Honda NSX: The Full Story
The Honda NSX. Nobody expected it. Nobody expected a supercar, or even a normal car to come out of Japan to tackle the best the Europeans were offering. Marques from Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche, and many more. No one really dared to take the challenge that time, and the current models offered by rivals Toyota, Nissan and Mazda were nothing to the Europeans at that time.(Sorry JDM fans).
Honda had nothing at that time, so they took the opportunity to build the first Japanese supercar to tackle the best of Ferrari. They had high hopes for this project. What started out as an experiment turned out to be a Japanese legend. Even the McLaren F1, the previous record holder of the world’s fastest car’s design was inspired by the NSX.
Timeless, elegant design by legendary design studio Pininfarina, Honda’s advanced engine technology, a lightweight body, and even co-developed by Formula 1 legend Aryton Senna, it was a recipe for perfection. One that would re-define and revolutionize the face of Japanese cars, one that would force the Europeans to step up their game, and one that made the undisputed king of sports car at that time, Ferrari, tremble to their knees.
This blog embodies the history of this legendary Japanese supercar, its variants, its racing history and even its rebirth. Two decades of iconic Japanese history compressed into one blog.
In 1984, Honda decided to create a concept which could embody a future sports car. They assigned Pininfarina to design a sports car for them. Pininfarina were famous for some of their designs, such as the Ferrari Testarossa, the Ferrari 348 TS, and even the legendary Ferrari F40. Pininfarina designed a car called the Honda HP-X, which featured a smooth and streamlined body for aerodynamic efficiency.
Honda decided to create a sports car that is completely different from the rest, one that could be fun, simple and even practical. One that could shred a racetrack and pick up groceries at the same time. Management told development that they had high expectations for the car, as they wanted it to be as fast as something out of Germany or Italy. They decided a benchmark for their new car, the Ferrari 328, which changed into the Ferrari 348 as it was unveiled while the car was still under development.
Called Project NS-X, which meant New Sports Experimental, they called Pininfarina again to design the NS-X, based on the HP-X concept they made. They decided to go with a V6 engine derived from the already present Honda Legend, as it was reliable enough. They used engines from the Honda Legend for test mules. Honda decided that it was not good enough and developed an entirely new engine, the 270 HP V6 engine that could be found in one today. Honda’s motorsport division were also heavily involved in the project, including Formula 1 Legend Aryton Senna.
Senna was considered Honda’s main innovator in convincing the company to stiffen the NSX chassis further after initially testing the car at Honda’s Suzuka GP circuit in Japan. He further helped refine the suspension tuning and handling spending a whole day testing prototypes and reporting his findings to Honda engineers. Senna also tested the NSX at the Nurburgring and some other tracks.
In 1989, Honda unveiled the production version of the Honda NS-X at the Chicago auto show, and at the Tokyo Motor Show a few months later for its Japanese debut. The car was renamed from NS-X into NSX. The NSX went on sale in Japan in 1990, making it the new flagship model from Honda. The NSX was sold under Honda’s flagship Acura luxury brand starting in November 1990 in North America and Hong Kong.
The NSX was the first production car to feature an all-aluminium body, The use of aluminium saved nearly 200 kg in weight over the steel equivalent in the body alone, while the aluminium suspension arms saved an additional 20 kg. Other notable features included an independent, 4-channel anti-lock brake system, titanium connecting rods, an electric power steering system, and the first electronic throttle control fitted to a Honda which would come later in 1995.
The car’s chassis rigidity and handnling capabilities were the results of Ayrton Senna’s collaboration with the NSX’s chief engineers while testing the prototype at Honda’s Suzuka Circuit during its final development. The NSX was initially assembled at the purpose-built Takanezawa R&D Plant in Tochigi from 1989 to early 2004, when it was moved to Suzuka Plant for the remainder of its production life. The cars were assembled by approximately 200 of Honda’s highest-skilled and most experienced personnel, a team of hand-picked staff with a minimum of ten years of experience employed from various other Honda facilities to build the NSX.
Despite the NSX already owning competitors from Ferrari and Porsche, Honda decided that it could do even more with the NSX. So they decided to develop the NSX-R, a more performance oriented variant of the NSX featuring a lighter body and a more powerful engine. Honda engineers started with a base NSX coupe and embarked on an aggressive program of weight reduction. Sound deadening, the audio system, spare tire, air conditioning system and traction control along with some of the electrical equipment was removed.
The power leather seats were replaced with lightweight carbon-kevlar racing seats made by Recaro for Honda. However, electric windows and electric seat adjusters were retained. The stock forged alloy wheels were replaced with lighter forged aluminium wheels produced by Enkei, which reduced the car’s unsprung weight. The stock leather shift knob was replaced with a sculpted titanium piece. Overall, Honda managed to remove approximately 120 kg of weight, giving the NSX-R a final weight of 1,230 kg.
