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Thread: Acura NSX - retrospective

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Acura NSX - retrospective


    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.

    END

  2. #2
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    A good example of how important 'image' is!

    Ferrari doesn't build Civics!

    ...and Honda didn't even have the 'Acura' badge to hide behind in Europe.

  3. #3
    mrblanche
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    But the Japanese in general, and Honda specifically, did for the Ferrari what they did for the Harley. They turned a sledgehammer into a stilleto. Today, every one of the Japanese motorcycle companies builds the Harley that Harley would build if they knew how to build them right, while Harley continues to cling to ideas that for anyone else would be called "defects," but which Harley refers to as "character."

    They did the same thing for the British 2-seat roadster when they built the Miata, too.

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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    But Harley understands the value of good chrome.
    The Japanese brands simply don't look as good.

    Chip H.

    Former owner: 2012 Honda Civic LX, 2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL, 2000 Honda CR-V EX, 2003 MINI Cooper S, 1992 Honda Accord LX, 1999 Mercedes ML-320, 1995 VW Jetta GLX, 1991 Mercury Capri XR2, 1981 Mercury Zephyr, 1975 Chevrolet Impala

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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    >>The Japanese brands simply don't look as good.<<

    Nothing prettier than a Honda Gold wing----


  6. #6
    TC
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    Quote Originally Posted by chiph
    But Harley understands the value of good chrome.
    The Japanese brands simply don't look as good.

    Chip H.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and some of those high handlebars on Harleys look ridiculous to me.

  7. #7
    mrblanche
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    Quote Originally Posted by chiph
    But Harley understands the value of good chrome.
    The Japanese brands simply don't look as good.

    Chip H.
    I have a friend who is a Harley mechanic, and he would disagree with you. The quality of chrome plating on anything in the U.S. has gone down signficantly in the last 10 years.

  8. #8
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    That is true. But when comparing a Nighthawk with a Fatboy -- the chrome on the Fatboy has a much deeper shine and reflection.

    Chip H.

    Former owner: 2012 Honda Civic LX, 2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL, 2000 Honda CR-V EX, 2003 MINI Cooper S, 1992 Honda Accord LX, 1999 Mercedes ML-320, 1995 VW Jetta GLX, 1991 Mercury Capri XR2, 1981 Mercury Zephyr, 1975 Chevrolet Impala

  9. #9
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    Quote Originally Posted by mrblanche
    But the Japanese in general, and Honda specifically, did for the Ferrari what they did for the Harley. They turned a sledgehammer into a stilleto. Today, every one of the Japanese motorcycle companies builds the Harley that Harley would build if they knew how to build them right, while Harley continues to cling to ideas that for anyone else would be called "defects," but which Harley refers to as "character."

    They did the same thing for the British 2-seat roadster when they built the Miata, too.
    Well said.

    And let's not forget the other thing: In the case of both the NSX and the Japo Harleys, the Japanese versions cost less than the "originals" (Ferraris/Harleys) they emulated...

  10. #10
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    Quote Originally Posted by chiph
    That is true. But when comparing a Nighthawk with a Fatboy -- the chrome on the Fatboy has a much deeper shine and reflection.

    Chip H.
    Dunno if that's a fair comparison!

    The Nighthawk is Honda's least expensive street bike; less than $7,000 for the 750 cc model brand new. You might be able to buy a well-used Sportster for that.. but forget about a new one.

  11. #11
    mrblanche
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    OK, I'll cause some trouble here:

    I've told many other truck drivers that, in my opinion, Peterbilts and Harleys are a lot alike. They're overpriced, noisy, and designs that have been around for a long time, but they both look like their type of vehicle is "supposed" to look. So if you want something big and shiny that you want to polish, tinker with, sit and look and, and resell for a good price to someone else who wants the same thing, buy one. If you want a vehicle to travel or work with, that is efficient, well-built, reasonable to buy, and low in maintenance, buy something else.

  12. #12
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    I know next to nothing about heavy trucks, so I will leave that one alone!

    But on bikes - and the Harley vs. Japanese thing:

    Subjectively, I would not buy a Harley because these bikes have become "trendy" - with the typical rider being an overweight, 40-something "wanna be" who hardly knows how to ride and who got the bike to "look cool" (in his faux biker outfit). All that crap just turns me off. It's like seeing some old guido driving a Porsche - not because it's a superb sports car - but because he thinks he looks "hot" in it (and may get a girl to notice him).

    The trendiness of Harleys has driven the cost of these bikes to ridiculous levels. The base model Sporster (a small bike that most larger guys can't ride without looking silly) is nearly $10,000 - without the inevitable "accessories."

    That is insane. One can buy a larger, more substantial bike from Yamaha, Honda or Suzuki - for less. And it will probably be more reliable.

    The only positive things I can think of as far as Harleys go is the "history" and "cachet" of the brand - and that they do tend t hold their value better (see all the above).

  13. #13
    mrblanche
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    I once took an outboard engine class at a community college where all the local Kawasaki mechanics trained on all the new bikes every year. They had an example of every current model, which they disassembled and reassembled repeatedly.

    At the end of each year, Kawasaki came and picked them all up, crushed them in a wad, and shipped them back to Japan. The teacher of the class had tears in his eyes every year when that happened. Liability, you know.

    Of course, the only thing "Peterbilt" about a Pete is the cab and hood. Everything else is supplied by standard manufacturers. In fact, at Werner, if you were in the oil-change pit, you couldn't tell if the truck above you was a Peterbilt or a Freightliner without getting out and looking at the body. All the parts underneath (radiator, engine, transmission, drive shaft, rear ends) were identical.

  14. #14
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    Re: Acura NSX - retrospective

    That was a good retrospective on the NSX. Thats when Acura was pumping out distinctive automobiles.

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