The History Of Honda NSX
The Honda NSX (branded as the Acura NSX in North America and Hong Kong) was a sports car produced between 1990 and 2005 by the Japanese automaker Honda. It used a rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout and was powered by an all-aluminum V6 gasoline engine featuring Honda's unique "variable valve timing and lift electronic control" VTEC system.
In 1984 Honda commissioned Pininfarina to design the HP-X (Honda Pininfarina Xperimental), which had a mid-mounted 2.0L V6 configuration.
The production NSX was designed by a team led by Chief Designer Ken Okuyama and Executive Chief Engineer Shigeru Uehara, who was also in charge of the S2000 project. At its first public appearances as the NS-X at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1989, and at the Tokyo Motor Show in October 1989 sports car enthusiasts were astonished by its pronounced cockpit forward attitude. The bodywork design had been specifically researched by Okuyuma and Uehara after studying the 360 degree visibility inside an F-16 fighter jet cockpit.
Respected Japanese Formula One driver Satoru Nakajima was involved with Honda in the NSX's early on track development at Suzuka race circuit, where he performed many endurance distance duties related to chassis tuning; but Brazilian Formula One World Champion Ayrton Senna, for who Honda themselves had powered all three of his world championship winning Formula One race cars before his death in 1994, was considered Honda's main innovator in convincing the company to stiffen the NSX chassis further after testing the car at Honda's Suzuka GP circuit in Japan.
American Bobby Rahal also participated in the car's development. Senna was given an NSX by Honda, although details of this car and its fate are unclear.
Honda's breakthrough engineering in the NSX was a major contributor to the design of the McLaren F1 as mentioned in an interview with McLaren F1 designer Gordon Murray. "The moment I drove the NSX, all the benchmark cars—Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini—I had been using as references in the development of my car vanished from my mind. Of course the car we would create, the McLaren F1, needed to be faster than the NSX, but the NSX's ride quality and handling would become our new design target." The NSX was also the world's first all-aluminum and aluminum monocoque chassis production car, and was also marketed as the "Everyday Supercar" thanks in part to its ease of use, quality and reliability. Murray himself remained an NSX owner for 7 years.
Upon its release in 1990, the NSX was a design concept well ahead of its time. At only 1,170mm (46in) in height (only 141.3mm (5.56in) taller than the legendary Ford GT40), the car showcased Honda's cutting edge racing pedigree and technology at a time when the company were literally making history while totally dominating Formula One motor racing. The Japanese car maker's race track innovations and competitive history were further exemplified on the road by the NSX's ultra-rigid, ultra-light all aluminum monocoque chassis, all aluminum suspension, boasting the world's first production car with titanium connecting rods, with forged pistons and ultra high-revving capabilities — the redline was at a lofty 8,000 rpm - all traits usually associated with track and race engineered motor cars.
Aside from its unique 23-step paint process, including an aircraft type chromate coating designed for chemically protecting the aluminum bodywork and a waterborne paint for the base coat to achieve a clearer, more vivid top color and a smoother surface finish, today the NSX is still considered by owners of the marque as one of the most reliable exotic cars ever manufactured with many examples exceeding 100,000miles (160,000km) without serious notable reliability issues or having suffered manufacturer recalls.
The car's strong chassis rigidity and cornering/ handling capabilities were the results of Ayrton Senna's direct input with NSX's chief engineers while testing the NSX prototype car at Honda's Suzuka Circuit during its final development stages. 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 best and most experienced personnel, a team of hand-picked staff employed from various other Honda facilities to run the NSX operation. After studying their main competitors such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche, Honda engineers designed the NSX in search of the perfect balance between usable power and reliability and thus produced a powerful naturally aspirated VTEC engine suitable for the extreme demands of both road and track.
One of the first magazine articles show the lightweight 3.0L 270bhp (200kW) NSX producing a best 0-60 mp/ h time of 5.03 seconds and 13.47 seconds for the quarter mile.
Also on a Ferrari 348 to NSX comparison, a 0-60 mph time of 5.2 seconds was recorded for the 1991 NSX.
Wheels magazine Australia awarded the Honda NSX the 1991 Car of the Year award, and the Acura-badged car was Automobile Magazine's Automobile of the Year that same year.
Despite the original NSX ceasing production in 2005, the marque still has a strong base of fans and supporters worldwide with owners clubs flourishing in Asia, the USA and across Europe. International motoring authors like Andrew Frankel (AutoCar & Motor) Russell Bulgin (Car) Mark Hales (Fast Lane) Gianni Marin (Gente Motore) and Bernd Ostmann (AutoMotor Und Sport) have not only lent their name to the NSX in print but publicly praised the technology and innovation of Honda's NSX and in the BBC book NSX - Hondas Super Sports Car (ISBN 0 9517751 0 3) describe the vehicle as worthy of the title supercar.
