January 31, 2017 @ 01:03 PM

Legends and Legacies: Honda NSX

The main aim was to beat Ferrari with reliability, but Honda had done more than just beat their rivals, they created a legend

(Image source: classicandperformancecar.com)


Just the other day I was doing some reading up on the golden era of cars. Remember the good old days when cars like the Mazda RX-7 and the Nissan Silvia along with the Honda NSX were born? What about the Ferrari F40 and the McLaren F1? They were all instant hits and were pegged as classics the moment they hit the roads. Unfortunately for us, when the Golden Era ended so did these brilliant cars. While the Nissan Silvia had slowly tapered out of existence and the RX-7 had been accused of killing a few polar bears, one car had made it to the current day and age. The Honda NSX only just received a new generation flip. As a hybrid… A Hybrid Supercar…


It’s hard to believe that the Honda NSX is already 27 years old since Honda had previewed the first prototype in 1989. But the journey of the NSX had started off in 1984 when Honda commissioned Italian designer Pininfarina to draw up the HP-X concept car. It has a mid-mounted engine V6 configuration and Honda had loved it. So when they decided that they wanted to jump on the waggon to create a car to rival the likes of the Ferraris and Germans, they had picked out the HP-X as the car to transform.

(Image source: autoexpress.co.uk)


This means that not only does the new car has to go up against a set of V8 engine monsters but it also has to have the lifespan of a rock because Honda was determined to make reliability the main selling point of the NSX. This is a massive challenge to the engineers but I think they pulled it off brilliantly.


Armed with a 3.0-litre VTEC V6 engine, the first prototype was produced and previewed in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. Honda engineers renamed the prototype to NS-X and, like all Honda cars with abbreviated names, the NS-X also has a straight forward meaning behind it, namely the New Sportscar eXperimental. Don’t be mistaken, though, the abbreviation NS-X was the first prototype and not the production series car, Honda had wisely decided to drop the hyphen for the NSX before they put the car on the road.

Did you know that the NSX is the first production car to feature a body made entirely out of aluminium? This was Honda’s efforts to keep the weight of the car down. Even the suspensions were made of aluminium components allowing Honda to save at least 200kg. Inspiration for the car’s entire design was drawn from an F-16 fighter jet. 


The story goes that Chief Engineer Shigeru Uehara had studied the F-16 fighter jet’s cockpit with great attention so he could give the NSX the same 360-degree view the jet affords its pilots. The F-16 also gave the engineer a better idea on the placement of the engine and the general flow of the car. But amongst all these, Uehara still has to figure out how to shoehorn all of Honda’s latest technologies in the NSX.

So with the inspiration from a fighter jet and the professional guidance of F1 legend Ayrton Senna, the first NSX rolled out of a purpose built factory in Japan just for assembling the NSX. Measuring at a height of 1170mm, the NSX sits only just a little higher than the madhouse that is the Ford GT. The pop-up headlights were a testament of the era’s trend but every line was drawn to make the NSX slip through the wind and mimic the fighter jet’s talent to cut through the air.


And here comes one of the key components of what made the NSX such a brilliant car. Because Honda was the manufacturers of the engine that powered Senna to his multiple championship wins, Senna had returned the favour by testing the NSX out on the Suzuka circuit. Thanks to his tutelage, the NSX’s chassis was further stiffened while the suspension and handling received further improvements. Senna also had the privilege of testing the car at the Nurburgring and other tracks as well. 

As the car went on its production run Honda decided to introduce a few different variants like the NSX Type R in 1992. The NSX-R was a mastery of further weight reduction and a more track focus version of the sports car. It came with specifically designed Recaro seats and sans the audio system, spare tyre, air conditioning system and traction control. The company also released an NSX-R GT as a race car homologation version to fulfil their Super GT ambitions.Further down the NSX’s production line, Honda also introduced a Targa version of the car. While the Coupe had continued its lifespan around the world, the Targa had completely replaced the Coupe in the USA.


In 1997, Honda also introduced a whole set of performance upgrade to the NSX. This saw a five-speed Automatic transmission replace the old four-speeder and a brand new 3.2-litre engine with thinner fibre-reinforced cylinder liner slot into the engine bay. As a result, the NSX had a power output of 290bhp and 305Nm of torque on tap!

(Image source: rac.co.uk)


While the NSX was a masterpiece when it was first launched, interest for the car started to taper off as the Golden Age of car-dom progressively died down. A facelift in 2002 did not help improve the NSX’s popularity, in fact, even the modern age would prefer the pre-facelift version with its pop-up headlight and all. The last first generation NSX rolled out of the factory in 2005 and Honda has since seized production of the beloved Ferrari Fighter.


But thankfully for us, the company decided to make a reboot of the NSX in 2011, it had taken a few hiccups and a few hope-crushing announcements but Honda finally managed to introduce the second generation in 2016. As a hybrid. And designed by a lady no less.


Jerrica Leong


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