The orignal NSX mid-engine layout and rear-end link travel, was prone to sudden oversteer during certain cornering maneuvers. While this condition rarely occurred, it was much more prevalent on race tracks where speeds were much higher. To address the problem and improve the NSX-R’s cornering stability at the limit, Honda added one aluminum bracket under the front battery tray and added one aluminum bracket in front of the front radiator to add more chassis rigidity then replaced the entire suspension with stiffer front sway bar, stiffer suspension bushings, stiffer coil springs and stiffer dampers.
The lightest of all NSX variants at 1,230 kg, and the First-Gen NSX-R is capable of blistering track performance, though the ride can be jarring and noisy due to the stiff suspension bushings, stiff spring rates and lack of sound insulation. Beginning in late November 1992, Honda produced a limited number of 483 NSX-R variants exclusively for the Japanese domestic market. Factory optional items as air conditioning, a Bose stereo system, Carbon fiber trim center console with Carbon fiber door trim and starting in 1994 Championship White painted larger wheels were available for a hefty premium price. Production ended in September 1995.
In 1995, the NSX-T with a removable Targa style top was introduced in Japan as a special order option and in North America in March 1995. The NSX-T replaced the standard coupe entirely in North America as the only version available post 1994 and all NSXs thereafter were in targa form with the notable exceptions of the Zanardi Special Edition NSX in 1999 and a handful of other NSXs. The European market continued to offer both body styles. The removable roof resulted in decreased chassis rigidity and Honda added about 45 kg of structural reinforcements to compensate, including significantly thicker frame sidesill rocker panels , bulkheads, roof pillars and the addition of new front/rear bulkhead and floorpan cross members
In 1997, Honda introduced the NSX’s biggest performance upgrades for all its worldwide markets. Engine displacement increased from 3.0 L to 3.2 L, using a thinner fiber-reinforced metal cylinder liner. The exhaust manifold was reconfigured and made of stainless steel header pipes rather than a cast-iron manifold for improved performance and lighter weight. The increased flow from this new configuration was a key contributor to the 20 additional horsepower drawn from the new engine. Along with the engine displacement increase in 1997, Japan exclusively received the NSX Type S and NSX Type S-Zero, weighing in at 1,320 kg and 1,270 kg. Both came with a Titanium Shift Knob, MOMO steering wheel, BBS lightweight aluminum wheels, Recaro full bucket carbon-kevlar alcantara/leather seats, mesh design engine cover (like the Type R) and a colored roof. Both had a stiffer suspension than the normal NSX.
The S-Zero is a more circuit-oriented version of the standard Type S. The suspension is even stiffer by using the NSX’s suspension but retaining the Type S’s larger rear sway bar. Unlike the standard Type S, the S-Zero did not offer cruise control, stereo, power door locks, airbags, air conditioning, traction control, power steering, fog lights or a navigation system. Honda came up with a new lightweight lead-acid battery and halved the thickness of the partition glass between engine bay and cabin to reduce even more weight. Changes were also made to the interior’s manual transmission boot shifter, replacing the original material from leather to mesh. Much of the sound deadening material was also removed to reduce weight.
The NSX made three appearances at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in 1994, 1995, and 1996. Three Honda NSXs were entered in the 1994 24 Hours of Le Mans. Cars numbers 46, 47 and 48 were prepared and run by team Kremer Racing Honda, with Team Kunimitsu assisting and driving the number 47 car. All were in the GT2 class, and all completed the race, but placed 14th, 16th and 18th. 3 Honda NSXs were entered in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. Honda’s factory team brought two turbocharged NSXs which were entered in the GT1 class numbered 46 and 47.
Three Honda NSXs were entered in the 1995 24 Hours of Le Mans. Honda’s factory team brought two turbocharged NSXs which were entered in the GT1 class numbered 46 and 47. Team Kunimitsu Honda prepared and entered a naturally aspirated NSX into the GT2 class numbered 84. Car 46 finished but was not classified for failing to complete 70% of the distance of the race winner. Car 47 did not finish due to aclutch and gearbox failure. Car 84, driven by Keiichi Tsuchiya, Akira Iida, and Kunimitsu Takahashi, finished first in the GT2 class and 8th overall after completing 275 laps.
For use in the Super GT, the NSX has been highly modified with chassis development by Dome, engine development by Mugen, for Honda. The NSX shape has developed race by race, season to season to the demands of increasing aerodynamic downforce within the regulations. The most notable change is the position of the V6 engine, which is mounted longitudinally instead of transversely. The gearbox is located in the center tunnel under the cockpit and is connected to the rear differential by a driveshaft. Engines can either be turbocharged or naturally aspirated, depending on the class and on the rules.
