If you’re a Texan, feel free to skip this; you know it all already. They are a Texas gas station and service plaza that appear all over our highways, and the smiling, hatted beaver logo is a beacon of joy to weary Texas travellers. Renowned for having hundreds of pumps, massive grocery-store size shopping areas, and bathrooms that can rival a subdivision for square acreage, they are the home base of road trips in Texas.
I hit traffic in the city of Houston, of course - really the only notable traffic on the entire trip. However, I will never forget the last five miles of this trip. After a few days driving by yourself, through territory you have never seen, finally driving down streets you traverse daily is an odd, almost alien feeling. I refused to allow myself to even think I would make it back with no issue until my tires were in the driveway, but I could feel my heartrate rising with each turn through my oh-so-familiar subdivision.
And then, one thousand, three hundred and eighty five miles older, I parked my new Prelude next to my old Supra, shut the hard working B20 off, and sat back and cried. I am not an adventurous person. I am wracked with anxiety and I frequently worry over even the most trivial issues that most people wouldn’t think twice about. Undertaking a huge, impossible-to-truly plan trip like this was a massive deal for me. I got to see so many friends I have talked with for years that I never would be able to physically meet otherwise, made incredible memories, truly rediscovered my love of photography, and I’m so glad I was temporarily stupid enough to talk myself into this trip.
Upon returning to Houston, I still had a bit of film left on the second roll to go through, so I decided to take my new car to my favorite local gathering - Catalina Coffee on any given Sunday morning. It was, as usual, a fantastic showing, and the Prelude was well-received. What better way to celebrate a successful journey than sharing it with your friends?
If you gain nothing else from reading this article, I hope you feel a sense of inspiration to go do something a little unplanned yourself, and to remember what makes owning a car such a rewarding experience. I feel that modern life is relentlessly planned, and repetitive, and usually dull. It’s hard to shake the monotony of existing sometimes, and when I try to, my anxiety usually talks me down from doing so. For a great weekend, though, I had fun, I was tired, I was excited, I was nervous, I was bored, I was happy, and above all, I felt alive. I feel like it was something I am better for having done. If you can ever take a fun trip, see friends you’ve only had online, visit places you have no real reason to be - I highly recommend it. For what it’s worth, excluding the cost of the car, I completed my trip for about $350 USD, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be unattainable, either.
View the remainder of my two rolls on my Flickr.