Honda didn’t introduce a new model or updated trim package at the Chicago Auto Show this year. Instead, with champagne-filled flutes passed around to the assembled guests, they celebrated 30 years of the NSX. Honda’s unleashing of its mid-engined wonder forever changed the automotive world. There’s a clear line of demarcation in the supercars that came B.N. (before NSX) and those that came after.
No one at the time knew just how transformative the NSX would be, not just to the industry as a whole, but to the larger automotive culture as well. But, whispers had made their way across the Pacific and the anticipation for the car was like no other. Keep in mind that this was before the Supra, the forbidden Skyline GT-R might as well have been on Mars, and the Toyota 2000GT had been long forgotten.
Furthermore, it had been only 20 years since Honda started importing cars to the US market in the form of the tiny N600. The notion of the same company building a Ferrari-beater was unthinkable.
Honda expected a reaction, and not the kind that possibly had Ford plotting a revenge 27 years later. It wanted to take the temperature of the press and public, and luckily for humankind, it was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the name of the concept, NS-X, wasn’t intended to be the final name.
At the time it was understood to stand for New Sports eXperimental, but in some versions of the story Honda says that the development team wanted the X to represent the mathematical symbol for a variable, to express the “unknown world,” perhaps one that the NSX itself would create.
In any case, the car made struck the hearts of car enthusiasts like a meteor, and soon the letters “NS-X” were on everyone’s lips. You couldn’t buy that kind of name recognition, and so American Honda just went with it, taking out the dash and creating a name of legend.
Honda’s Vice President of Communications Sage Marie hosted a brief panel with General Manager of Acura Jon Ikeda and one of the first people in the US to drive the original, former editor-in-chief of Car and Driver, Csaba Csere. Ikeda described just how influential the NSX was to his desire to work at Honda, while Csere recalled why the car was so impactful.
JNC didn’t exist when the NA1 debuted, a car that we believe is still among the best ever made. But being there today with a Formula Red NA1 gracing the stage, it was the next best thing.
Images courtesy of Honda.
Many said, and still say that the NSX lacks “character” because it is comfortable, ergonomically well designed, and easy to drive quickly. But the whole point to the NSX was to create a super car that could be daily driven if that’s what the owner wanted. And it DID have character. That character was Purity. The NSX had manual steering (at first), a smooth shifting five speed, an engine that would sing beautifully right to the red line, tremendous visibility, and a great driving position. All this provided a pure driving experience you couldn’t get anywhere else in a contemporary sports car, although Porsche was coming close by then.
The new NSX has been similarly criticized for being too “refined” and lacking in “character” with its mere six cylinders, magical handling tricks, and exterior and interior styling that lacks fancy displays of bravado found in Italian exotics. But I think in 30 years the new NSX will be looked back at with the same kind of fondness we currently reserve for the original.
I strongly agree with you on that.
That first paragraph is poetry, and I agree 100 percent and couldn’t have said it better myself. Purity was indeed the essence of the first NSX. But what’s the essence of the second NSX? I’m not a hater of it, in fact it would probably be in my lottery garage, but its essence is not purity. I ask because I genuinely want to know. I’m kind of struggling to define what it is.
Here’s an alternative way of looking at it, Ben.
It’s easy to look back and say that “purity” was the essence of the NSX, but then the same could have been said for any of its competitors, or indeed many cars from that period full stop.
The original NSX is purer by virtue of it being a 30-year old car with natural aspiration, a manual gearbox, but then it was no *more* pure than say, a Ferrari 348 or 911, which were also naturally-aspirated, had manual gearboxes, had manual steering, etc.
My spin is that the original NSX used the best technology of its time to meet its performance goals: the aluminium structure, the VTEC engine, one of the first uses (*the* first?) of electric power-assisted steering a little later on. It was able to compete with legacy performance car brands because it was cleverer, not because it was purer.
In that respect the links with the new car are much clearer, because the new car does likewise – it’s just that the technology has changed in three decades. Hybrid tech, paddleshift, turbocharging, torque vectoring etc.
And in many other respects it’s not dissimilar to the original: it still has an aluminium structure, it still has a mid-mounted V6, it’s still surprisingly compact (significantly wider than the original, but not a great deal longer or taller), and it still has great visibility.
The original NSX was indeed pure, but not just compared to modern cars. It was pure when compared to its contemporaries. While most Japanese automakers were adding multiple turbos, all-wheel-drive, four-wheel steering, and giant wings to their flagships, Honda threw all that R&D into things like the body, suspension and engine. Sure the aluminum body, titanium rods, and VTEC were advanced tech but they didn’t necessarily add complexity. Ok, VTEC did, but it allowed the V6 to do more with less engine. In fact, everything had a “less is more” approach, while other Japanese carmakers, as well as the new NSX, went with a more is more approach.
You could argue that the new NSX has no choice, because electrification, turbos and AWD are just the nature of the supercar game now. I’m sure the new NSX is fantastic, but maybe it’s not possible to build a car like the original NSX today (and that is a problem very much created by the original NSX too!).
Hi, for Whatever it’s worth-Honda let me help you with Increased sales please-TARGA,TARGA,TARGA!(From one who wants 1st gen as it still looks that good!).Thanks-Smith’ Hot wheels guy’ Bham. Al.(50+mi. from Honda Plant-Lincoln).
When they said it was sterile what they were really saying is that it wasn’t European. Western imperialism is a mfer.
ha, that’s a good way to put it!