Imagine a skilled chef has prepared your favourite meal. He’s used the finest ingredients possible. He’s taken his time. It’s been served with the perfect accompanying beverage. But before you’ve been able to take a bite, some villain has burst in the room and dumped a load of anchovies on top.
Sure, you can eat it, and you’ll be able to taste all the good stuff under that fishy, salty nonsense, but that doesn’t stop the dish being tarnished. It doesn’t change the fact that the experience has been ruined. Unless of course you’re one of those weirdos that actually enjoys anchovies, in which case this analogy falls flat on its arse.
But assuming you don’t, I can - sadly - report that driving the gorgeous early NSX is rather like this. Pretty much everything I loved about the first NSX I ever drove - a late facelifted manual - is there and just about recognisable, of course. The wonderful balance. The N/A V6 and its howling 8000rpm red line. The looks. But none of it matters. Nor does the fact this one has ultra-cool pop-up headlights, and the connection this example has to a certain three-time F1 champion.
Yep, Ayrton Senna - Honda UK tells me - has driven this one before. But I don’t really care. Apart from fantasising that he told engineers in his typically blunt way just what a bag of excrement the automatic gearbox is and how it completely ruins the car.
It’s not necessarily the fault of the ‘box itself. We’re used to super-slick automatic transmissions these that swap cogs in the blink of an eye, and they’re so good that we don’t even question the use of something like ZF’s ubiquitous eight-speed gearbox in an Aston Martin Vantage any more than its installation in a big, heavy luxe-barge. But autos were a little different back when the NSX was first designed.
There’s a reason they used to be called ‘slushboxes’ - put your foot down in an automatic NSX, and the gearbox has a little think, thinks some more, and after what feels like the amount of time that passes between Game of Thrones books being released, it shuffles down a few gears.
The pain isn’t over, either: there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to when it shifts up. Even at wide-open throttle, the car often ends up short-shifting, robbing you of that high-RPM glory we talked about earlier. Then there are the shifts themselves, which are best described as leisurely. Combined with the steering which is the same conspicuously slow, weighty steering setup found in the auto and manual alike, the four-speed NSX ends up feeling leaden and ponderous.
Even before gear changes happen, this NSX doesn’t feel anywhere near as quick as a manual version. There is a small power difference on paper - 254bhp vs 276bhp in the six-speed version - but the gap seems bigger than that. And all the while, you’re acutely aware that you’re missing out on that short and oh-so sweet manual shift, which is one of the best things about the NSX.
But, as put to me by a fellow journalist at the same Honda heritage event, what if it was an automatic NSX or nothing? For the looks, the pop-ups and the chassis, I think still would. Particularly in the knowledge that manual conversions are possible…