Prior to rule changes beginning in the 2003 season, the NSX Super GT was powered by a specially modified version of the V6 engine powering the orignal. Using a stroker crankshaft from Toda Racing, the naturally aspirated engine displaced 3.5 liters and produced nearly 500 bhp. The NSX continued to be used as the works Honda car in the GT500 class, even though it is no longer in production, until it was replaced in 2010 with the HSV-010.
The NSX started to show signs of ageing, as its style was unchanged for over a decade, so Honda decided to give it a facelift. The original NSX body design received only minor modifications from Honda in the new millennium when in December 2001 the original pop-up headlamps were replaced with fixed xenon headlamps, along with slightly wider rear tires to complement a revised suspension.
A facelifted version of the NSX-R was released in 2002, exclusively in Japan. As with the first NSX-R, weight reduction was the primary focus for performance enhancement. The chassis is based on the fixed-roof coupe, due to its lighter weight and more rigid construction. Carbon fiber was used to a large extent throughout the body components to reduce weight, including a larger, more aggressive rear spoiler, vented hood and deck lid. The vented hood was said to be the largest one-piece carbon-fiber hood in production cars. The audio system, sound insulation and air conditioning, and the power steering was removed.
The engine was relatively unchanged, besides a few parts being swapped for a lighter overall weight. Officially, Honda maintains that the power output of the Second-Gen NSX-R engine is 290 bhp, which is identical to the stock NSX. The automotive press, however, has long speculated that the true output of the engine is higher. The second iteration NSX-S, sold exclusively in Japan like other sports NSXs, continues with the facelifted NSX keeping the weight at 1,320 kg
Sadly, Honda had to discontinue the NSX due to low sales. But the NSX’s legacy does not end there. Honda developed a newer NSX to compete in the Super GT series to replace it’s outgoing 1995 NSX Super GT. It featured a KERS-Hybrid system. Made by Zytech, the hybrid drive has 40kw of output power and can be used to power the car on full electric mode.
The battery can be fully charged in just one lap on a course and has about 20 seconds of use when the driver opts to turn on the overtake button. The system adds another 220 lbs or so to the race car and to determine just how big of a difference it makes Honda enlisted the driving expertise of Katsutomo Kaneishi. Kaneishi was able to lap the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in 1 minute, 49 seconds. It was 4.453 seconds behind the fastest lap time recorded in that session.
But the NSX will be produced for the road, one more time sooner.
In December 2007, American Honda CEO, Tetsuo Iwamura, confirmed a new supercar powered by a V10 engine would make its introduction to the market by 2010. The new sports car would be based on the Acura ASCC (Advanced Sports Car Concept) introduced at the 2007 North American International Auto Show With Honda CEO Takeo Fukui challenging the developers to make the vehicle faster than its rivals, 5 prototypes of the vehicle were seen testing on the Nürburgring in June 2008.
Sadly, On December 17, 2008, Fukui announced during a speech about Honda’s revised financial forecasts that, due to poor economic conditions, all plans for a next-generation NSX had been cancelled. In March 2010, when the economy was getting better, the Acura NSX project changed name to Honda HSV-010 GT and was entered in the Japanese SuperGT Championship. The HSV-010 GT is powered by a 3.4-liter V8 sending more than 500 hp (373 kW) through the sequential manual gearbox from Ricardo. The HSV-010 GT was never made into production as a street-legal car.
On October 23, 2009, Honda officially announced the end of the mid-engine NSX Super GT’s participation in Super GT racing due to new Super GT regulations that allowed the use of only front engine, rear drive cars. On November 15, 2009, Honda announced that, despite withdrawing the NSX from Super GT competition, it would campaign a car for the 2010 season. Honda revealed that the car will be based on the cancelled ‘New NSX’ production vehicle. It is reported that although the Super GT normally requires racing vehicles to be based on production cars, the use of a production-ready car is also allowed. The engine was based on the 3.4L V8 engine built for Formula Nippon.
Then, on December 22, 2009, Honda announced the HSV-010 GT as the successor to the NSX Super GT in the Super GT series. Unlike typical Super GT cars, the vehicle is not based on any production vehicle that is made available to purchase by the general public. Although no road versions were built, the HSV-010 GT was superseded by the hybrid-electric Honda NSX CONCEPT-GT, as 2013 Super GT season being the final year for the vehicle.
But that paved the way to the revival of the NSX.
