Acura NSX history
It was Japan’s first supercar. In the 80’s, lots of sports cars weren’t all that sporty. Ferrari was making some pretty hot V8’s but they were expensive. Founder and supreme advisor of Honda Motor Company, Soichiro Honda, knew his company had the chops to build something better than a Ferrari, and for less money. What they ended up with was perhaps the most eighties car to come out of the eighties. A weird white door stop called the HP-X, which stood for Honda Pininfarina experimental. It was aerodynamic AF and minimalist to the max, so much so that it didn’t even have doors. You climbed in through it the plexiglass roof. And it wasn’t just another boring display car, because it had a motor in it, a cool one, two liter V6 from Honda’s Formula 2 team. While all this HP-X stuff was going on, Honda started racing in F1 again, and their engineers were getting more interested in going fast, so they started playing with mid-engine rear-wheel drive test mules made from a first generation Honda City and a CRX.
They were also just about to launch the luxury Acura brand in the US, and decided that giving the badge a halo car would give it a leg up. The company was getting excited about building a sports car that bridged the gap between F1 and Civics, but it also needed to be comfortable so that you could drive it everyday. With the Ferrari 328 set as a benchmark and using the HP-X as inspiration, Honda got to work on a new project, code name NSX, which stood for new sports car, unknown world. Driver’s experience was a main focus of development. Honda wanted the NSX to great 360 visibility. They kept the cab forward design of the HP-X and took additional inspiration for the greenhouse from F16 fighter jets, F1 cars and hydroplane racing boats.
The new Japanese sports car also needed a bigger engine to compete with the Europeans. The V6 from the Acura Legend wasn’t quite there either, so Honda took VTEC from JDM Integra and combined it with their Formula 1 race tech. All-aluminum 3-liter V6 putting out 270 horsepower. Honda wanted the NSX to have incredible handling. And modern amenities like air conditioning, power windows, traction control and ABS. But having all that stuff in a steel body would make a pretty portly car and they didn’t that. They were going to have to take the weight out of the chassis somehow. After experimenting with high strength steels and carbon fiber, they decided to do it using aluminum, a lot of aluminum. So five specific aluminum alloys were carefully chosen, special processing techniques were developed and an entirely new plant was built to produce the new lightweight monocoque chassis.
In February of 1989, Honda had a few nearly production ready cars in hand and the Acura NSX prototype was set to debut at the Chicago International Motor Show. At the same time over in Japan, a certain F1 driver you may have heard of named Senna, was testing another prototype at the Suzuka race track. After claiming that he didn’t feel qualified to give advice on tuning a mass production car, he told the engineers that it felt “fragile”. Honda scrambled for eight months to give the aluminum chassis more rigidity, and set up their first long-term overseas testing facility at the Nurburgring in the process. The end result was a chassis 50% stiffer than the prototype, and 40% lighter than an equivalent chassis made out of steel. Further testing with Senna, F1 racer, Satoru Nakajima, and indie car champ, Bobby Rahal, turned the NSX into one of the best handling cars ever made. The suspension was a complex work of forged aluminum art. Both the front and rear featured an intricate web of beautiful double wishbones. Up front Honda designed a unique compliance pivot that maintained the same toe setting as the suspension moved to reduce bump steer.
The new Acura NSX was fittingly launched to the automotive media with laps around Laguna Seca and the Nurburgring. The press raved about it’s civilized demeanor and awesome performance in a reliable Honda package. In late 1990, the NSX finally went on sale to high demand. American dealers were keeping cars for themselves instead of selling ‘em, and in Japan, people were put on a three year waiting list to buy one. Only a year into production, Honda invited owners to a track day to give them driving lessons and to pick their brains on how to make their groundbreaking sports car even better.
In 1995, Honda replaced NSX Coupe with the NSX-T, where the T stood for target top, not turbo. Removing the roof reduced the chassis rigidity that the NSX was known for, so they added some more braces to stiffen things up which added more weight. Sales spiked briefly but fell off again the next year.
In 1997, engineers tossed in a bigger 3.2 liter V6 making 290 horsepower. US sales coasted along in cruise control selling just about 200 cars per year.
For 1999, Acura brought back the Coupe with the super limited Alex Zanardi Edition NSX. 50 red cars based on the Japanese market Type-S were built to commemorate Zanardi’s back to back Champ Car championship wins.
In 2002, Honda Committed one of the greatest atrocities ever they killed off the pop-up headlights on the NSX. At this point, even though people said they loved the NSX, not that many people were actually buying the NSX. It stayed pretty much the same car for 15 years and only about 18,000 were sold in the entire world.
2005 was the last year of production for the original Japanese supercar. Just two years later, Honda announced a future V10 supercar was in the works. But by 2008, the economic downturn and the new supercar just wasn’t really on the agenda anymore. Luckily the car-pocalypse was short and in 2010 there were already rumors that another NSX successor was coming. The V10 idea was dead and now it would be a more environmentally-friendly hybrid. After years and years of teasing an impressive new second generation NSX rolled out of an Ohio factory in 2016.
The new NSX is all-wheel drive with a mid-mounted twin-turbo 3.5 liter V6, and three electric motors putting out a supercar worthy 573 horsepower. Lead designer, Michelle Christensen, calls it, “An American muscle car in an Italian exotic car’s body”, and it bares absolutely zero resemblance to the original NSX.