Driving the 1991 Acura NSX to Radwood
We wheel an iconic supercar to earth's raddest car show
Do you remember when you first saw an Acura NSX? Maybe it was a car show, in a magazine, or on TV. For me, it was in the Universal Studios lot, a black first-generation example with black wheels. I remember thinking it looked sinister, sporty, and exotic. I still have the low-resolution cellphone photo I took all those years ago, the wedge-like Acura parked somewhat awkwardly on a tarmac slope.
Since then, the NSX has been one of my dream cars. I've built and raced them in video games and taken photos of nearly every single one I've seen. Last year, I tried my hand at proper VTEC power in a 2001 Acura Integra Type R ahead of Radwood SoCal, which celebrates cars from the 1980s and 1990s with a sense of lighthearted nostalgia, whetting my appetite to drive the NSX all the more.
This year, Acura was kind enough to lend me its oldest road-going example of the groundbreaking supercar ahead of this year's Radwood in Orange County. On the Friday before the show, I headed over to Honda's HQ in Torrance and picked up the keys to the silver VIN 52 NSX, a preproduction build that predates the first customer car by 10 units. As such, our test car had over 60,000 miles on the odometer. That doesn't mean it wasn't a great driver; Acura refreshed the paint, updated the internals, and touched up the interior where it needed it.
This 1991 model featured a 3.0-liter V-6 at its heart, churning out a hearty 270 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque. It revs to a screaming 8,000 rpm, and doing so is highly recommended. Gear changes are handled by a five-speed manual transmission with short and satisfyingly snappy throws. Its power is more than plenty for a car that weighs just 3,010 lbs. In most cases, hitting redline in second gear means you're over the speed limit.
All of which is to say the first-generation NSX is still bonkers fast today. It hits its stride once the engine enters the VTEC zone; peak power is made at 7,100 rpm. Figure a 0-60 mph time comfortably under six seconds. The excitement builds as acceleration continues; the V-6 offers plenty of power to keep pulling well beyond any posted speed limit in the United States.
Our test car didn't have power steering - but that just helped the NSX feel even more tactile and mechanical. It helps that the driver operates the throttle and brake by cable. On twisty roads the NSX is a surprisingly stable and willing companion. Its best to let the engine live at high RPMs, when power and torque availability seems instant. Four-channel ABS was one of the car's significant engineering features and was a welcome safety net considering that this is the oldest example in the United States.
As a show car, the NSX drew plenty of eyeballs at Radwood as part of Acura's display, which included the 350-hp restomod SLX SUV and a first-generation Integra. It was only one of two NSXs that we saw on site. Even in the rain and mud, the low-slung silver sportscar drew spectators in for a closer look. Getting out of the park was only the slightest bit dicey as the performance-oriented tires struggled for grip on the soaked soil.
Although it came straight from Acura's collection, our NSX did have some issues that needed attention. For one, the radio was out, although this wasn't too much of a problem because the naturally aspirated engine is one of the best sounding V-6s out there. The left mirror didn't quite fully articulate and the trunk lid struts no longer could support the weight of the deck. The third gear synchro seemed to be somewhat temperamental and on occasion it was impossible to shift into reverse gear.
Fortunately, I was just the guinea pig for this refreshed NSX; Acura will continue to tighten it up so it can be driven as it deserves to be. Representatives from the brand told me the car isn't meant to ever be fully restored. It'll be a driver, with a somewhat worn interior and some slight imperfections. This way, Acura can continue to share its brand lineage through the vehicle that helped solidify its place in the luxury performance space.
My net impression is that the NSX is the Miata of supercars from its era. It isn't the most powerful of expensive, but it's always a respectable choice and will always satisfy in nearly every situation. I had no problem commuting, shopping, carving canyons, or cruising freeways in the NSX. As far as meet-your-heroes moments go, this is one that I'll forever remember with fondness. Check out our video to see our journey to Radwood.