Monday, November 26, 2007

November 2007 Dream Car of the Month - Acura NSX

2002 Acura NSX

The year was 1989 and Honda, best known in the U.S. for smaller, light, fuel efficient cars, introduced the stunning NSX at the Chicago Auto Show. The world of exotic sports cars would change forever. Honda at the time was dominating Formula 1 on their way to winning six consecutive manufacturer's titles (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991). The NSX (New Sportscar eXperimental) was to showcase Honda's racing technology in a road car.

The car officially went on sale in 1990 in the U.S. as a 1991 model in Honda's Acura lineup. It was sold as an Acura because Honda was associated with mainstream reasonably priced cars and they felt people would not pay what they were asking for the car if it was sold as a Honda. Acura on the other hand was a more upscale, luxury division of Honda. At it's introduction the NSX was the most expensive Japanese car ever sold in the United States. The car was sold elsewhere in the world as a Honda since Acura did not exist outside of North America.

The NSX featured many design aspects that were way ahead of their time. It featured a very rigid but light aluminum monocoque chassis along with aluminum suspension and body. The NSX was the first production car to feature such extensive use of aluminum. The race derived, mid mounted V6 used titanium connecting rods and redlined at 8,000 rpm. It featured Honda's revolutionary VTEC variable timing system and marked the first time this system was used on a vehicle sold outside of Japan. In 1990 the NSX's 3.0L engine produced 270HP and 210TQ and at one time was the highest output, per liter, of any production normally aspirated V6 in the world.

The car was designed in house by Honda and led by Chief Designer Ken Okuyama and Executive Chief Engineer Shigeru Uehara, who was also in charge of the S2000 project. Japanese Formula 1 driver Satoru Nakajima was involved in development along with fellow Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna and American race driver Bobby Rahal. The cars were hand assembled initially in Tochigi by about 200 specially selected workers from various Honda manufacturing facilities. Production was later (2004) moved to the Suzuka plant for the remainder of the car's production.

Production of the NSX lasted from 1990 to 2005 with some minor changes and refinements throughout the run. In 1995 a targa NSX-T was introduced as an option in Japan and replaced the coupe in the United States. The coupe could still be special ordered. The removal of the roof section necessitated adding over 100lbs of reinforcing structure to the chassis. The suspension was also softened up for a better ride and more predictable handling. In 1997 engine displacement rose from 3.0l to 3.2l and power went up to 290HP and 224TQ. The original 5spd transmission was replaced with a 6spd and gear ratios were also revised for added performance. Brakes also grew from 12 inches to 13 which required new, larger wheels. In 2002 the NSX received a visual facelift with the addition of fixed HID headlights and other minor cosmetic changes. The optional fixed roof was dropped altogether.

1992 NSX-R

Throughout the production run there were also various special editions sold mostly in Japan. In 1992 Honda began production of the limited edition NSX-R. About 483 of these were built for the Japanese market and they included a blueprinted engine making 280HP along with extensive weight reduction, more aggressive gearing, and stiffer suspension. The car was very purposeful and track oriented as it did not come with sound deadening, a radio, or air conditioning. The production of this first generation NSX-R lasted until 1995. There were also other Japanses market only editions dubbed NSX TypeS and S-Zero. These models debuted in 1997 and and were lighter weight with stiffer suspension than the standard model. In 1999 the Alex Zanardi edition NSX was introduced exclusively for the U.S. market. This model commemorated Zanardi's two back to back Champ Car championships for Honda. The Zanardi cars were similar to Japan's NSX TypeS. In 2002 the NSX-R returned in Japan. Again, the car featured extensive weight reduction along with various aerodynamic enhancements. There was also an NSX-R GT released with a production run of only five cars at a price of $462,400. These cars were created to help Honda enter the Super GT race series in Japan which required that the race cars be production based. The NSX-R GT cars featured snorkel air scoops and a wider body along with lower suspension.

2002 NSX-R

Performance numbers for the NSX were better than the power numbers would suggest. This was mainly due to the relative light weight of the car. In 1990 the NSX made about 30HP less than the Ferrari 348 but it was over 300lbs lighter resulting in the NSX being faster in a straight line. Tests showed that 3.0L NSXs hit 60mph in about 5.4 seconds and the 1/4 mile in around 13.8 - 14.0 seconds. The 3.2L cars would hit 60 in 4.5 seconds and the 1/4 mile in around 13.3 seconds while the special editions were even faster with the Zanardi running 13.0 in the 1/4 mile and the NSX-R ripping through in 12.5.

Production of the NSX lasted for 15 years and around 8,900 cars were sold making it a pretty rare site on the road. Even so, it is the car that caused major changes and a sort of renaissance in the exotic car market. Combining beauty, performance and Japanese reliability, it was the first car that could be described as an everyday supercar. At the time, comfort and reliability were relatively unheard of in the supercar/exotic market. Most owners accepted the flaws of their supercars as an acceptable trade off for the exclusivity and performance they possessed. The NSX scared manufacturers like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche so much that in the years following the NSX's release these other manufacturers had no choice but to make their cars better and better. The NSX raised the standard for an exotic sports car. No longer was it good enough for the car to be beautiful and fast, it also had to be comfortable and reliable.

Honda has promised a replacement for the NSX which should arrive within then next few years. Initial concepts showed another mid engined exotic type car but more recently they have changed to a front engined GT car more resembling the BMW M6 or Ferrari 599. The car reportedly will have a Formula 1 derived V10 with over 500HP and a sequential manual gearbox mated to Acura/Honda's SH-AWD all wheel drive system. I'd much prefer a true mid engined successor.

Acura HSC Concept - Mid Engine

Acura ASC Concept - Front Engine

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