Even in original NA1 form because of the NSX's specially designed lightweight all aluminum construction, on trial the car was visibly faster than the Ferrari 348 straight-line acceleration. Post-1997 3.2L North American Acura examples are known to achieve a 13.3 second quarter-mile time (1997-2005 model year NSX-T; the 149lb (68kg) lighter Zanardi Edition NSX is closer to 13.2 seconds ), while the Japanese NSX-R (2002+) is known to perform a 12.9 second quarter-mile time. This ability is a result of the high 8,000 rpm redline, flat power curve, short gear ratios, light weight and mid-engine layout, along with the light power increase.
First generation NSX-R (JDM)
While the NSX always was intended to be a world-class sports car, engineers had made some compromises in order to strike a suitable balance between raw performance and daily driveability. For those NSX customers seeking a no-compromise racing experience, Honda decided in 1992 to produce a version of the NSX specifically modified for superior on-track performance at the expense of customary creature comforts. Thus, the NSX Type R (or NSX-R) was born. Honda chose to use its moniker of Type-R to designate the NSX-R's race-oriented design.
Honda engineers started with a base NSX coupe and embarked on an aggressive program of weight reduction. Sound deadening, the audio system and the entire air conditioning system were removed. The power leather seats were replaced with lightweight carbon fiber racing seats manufactured for Honda by Recaro. The stock alloy wheels were replaced with forged aluminum 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 120kg (265lb) of weight, giving the NSX-R a final weight of 1,230kg (2,712lb).
Turning to the suspension, it was well known by 1992 that the NSX, due to its mid-engine layout and rear-end link travel, was susceptible to a sudden oversteer condition during certain cornering maneuvers. While this condition rarely occurred during spirited street driving, 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 replaced the entire suspension with completely new springs and dampers.
The stock NSX has a rear bias in its spring rates, where the rear springs are stiffer than the front. On hard deceleration upon corner entry, the softer front springs allow weight transfer to the front wheels, increasing front grip and thus improving steering response. However, the weight transfer also takes weight off of the rear wheels, causing them to lose grip. The net result is a tendency toward oversteer, as the rear wheels are more likely to break traction and cause a fishtail (drift) or spin. For the NSX-R, Honda reversed the spring bias, placing stiffer springs on the front suspension. This had the effect of preventing weight transfer to the front suspension under hard braking. This way, the rear tires would remain firmly set when entering the corner. Of course, by keeping weight off of the front wheels, front grip was reduced and the change therefore had the negative effect of increasing the understeer tendency of the car. This change required better driver skill to manage. Overall, the NSX-R uses much stiffer springs than the stock NSX (F 3.0 kg/ mm -- R 4.0 kg/ mm for the NSX versus F 8.0 kg/ mm -- R 5.7 kg/ mm for the NSX-R).
Honda also increased the final drive ratio by adding a 4.235:1 ring and pinion gear in place of the 4.06:1 stock unit, which moved the NSX-R's shifts further into the power band at the expense of top end performance.
The lightest of all NSX variants at 1,230kg (2,712lb), the First-Gen NSX-R is capable of blistering track performance, though the ride can be jarring and noisy due to the stiff spring rates and lack of sound insulation.
Beginning in 1992 Honda produced a limited number of 483 NSX-R variants exclusively for the Japanese domestic market (JDM). Air conditioning and the stereo system were available for a hefty premium as optional items. Production ended in 1995.
In 1995 the NSX-T with a targa top roof was released in Japan as a special order option. In North America, the NSX-T replaced the standard coupe entirely as the only trim available, with the notable exceptions of the Zanardi Edition NSX in 1999 and a handful of special ordered post-1997/ pre-2002 3.2 liter coupes. The removable roof reduced the chassis rigidity of the NSX and added about 100 pounds (45 kg) of structural reinforcements. In addition to this major change, the suspensions have also been softened to improve ride, comfort, and tire wear, at the expense of ultimate handling. The suspension redesign was also intended to reduce the sudden-oversteer problems that plagued most mid-engined vehicles. All roofs were now body-colored instead of black, although in Japan the two-tone black roof/ body color was still available as an optional feature. Finally available in the manual transmission version NSX was electric power steering, previously found in the automatic version exclusively.
