QotW: What made the NSX so special?

1990 Honda NSX

Of all the great automobiles to emerge from Japan, Honda’s NSX occupies a singular plane. While Nissan, Toyota and Mazda built GT-Rs, twin-turbo Supras and rotaries with endless potential for power, Honda built a car that did not need to be modified at all. It was simply great. Everyone has a favorite story, trivia fact or sighting for the NSX.

What made the NSX so special?

What say you, dear reader? As always, the most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What’s your dream touge build?” 

156-BH7519_Mazda MX5 Miata NA

There were so many great answers this week. Tyler‘s Cosmo idea is so crazy it really does qualify as a “dream.” Tom Westmacott‘s choice of dark blue AW11 illustrated the importance of stealth. You could almost smell the mountain air in Nihonnotekko‘s SA22 build. The winner, however, was newcomer KZL and his evocative prose describing a Honda-powered NA Miata.

A NA MX-5 with a K24 frankenstein (K20 head with K24 bottom end) with ITB’s and enhanced chassis rigidity through thicker anti-sway bars and strut bracing sitting on some stiff coilovers for those all important bends and 15″ watanabes slapped with some fat (as fat as you could fit on stock fenders) semi slicks and a titanium exhaust system! The dream!!! The sound!!! The N/A responsiveness, the sound of the individual throttle bodies gargling like monsters upon intaking beautifully crisp mountainous air coupled with the inherent handling characteristics of the chassis only enhanced by sorted suspension and chassis rigidity. That would really complete my dream for the ultimate touge build.

Omedetou, your comment has earned you a set of decals from the JNC Shop!

JNC Decal smash

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21 Responses to QotW: What made the NSX so special?

  1. Mike McCarthy said:

    IMO the nsx was the first “real” Japanese super car. also although I’m a die hard mazda-head I will be the first to admit that there is no engine greater than a honda vtec. this car was so special because it came with the vtec engine to end all vtec engines 🙂

  2. Killer Bee said:

    The NSX is a great example of a well balanced sports car with just the right amount of power, agility and timeless styling combined with Honda’s skill at put together a finely-engineered vehicle that was as easy to maintain as any Accord, Prelude or Integra.

    • j_tso said:

      To add to this, the NSX was the first everyday supercar, up until its release the general attitude was that exotics, particularly Italian, were fast, loud, and then would fall apart. Honda said you could have your cake and eat it too.

  3. daniel said:

    IMO is special for Ayrton Senna, a real F1 driver in the development of car drivers who enjoy driving. Nothing but pure , perhaps the highest point of a NA engine, the use of aluminum in a car. Besides with so pure and correct design that remains ” classic ” from day one

  4. Nathan said:

    With this car, Honda was gunning for Ferrari. The NSX featured technology that put the fabled Italian manufacturer on notice, arguably outdoing early examples — and some argue later ones, too — of the 348. Magazines such as Road & Track even compared the NSX to the 348’s successor, the F355!

    The V6 engine with VTEC was state of the art at the time and very smooth (it didn’t make a bad sound, either) and the handling was praised by journalists, often described as on par with or better than competitors’, fine tuned with input from the great Ayrton Senna. The Senna connection not only resulted in a well-sorted product, but amplified the car’s mystique. Amid today’s out-of-control horsepower wars, a car such as this, that is focused so much on handling, is a breath of fresh air.

    The NSX is unique in that it blended many of the qualities of a sports car, with an MR layout, great handling, and a relatively low weight, with the practical qualities of a GT car, featuring a flowing, thoughtfully laid out cabin, good visibility, and a comfortable driving position. At the same time, the car was not artificially exotic in its effort to show the Europeans what Honda was capable of, staying true to its Japanese origin. The interior featured understated styling. The controls were simple and practical. The factory exhaust was not incredibly loud. At the end of the day, it’s a Honda, so build quality and reliability, provided the car is properly maintained, are known qualities. In a way, one could argue that this was not only a statement from Honda, but a simple, understated punch at the world’s top marques… one that was wrapped in a classy yet understated glove.

