Honda NSX: Future classic

By: Joe Kenwright

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Future classics: Honda NSX. Joe Kenwright takes us through one of wildest cars to ever come from Japan

Honda NSX: Future classic
Future classic: Honda NSX

 

Honda NSX

The Honda NSX, or New Sportscar eXperimental, was a product of that amazing era when the Japanese were emboldened financially and technologically to throw everything they had learned at cars that didn't have to make too much commercial sense. Released in 1991, the NSX represented a moment in time unlikely to be repeated.

Often dismissed as an inferior and sterile attempt to match a contemporary Ferrari, it was less of a sports car than one of the world's best, fastest, safest and beautifully-crafted luxury cars. Yet Ayrton Senna's chassis-tuning coupled with vice-free suspension geometry and suspension travel defined another level of competence for a mid-engined road car even if it could still display snap mid-engined breakaway on the limit.

Construction was a pioneering aluminium monocoque clad in a range of materials in a special Honda facility that delivered finish and build integrity that the Italians could only dream of. Like the Jaguar XJ220, the V6 powerhouse didn't have the on-paper credibility of a V12, V8 or flat-six even if what it achieved was outstanding. From its 2977cc, it delivered 188kW and its atmo delivery was impressive.

Quad cams, titanium conrods and a rigid aluminium block allowed an 8000rpm redline. Honda's VTEC system was the clincher as it generated a change of character beyond 5000rpm that finally challenged the NSX's grip and handling. Perhaps that remains its biggest flaw and achievement: too much like any Honda in average road conditions, then a hint of a really competent exotic but only in the outer margins. There were clear change points and some variations have more appeal than others. A targa roof option arrived in 1995 then a new manual-only 3179cc engine with 206kW and six-speed followed in 1997. Front styling changed subtly at this point. Earlier 1991-95 cars had a mechanical throttle linkage which some prefer over the later drive-by-wire type.

The first and only major appearance change was in early 2002 when the retractable headlights were swapped for exposed projector lens headlights that could do little to disguise what had now become another 1990s wedge. Compared to today's compact supercar sculptures, the NSX's flat panels are dated. At best, it is no more exciting to look at than any number of cheap, wedge-shaped coupes from the era, yet in the flesh it is quite compact by today's standards and has a subtle charm.

To really appreciate its huge $200,000-plus ask when new, it has to still be in factory-original condition with its drop-dead build quality and finish intact. There was no shortage of inferior imports or wrecks that have bypassed the special repairs demanded by its exotic construction. Even at its mid-$40,000 starting point, this is one purchase that needs more careful scrutiny than most as it is doesn't like being hit. Because Honda has flagged plans for a new NSX in 2015, there is potential for a resurgence in interest in the original.

 

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