Back in the ’80s things were simple. If you wanted a good, cheap and reliable family hatchback you went to the Japanese. If you wanted to set your hair on fire with a red-blooded supercar it was easy, you went to the Italians. There could be some drawbacks however. That Italian styling and passion weren’t always matched with reliability and you needed deep pockets to run something Italian and exotic. But that’s what you’re buying into isnt it?
Honda didn’t agree. In 1990 they shocked the establishment by releasing the NSX (New Sportscar eXperimental). An all aluminuim monocoque chassised, mid mounted V6 supercar with dynamics co-developed by none other than Ayrton Senna.
Not only did Honda prove that the Japanese could produce a supercar that looked and went every bit as well, if not better than it’s Italian rivals, it also set out to prove that owning one didnt have to be the preserve of hairy chested driving gods with phone number bank balances. The NSX was as easy to drive as a Civic but could get to 60 in just 5 seconds and handled like a proper supercar should.
In 1984, Honda comissioned Pininfarina to design something that would showcase what Honda could be capable of. The HP-X concept car was the result. The mid-engined design might not have been intended for the market but it was an indication of Hondas intentions to persue the idea of a high performance mid-engined sportscar. The HP-X was just a show car but Honda wanted to develop something for the road, something that would have to meet or exceed the performance of the target Ferrari 348 while at the same time cost less and be more reliable.
The NSX featured a 3.0 litre normally aspirated 270bhp VTEC V6 engine (mounted transversely) mated to a 5 speed gearbox. An automatic version was also produced. The lightweight aluminium chassis also featured double wishbone suspension front and rear, forged control arms and forged wheels. Honda applied exacting production methods to producing their supercar. Only 200 of the very highest skilled and experienced workers were assigned to produce the car at the purpose built R&D plant in Tochigi. Their aim was to produce the perfect balance between performance, useability and reliability.
When the car was revealed it was clear that with it’s low height, cab forward design and stunning appearance, Honda had managed to create something that as least looked the part. One problem for Ferrari and the others was that they’d managed to build a far better quality car than anything coming out of Marinello at the time. The other problem was that it drove better and even worse, didn’t break, cost a fortune to maintain and was a doddle to drive.
The first generation of the NSX (NA1) was built until 1997 when the revised NA2 was introduced. The Second generation NSX didn’t look any different to the first but there were many changes under the skin. The main upgrades were to the engine and gearbox. The 3 litre was increased to a 3.2 generating more power and torque (290bhp 224lbs/ft) and the 5 speed gearbox gained a sixth, crucially the closer ratios kept the fabulous VTEC in its power band.
The Japanese market were also treated to an NSX-R. The lightened, stiffened, hardcore version featured a blueprinted engine, less sound deadening, stiffer suspension, improved brakes and a closer ratio gearbox.
In 2002 the NSX was gven a facelift. The major difference being the loss of the Pop-Up headlights. Production ended in 2002.
The NSX never really sold well in the UK, in the 10 years it was available only around 450 cars were sold.
The NSX was ahead of it’s time. It’s now common for a Japanese manufacturer to produce a world-beating supercar (the GT-R being a good example), but back in the 90′s if you were in the market for a supercar, for some the badge it came with was as important as the car itself. Honda, although having a rich history of motorport heritage, including producing winning formula 1 engines, was still seen by most as a volume manufacturer of family cars. Subsequently used cars are relatively rare. Still it is possible to find a good used example of the pre-facelift cars for around £15-20k.
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