When Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted on September 28, 1987 it was clear that this new show would be a departure from the occasionally campy escapades of the original. For one thing, the two-fisted antics from Captain James T. Kirk were gone, replaced by the more cerebral Jean-Luc Picard. Played by veteran British theatre actor Sir Patrick Stewart, Picard was a sort of space monk, a stickler for discipline and a frequent drinker of tea (Earl Grey, hot). The sensible sort of person who would, and did, show up to set every day in a silver Honda Prelude.
William Shatner, who played Kirk, drove a Chevy Corvette of course. At the time the original series aired in 1968-69, so did many actual NASA astronauts, particularly those involved in the Apollo program. It fit the test-pilot fighter-jock attitude of these frontier explorers. Leonard Nimoy, who played Spock, drove a black Buick Riviera, and appears to have been perpetually bemused by Shatner’s scorching around. Shatner, in turn, once had Nimoy’s Buick towed as a joke. This is all so on-brand for their fictional characters, I’m not entirely sure there was any acting going on.
Captain Picard, on the other hand, would leave all that sort of nonsense for his hirsute first officer. Sir Stewart had come from the traditions of Shakespearean acting, and took his work on the reborn Star Trek very seriously. That he bought and commuted to the studio in a Honda Prelude, even as ST:TNG achieved breakout success and huge salaries for the cast, is again just perfectly on-brand.
Stewart, now 83, has a new memoir out aptly titled Making It So. In it, he describes how he ended up behind the wheel of a Honda:
One change noticeable as we began Season Two was evident in the parking lot. Each older car with thousands of miles on it had been replaced by a brand-new Audi or Mercedes and such. Michael Dorn, a licensed pilot, even bought himself a small plane. Me? I drove a Honda in London, so went to the Honda showroom in Beverly Hills and selected a brand-new silver Prelude.
It should be noted here that Dorn ended up eventually buying an F-86 Sabre, which is exactly the kind of thing Lt Worf would do. But there is another nice facet to Stewart’s choice of a Honda. In his theatre days, he was often mistaken for British F1 star Sir Stirling Moss. They pair have roughly the same build and, perhaps more importantly, the same follicular poverty. What did Sir Stirling drive around London in his later days? A silver Honda Acty van — which is still in Honda’s UK press fleet.
As for Sir Stewart’s Prelude, his castmates ended up teasing him mercilessly about it, especially Jonathan Frakes. Once, out for dinner, the entire cast turned their backs on him as his Honda was brought around by the valet. Even so, Sir Stewart appears to have kept it around for several years before acquiring more swish transport, namely a Jaguar.
Later in life, Stewart has been linked with Porsche hybrids, and perhaps he will be tempted by the new electrified Prelude. He doesn’t mention what happened to that old silver third-generation Prelude. But in all likelihood it was a manual, him being from the UK and, if it stayed in California, the car is likely to have survived. Which means that somewhere out there right now, someone is very possibly fixing up a popup-headlight Prelude that once belonged to Jean-Luc Picard.
If you’e a Honda fan, then it just makes you like Sir Stewart more. And if you have a Prelude yourself, you now have permission, every time you point your car’s nose down an onramp, to whisper, “Engage,” under your breath, then pin the throttle wide open.