Launched shortly after Acura itself -- and just five years after the introduction in 1986 of the Legend sedan -- the NSX project was part of an audacious strategy to pump up the panache of Honda's then-new luxury line by offering a machine with Ferrari-levels of performance -- but without the "fix it again, Tony" hassles that often came with the purchase of an exotic high-performance sports car.

The NSX featured technology never before seen in a production car -- including the first application of Honda's VTEC variable cam timing system, an FI-derived fuel injection/engine management system -- and titanium connecting rods in the free-revving (8,500 RPM) mid-mounted DOHC all-alloy V-6 engine.

Each car was virtually hand-assembled in a special plant at Tochigi by a select group of workers -- to assure quality control.

On average, fewer than 25 cars were built per day.

The double-wishbone suspension (with forged aluminum control arms) was mounted onto lightweight/high-strength aluminum subframes -- another FI-inspired design intended to reduce unsprung mass as well as isolate vibration and drivetrain harshness, keeping it away from the passenger cabin. High capacity brakes and forged aluminum 17-inch rims planted the car's corners -- while the cab forward cockpit not only looked very much like what you'd see blasting around an IMSA-GTP circuit, it provided the driver with excellent visibility.

The car's chassis was sorted out at places like the Tochigi Proving Grounds, the Suzuka circuit and the 179-turn Nurburgring course in Germany. Professional input was provided by three-time Formula One World Champion Ayrton Senna, Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal and Formula One driver Satoru Nakajima, among others.

The result was a car that had limits of grip so high even a mediocre driver with a little bit of nerve could get away with moves that would have left better drivers in lesser cars kissing the wall.

At the same time, the NSX got about the same gas mileage as a V-6 family sedan -- when driven moderately, anyhow -- and excepting its two-seater configuration and low-slung seating position, was just as easy to drive in day to day traffic. It didn't overheat, it didn't burn up clutches every 15,000 miles -- or require constant (and expensive) tuning.

What it did do was combine the eye-candy looks of a Ferrari Dino or Lamborghini Miura with superior performance in a package so well-engineered it could be driven to work, in traffic, every single day of the year.

And it did so for a fraction of the cost of an Italian stallion.

Needless to say, the gambit worked. Acura is today one of the most respected Japanese luxury car lines -- and the NSX has become a legend.

A key reason for the car's appeal was its sense of balance -- as much as its formidable capability and superb design. It differed from traditional exotics in that it relied on a favorable power-to-weight ratio rather than overkill power to deliver supercar levels of acceleration and top speed. The heart of the NSX, mounted just behind the driver, was a 3 liter DOHC V-6 packing 270 hp -- which didn't seem like a very big number compared with 400-hp V-12s. But extensive use of lightweight materials -- including an aluminum bodyshell that weighed just 462 pounds -- gave the NSX a top speed 20-30 mph higher than contemporary V-8 muscle machines such as Chevy's Camaro Z28 or the Ford Mustang GT and allowed it to meet (and even beat) the V-12 bruisers of Ferrari and Lamborghini.

Best of all, the standard climate control AC actually kept the car comfortable, whether it was 20 degrees outside -- or 101.

The basic design of this car was so good -- and so far ahead of its time -- that only a few tweaks were ever needed over its 15 year run to maintain its position as one of the world's best all-out sports cars. There was a bump in engine displacement to 3.2 liters (and output to 290-hp) in '97, the same year a new six-speed manual transaxle became standard. And a targa roof model (the NSX-T) bowed in '95. There were also some minor cosmetic changes over the years -- but the basic profile of the car remained largely the same.

It was simply not necessary to gild the lilly.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the NSX, in retrospect, was its ability to stay on top for so many years in a business where six years is often the outer edge of a new car design's life-cycle. Yet even after more than a decade in production, an NSX could go up against much newer cars and not feel (or look) like yesterday's news. A model year 2000 NSX, for example, was still a more modern (and capable) car than the 2000 Corvette -- despite being a decade old at the time. It would take Chevrolet another few years to build a Corvette that offered the kind of agility and balance (let alone technology and refinement) the NSX was offering back when the first George Bush was still president.

Among cars built during the past 30 years, only the evergreen Porsche 911 is its peer in terms of enduring excellence -- an incredible achievement when you stop to remember that Acura, as a brand, didn't even exist just five years prior to the launch of the NSX. Porsche spent decades building up the fearsome reputation of the 911 -- with many years of not-so-hot models (such as the 914 and 924) in between. Acura, on the other hand, hit the ball out of the park on the first try. And that 1991 home run was still a major leaguer as recently as 2005 -- its 175 mph top speed still commanding respect, its 5-second to 60 mph times more than sufficient to pummel all but a handful of the world's most elite performance cars. And its IMSA-looking low-slung all-aluminum coachwork hasn't lost a step insofar as its ability to turns heads and draws crowds wherever it travels.

That's not likely to change in the years ahead, either -- the true mark of a legend.

A final note about the NSX is its accessibility to collectors. Unlike most Ferraris and other traditional Euro-exotics, it is possible to obtain a well-kept NSX for about what you'd pay for a loaded-up mid-sized SUV. And because of its long production life, it's not difficult to locate a good one (some 14,000 were built between 1991 and 2005). The only caveat is to watch out for the detuned/automatic models -- which after 1997 came with smaller, 252-hp versions of the DOHC V-6. Also be aware that the '95 and later targa roof models are about 100-lbs. heavier -- and the removable roof section cost the car some of its legendary structural rigidity.

That said, the NSX remains the gold standard for everyday exotics -- and in a class all by itself.

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