    Also, how many other mid-engine sports cars came out of Japan, excluding the Toyota MR2? The NSX, in that regard, wasn’t something many in the automotive press were accustomed to. I don’t think most of the motoring press, expected Honda to be able to live up to its ambitious goals and make a car worthy of rivaling the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, but that’s exactly what this car did.

  5. Lupus said:

    It’s hard to describe it by words… It’s just the feeling of uniquenes of That design covering That technology.
    Whatever, i want to point out something else: I couldn’t never understand why it was the worst car in the 1st Need for Speed? It could be easyley outrun by a mere C4 Vette. It was freaking annoing, don’t you guys think?

    • Mike McCarthy said:

      lol I was going to comment on this…. I’ve always considered it a supercar mainly because of it’s inclusion in the original need for speed. didn’t remember it being the slowest though. I thought my fav the FD3S was

  6. David said:

    For me, it was the simple fact that it was a Honda/Acura. It wore the same badge that we had in the garage. It was at once completely exotic and yet felt within grasp somehow because of the badge. Every nut and bolt on any run of the mill Accord or Vigor was laced with some of the same DNA that spawned the NSX. To top it off, it was a real supercar, not a breathed upon variant of a lesser car. Add in the fact, that your average car kid didn’t quite “get it” all combined to make it a very special car.

  7. Tom Westmacott said:

    For all its aluminium body, supercar looks and three-litre VTEC six, in the end the NSX was made special by one man, Ayrton Senna. To be truly special is not about mere talent, but about the stories around a car, the ones that imbue a mere commercial product with meaning.

    Ayrton Senna became famous far beyond the racetrack due to his speed, his single-minded determination, and his charisma. But for the Japanese, he was more than a famous sportsman; he was their knight who saddled up his white horse, emblazoned with their standard, and drove into battle with the world. His achievements brought not merely fame for himself and glory for a small provincial motorcycle company, but symbolised the era when the Japanese, through technical ingenuity and spiralling economic growth, finally earned the respect of the world, craved ever since the arrival of American black ships in 1853. Honda did not pick Senna; rather, he personally insisted on the Japanese company as his partner in speed, a partnership which yielded three world titles in quick succession.

    Ayrton himself was tragically immortalised in death; however wealthy and well-connected, you will not be booking him for after-dinner speaking, you will not see him at the Festival of Speed or anywhere else. You can no longer meet him – but you can own the road car created by the same Honda engineers, developed with his substantial input, which he himself then owned and drove many miles in on road and track.

    And that ultimately is the legend of the NSX, one that cannot be rivalled or repeated – the epithet of “Ayrton Senna’s car”.

  8. robort said:

    Ayrton Senna, white socks, moccasins nuff said

  9. Yoda said:

    One of the British car magazines summed it up best; “It drove like a Civic in the city and a Ferrari on the track”.

  10. Ken S. said:

    Aside from the racing history, ahead of its time tech, branding flagship and all that, I remember one of my friends (female) who’s completely oblivious of anything automotive point it out on the road, “Hey that NSX looks great.” Which was both a shock to me and a statement of how much impact the design aesthetics of the car must’ve made, to be recognized as such, even to someone who couldn’t tell a difference between her Accord and a Maxima.

    That never happened even when I had my Z32, which arguably was just as potent in all the above said categories.

  11. sabin simard said:

    Because the new one is a real ugly car, batman forever,robocop styling and an immature transformer styling or something between all that that make the old one so unique and desirable,and especialy when it is keep bone stock, this car will never be an old car and watch the future of this car!

  12. wantyerknobbies said:

    @ all the rwd parrots from the other threads plz take note of masterful driving skills and attempt this yourself at a nearby track then you may come back and no longer be considered parrots

  13. lawl4chopper said:

    when I was a wee lad before i knew about pros n cons about different drivetrain setups, suspension geometry, and for some odd reason drag coefficients for paint, I can recall seeing one of these in town, and thinking “wow what a car, is that a Ferrari?!”. Nope, it was an Acura, the same type of car that my aunt drove.

    Now days I’ve been seeing them more and more, its probably the economy thats picking up, and with that the disposable income that people have. But everytime i see them its just the shape and the lines. Makes me feel like a kid again, simple times.

