For a lightweight, the threw a mighty punch felt ’round the world. After mimicking every significant design from the Chrysler Airflow to the Jaguar E-type, the Japanese finally challenged a sacred deity. The NSX is the ninja warrior that gave Ferrari a licking.
Conventional wisdom circa 1990 insisted that a V-8 or a turbocharger were essential to a sports car’s manliness. Honda instead built a factory capable of knitting aluminum stampings, castings, forgings, and extrusions into a thing of unibody beauty. The NSX’s bare shell weighed less than 500 pounds. Cast and forged suspension components looked light and lacy enough to be from the Hindenburg. Ready to romp, the world’s first “all-aluminum” car weighed barely 3000 pounds-ten percent less than a Ferrari 348.
With Honda as a parent, the NSX was born well endowed with power. Variable valve timing, standard practice in the superbike world, invaded the four-wheel realm with the arrival of Acura‘s supercar. The first-generation VTEC (Variable Timing and lift Electronic Control) shifted intake and exhaust valve operation in the racy direction above 6000 rpm, facilitating the 3.0-liter, 24-valve V-6’s 8000-rpm redline. To hike the power curve to 270 hp at 7100 rpm, the NSX’s cylinder-deprived engine was also blessed with a two-mode intake manifold. Titanium connecting rods kept the whirring contained at speed.
As significant as what Honda put into its prizefighter is what was left out: adjustable dampers, power steering (available only with the less desirable automatic transmission), and most of the electronic gimmicks infesting today’s cars.
Ayrton Senna helped refine the NSX’s dynamic behavior with tests at the Nrburgring a decade or so before virtually every other carmaker identified this track as the Holy Grail. The result was a sports car with brilliant performance, an endearing spirit, and totally honest reflexes. Except for an early tendency to wear out its rear tires in 10,000 miles, the Acura NSX was vice-free.
Currently on hiatus, the NSX is scheduled to return in a few years. Honda is tuning up a V-10 for the revival.