Road Tests

Outside of Time: Driving the Clarion Builds 1991 Acura NSX

A Tuner Resto-Mod Fit for The Fast and The Furious

In just six months, the Clarion Builds program took a 1991 Acura NSX with 229,000 miles and breathed life into something both tuner geeks and Honda traditionalists would happily trade a kidney for. Nearly every inch of the car has either been upgraded or replaced with original OEM parts, yielding a fabulous blend of modern performance and faithful restoration.

It wasn’t supposed to shake out like this. For years I’ve lusted after the legendary purity and simplicity of the original Acura NSX — the mid-engine exotic that rocked the 1990s, the humble Honda that sent Italy into a frenzy. Senna’s supercar.

It feels a little like cheating that my first time driving an NSX is in this, the ultimate fantasy NSX for the modern day.

So be it. If cheating feels this good, I’ll cut every corner.

Visually, the Clarion NSX flirts just enough with the JDM tuner look to catch the eye but dodge judgment and dismissal. Custom 19-inch RAYS wheels — savagely huge compared the stock 15-inch fronts and 16-inch rears — give the car somewhat of a slammed stance, but their unique smoky bronze finish ties the whole look together. Aftermarket supplier Downforce supplied the carbon-fiber NSX-R hood, trunk, spoiler and diffuser. The gorgeous blue paint contrasts handsomely with the black door and window surrounds, but the real achievement here is the car’s visual harmony. I didn’t even notice that the fenders are fiberglass and wider than stock because of how seamlessly this NSX is styled.

Acura NSX Clarion rear three quarter in motion 03

Being on the low end of Japanese-guy height at a whopping 5’2”, few cars fit me comfortably. The NSX feels like I’m wearing it. I’m immediately drawn to the charming integration of new and old, with Clarion’s high-end audio, navigation, and camera technologies rubbing elbows with classic 90s Honda switchgear. The graphics on the instrument cluster look like they’re plucked straight from my old 1998 Acura 3.2 TL; my hands are sweating at a level a doctor might find concerning.

It takes surprisingly little effort to depress the clutch pedal as I twist the drab-looking key in the NSX’s ignition. Clawing its way to life behind my head is a 3.2-liter V-6 paired to a six-speed manual gearbox, both yanked out of a 2004 NSX. Attached to the engine is a CT supercharger, bumping power to an estimated 380 hp — on the dyno, the NSX was tested at 343 hp at the wheels. The blower adds invigorating low-end and mid-range torque that you have to work harder for in a naturally aspirated engine. You can ride that wave of power right up to V-TEC at about 6,200 rpm, when it really takes off (slash kicks in, yo).

Clarion turned to AEM for its custom exhaust, and there’s a custom AEM intake as well. At idle, it grumbles with purpose but not offensively so as to wake the neighbors. Lay into it and it builds into a steady growl that never loses its bravado. As you wind the NSX out to its 8,000 rpm redline the car seems to yowl and shriek in delight, but it never feels unsteady or wild. The supercharger adds a deep and healthy whoosh, but by the middle of the rev range that noise is largely drowned out by the simply stupendous sound of the Honda V-6.

Especially for a 25 year-old car, the NSX is as easy as it is rewarding to drive. It’s smooth and controlled, yet always on the forefront of delivering the most minute feedback. In a word, the chassis is brilliant. On winding back roads and highway on-ramps alike, it felt stiff enough to tackle corners aggressively without upsetting the balance of the car. If I didn’t almost run out of gas, I’d probably still be hunting for apexes, stringing corners together like beads on a tire-shredding necklace.

Acura NSX Clarion engine

A car like this feels considerably more settled on good quality roads, which Michigan is known for as much as it is for palm trees and coconuts. Around these parts, the ride would eventually wear on me and I’d most likely downsize the wheels an inch or so in favor of a thicker sidewall. That said, the grip and turn-in feel from the Michelin Pilot Super Sports are tires astounding; the marriage of them with perfect weight balance and the confident cornering capabilities afforded by a KW Variant 3 coilover suspension is wisely conceived. The only downside here is that the limits of the car are a lot higher, meaning you really need to be on a track to safely sample any tail-out dynamics.

On the road, I find myself most struck by the steering, which puts modern racks to shame. The Audi TTS I drove after my time in the NSX felt like it existed in a zero-gravity vacuum, devoid of all sensory input and feedback. The steering is heavy at low speeds, but as soon as you muscle the throttle the car just loosens up, as if it’s finally able to breathe and stretch itself. Another surprise is the StopTech big brake kit. While the meaty stoppers definitely had a bite that’s probably a bit too much for the daily grind, they would be a welcome safety net on a road course.

Clarion’s NSX really does not like to go slow, but while stuck in traffic I did take note of its freshened interior. The re-upholstered seats are plenty supportive, while the driving position and visibility are stellar. I found myself the clear center and focus of the cockpit, and the joy of that setup hasn’t changed much in 25 years. The highlight, though, is the navigation pod that’s sourced from a late-model Japanese-spec NSX that had the optional factory nav. It’s a lovely and sensitive marriage of old and new — faithful, and in this kind of one-off, the details supply the spice.

This is for sure an intensely rich distillation and enhancement of what already makes the NSX great. Clarion Builds did a bang-up job not just producing a rocking tuner NSX, but one that celebrates and respects the foundation of the car itself. It shocked the world 25 years ago, and although this one got a lot more than a fresh coat of paint, the NSX has still got it.

Clarion Builds 1991 Acura NSX Specifications

On Sale: N/A
Price: N/A
Engine: 3.2L supercharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/380 hp (est) @ 7,700 rpm, 247 lb-ft @ 6,100 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA Mileage: N/A
L x W x H: 173.4 in x 71.3 in x 46.1 in (approx.)
Wheelbase: 99.6 in
Weight: 3,200 lb
0-60 MPH: N/A
Top Speed: N/A

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2018 Acura NSX

2018 Acura NSX

MSRP $156,000 Base Coupe