  14. rockabillydude said:

    well i`d see it like this,

    the nsx was is and will forever be “just another honda” from it`s respective era
    and that is why the car is so amazing, can you imagine a present day economy/middle class car builder making a supercar that slots right in their lineup without looking out of place in the showroom, i don`t think so right?

    the reason the nsx is a special car is beacause it is the “the power of dreams” come to life

  15. ed7_owner said:

    it was the car that wasnt supposed to happen, but it did, Honda was nice enough to make the nsx. plus the car was perfect in it of itself, the body lines werent what you would expect from a economy car company.also it gave Ferrari a run for its money. that speaks volumes. Plus its still relativity inexpensive. like maybe 25k can get you a good one

  16. Stuart Kayrooz said:

    At a time when Lamborghini and Ferrari were becoming “just a badge”, pumping out mediocre, but highly collectible supercars, Honda did the opposite – they taught people to ignore the badge.

    With the NSX, the definition of supercar included the whole package – not just the peak hp, but how well behaved it was around town. Not just the shape of the body, but how well it was put together. Not just utilising “race” inspired or derived technology, but making it reliable enough for the driver to enjoy it. And not just fast enough to beat anything away from the lights, but to have the balance and poise to get through the next corner in one piece as well.

    Ultimately though, it was that it could all be done by a manufacturer who built the grandfather’s Legend, the parent’s accord, and the 16 year old’s civic.

    What made the NSX so special was that for the first time on a supercar, the badge didn’t matter.

  17. Dankan said:

    There are so many reasons, but it’s the weaving of them all together that makes it a legend. First there’s technological achievements in creating the car. It doesn’t sound impressive now, but in 1989 the car was a very big demonstration of Honda being able to do things others couldn’t/wouldn’t dare.

    Then there’s the way it changes the genre of sports cars. They didn’t have to be uncomfortable, unreliable and undriveable. Those excuses were all suddenly shown to be false. No one else had ever done that, and it was completely shocking.

    There’s the legacy of the car as the road going emblem of Honda’s racing dominance in those years, with the additional legend of Senna and his input to the NSX’s development adding an additional mystique.

    Then there’s the actual driving experience of the car, and it’s exquisite balance and brilliance.

    And now there’s the nostalgia for it. At the time it was a sales failure. Huge for one year, and then rather unpopular. Too tame, too easy, too Japanese. People refused to give it credit and forgot about it. Which has led to a tremendous sense of revisionism as people complain about what modern sports cars have become, and realize just how good the old, “not exotic enough” NSX was at the things which now matter.

    It’s the weaving of all this together, the highs, the lows, the sense of loss. The loss of Senna, Honda’s mojo/passion, and the driver’s car itself altogether, which makes the NSX so special now.

    To look at the NSX is to look at an apex that was the product of many years, and the blood, sweat and tears of many hands. And to know that it won’t be reached again.

  18. Wayne Thomas said:

    If there is one word that explains why the NSX was (and remains) so special, it would have to be “reliability”. At the time, no other supercar or supercar pretender could make that claim. It was the reliability of the NSX that proved a gamechanger for all the other expensive marques to raise their levels to that of “lowly” Japanese Honda – the maker of cheap econoboxes.

  19. Hman said:

    In the early nineties I had a job in the workshop at Honda Australia. They were celebrating 21 year in Oz and took a show to all the capital cities. It was a car and motorcycle display, mini carnival and no pressure test drives. Every Honda owner on our database was invited. One of the stars of the show was a prototype NSX which Honda Japan allowed us to use as long as we looked after it like a baby. It had a Legend engine in it, but body and interior was NSX. It was said to be worth $1,000,000. There was a special lined box made for it to travel on the back of a semi. We had to use two forklifts on either side of to lift it high enough for the semi to back under and then lowered. Each move was nerve wracking. Anyway the few people who were allowed to handle it took it in turns to drive it into position. My turn came at the Melbourne event. I carefully backed it out of it box and put it into first. Someone yelled out to do a burnout. We were told the clutch was dodgy but I got tyres spinning and the back end sideways mainly on a good stab of throttle. It was very brief but still a very memorable moment. I believe that it makes me the first person to smoke up an NSX.

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