In December 2011, Acura announced that they would show the next generation NSX in concept form at the 2012 North American International Auto Show. On January 9, 2012, Acura unveiled the 2012 Acura NSX Concept. The new concept retained a 2-door coupe, mid-engine layout but with all-wheel drive. The use of a high-tech platform made from lightweight materials permitted weight to be kept down. Power came from a V6 mounted behind the cockpit, sending its output to the rear wheels.
Acura’s SH-AWD incorporates one electric motor in a dual-clutch transmission to augment the thermal engine thus forming a hybrid setup. Additionally, two more electric motors able to instantly send negative or positive torque to the front wheels during cornering also formed part of the powertrain. Acura claimed the resulting all-wheel drive system would provide better handling and Ferrari 458-matching acceleration while offering greater efficiency relative to the naturally aspirated 4.5 L V8 engine on the rival supercar.
In September 2011, during filming of The Avengers, Robert Downey, Jr, playing the role of Iron Man, was spotted in an exotic sports car based on the new NSX, made specifically for the film, rather than the Audi R8 he previously drove in Iron Man and Iron Man 2. The car itself was built by Trans FX using an existing 1992 NSX.
At the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, the production variant of the Honda NSX concept was unveiled, alongside the 3rd generation Ford GT. But the car would not be on sale until a year later. In December 2015, the North American pricing was announced as commencing from US$156,000 for the base specification, to US$205,000 fully equipped. At the same time, Honda announced the European debut for the NSX at the 85th Geneva Motor Show, alongside the fourth generation Civic Type R.
The first production vehicle with was auctioned off by Barrett Jackson on January 29, 2016. NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick won the auction with a bid for US$1,200,000. The entire bid were donated to the charities Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation and Camp Southern Ground. The first NSX rolled off the line in Ohio on May 24, 2016. Hendrick was there to drive it off.
Mechanically, the second generation NSX represents a significant departure from the first generation since it features a twin-turbocharged 3.5L V6 engine producing 500 bhp (373 kW; 507 PS), mated to a three electric motor Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system and a 9-speed dual-clutch transmission. The total output is 573 bhp. The 2015 NSX accelerates from 0 to 60 mph 62 mph in 2.9 seconds, and has a top speed of 191 mph. Structurally, the body utilizes a space frame design, which is made from aluminum, ultra-high strength steel, and other rigid and lightweight materials, some of which are the world’s first applications.
Production of the second generation NSX commenced in 2015 at the Honda Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio, which is housed inside Honda’s former North American Logistics facility and located in the midst of Honda’s existing R&D and production engineering operations. The powertrain is separately assembled by Honda associates at its engine plant in Anna, Ohio.
The NSX Concept-GT, a race car based on the NSX concept, made for the GT500 class of the 2014 Super GT season, was unveiled in Round 5 of the 2013 Autobacs Super GT at Suzuka Circuit.The NSX Concept-GT got its first pole by Keihin Real Racing at Fuji Speedway in August and the race was won by the Weider Dome Racing team.
Echoing the exploits of the first generation, Honda announced plans to develop a GTE racing version of the new NSX to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, starting in 2015. HPD Vice President Steve Eriksen hinted that the changes in LMP2 regulations proposed for 2017 ruled out manufacturer-linked entries, could prompt them to use the NSX in the USCC or WEC. During the 2016 New York International Auto Show, Honda announced the Group GT3 version of the NSX, to begin competition in 2017.
In September 2016, Acura confirmed their factory support for the NSX GT3 during the 2017 season. Michael Shank Racing will field two entries in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GTD class, whereas RealTime Racing will also enter two cars at the Pirelli World Challenge GT class, the latter replacing the Acura TLX.
One of the two 2017 Acura NSX hybrid supercars won its class at the 2016 Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb this past weekend. The car, driven by Acura engineer Nick Robinson, took first place in the Time Attack 2 class. Robison was able to climb the 12-mile course, which has a peak elevation of 14,115 feet, in 10:28 for the class win. Last year, Robinson won the PP250 motorcycle class.
In 2016, Honda unveils the 4-Motor EV concept based on the second generation NSX. It’s set to compete in the Electric Modified Class, and will be driven by Tetsuya Yamano who competed in last year’s event behind the wheel of a CR-Z-based electric prototype. On the styling front, the EV concept wears a modified NSX body and an aerodynamic body kit that includes a front splitter, a rear diffuser, and a prominent wing. The car also has a ventilated rear fascia, lightweight windows, and lightweight wheels with high-performance Michelin tires.
Power is provided by two Twin Motor Units which are located on each axle, making a total of 1,350 HP. Acura describes this setup as the “ultimate embodiment of the all-wheel-drive Electric SH-AWD powertrain” as it allows independent torque distribution at all four corners. The company went on to say this makes the model one of the first to have “true four-wheel torque vectoring.”
Rumors say that Honda is developing this car. We could not wait to see what this could do on the track…