1997 performance-enhancing changes (Worldwide)
1997 brought the biggest changes to the performance of the current generation NSX for the Japanese domestic versions and abroad. For 1997 engine displacement increased from 3.0L to 3.2L. This new 3.2L C32B engine gave it slightly more rated power: from 270bhp (201kW) to 292bhp (218kW) while torque increased from 210lb·ft (280N·m) to 224lb·ft (304N·m) (manual transmission only). The 4-speed automatic model still used the 3.0 litre engine and power output. Another big change was the adoption of the 6-speed manual transmission. The combination of slightly-increased power and torque, 6-speed manual gearbox, and optimized gear ratio produced improved straight-line acceleration. The new NSX rang up better numbers than the power and torque improvements may suggest over previous model NSXs. 0-60 mph time dropped from 5.4 seconds to as low as 5.0 seconds for the NSX-S Zero. Other notable changes include a brake rotor size increase from 12in (300mm) to 13inches (330mm) — which necessitated larger wheels and tires, a new aluminum alloy to further reduce weight and increase rigidity, and a transponder in the key.
NSX-S, S-Zero (JDM)
Along with the engine enlargement in 1997, Japan exclusively received the NSX type S (NSX-S) and NSX type S Zero (NSX-S-Zero), weighing in at 1,320kg (2,900lb) and 1,280kg (2,800lb) respectively. Both had a stiffer suspension than the normal NSX.
Unlike the standard Type S, the S-Zero does not offer Air Conditioning, navigation, and stereo system as an option. The suspension is stiffer than the standard Type S by using the NA1 Type R (1992 to 1995) suspension. The Best Motoring did a sub 12.4x second 1/ 4 mile, which is quite a remarkable achievement when compared to cars such as the Ferrari F355 and Porsche 996 Turbo. Changes were also made to the interior's manual transmission boot shifter, replacing the original material from leather to mesh to save approx .28 grams.
Alex Zanardi Edition NSX
Produced exclusively for the United States, the Alex Zanardi Edition NSX was introduced in 1999 to commemorate Alex Zanardi's two back-to-back CART Champ Car championship wins for Honda / Acura in 1997 and 1998. Only fifty-one examples were built, and they were available only in New Formula Red to reflect the color of the Champ Car Zanardi drove for Chip Ganassi Racing.
The Zanardi Edition was similar to the Japanese market NSX Type S. Visible differences between the Zanardi Edition and the Type S were the Zanardi's left-hand drive, black leather and suede seats with red stitching, airbag-equipped Acura steering wheel, and a brushed-aluminum plaque with an engraved Acura logo, Zanardi's signature, and a serial number on the rear bulkhead.
Zanardi Number 0 was a press car that also appeared in auto shows across the country. In a handling test in Road and Track's June 1999 issue, this Zanardi NSX placed second against the Dodge Viper GTS-R, Lotus Esprit, Porsche 911 Carrera 4, Ferrari F355 Spider, and Chevrolet Corvette C5 Coupe. The car was also featured in Car and Driver's July 1999 issue before being sold to a private individual.
Zanardi Number 1 belongs to Zanardi himself and was not given a North American VIN. The car is rumored to have been modified by Honda with hand-activated throttle, braking, and shifting mechanisms to accommodate Zanardi's paraplegia resulting from his Lausitzring crash in 2001.
Zanardi numbers 2 through 50 were sold to the general public through dealers.
"Facelifted" NSX (Worldwide)
The original NSX body design received only minor modifications from Honda in the new millennium when in 2002 the original pop-up headlamps were replaced with fixed xenon HID headlamp units (see photo from LA Autoshow 2003) along with slightly wider rear tires to complement a revised suspension.
The fixed roof NSX was dropped in 2002. The NSX was now made available in a number of exterior colors with either a matching or black interior to provide a number of possible color combinations. A 4-speed automatic transmission with manual-type shift option also became available.
Second generation NSX-R (JDM)
A second iteration of the NSX-R was released in 2002, again exclusively in Japan. As with the first NSX-R, weight reduction was the primary focus for performance enhancement. Instead of developing the stock 2002+ T-Top, Honda chose to go back to the pre-2002 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 rear spoiler was said to be the largest one-piece carbon-fiber spoiler in production cars. Additionally, the original NSX-R weight reduction techniques were repeated, including deletion of the audio system, sound insulation and air conditioning. A single-pane rear divider was again used, as were carbon-kevlar racing seats manufactured for Honda by Recaro. Finally, larger yet lighter wheels resulted in a total weight reduction of almost 100kg (220lb) to 1,270kg (2,800lb).
The 3.2L DOHC V6 engine received special attention as well. Each NSX-R engine was hand assembled by a skilled technician using techniques normally reserved for racing programs. Components of the rotating assembly (pistons, rods and crank) were precision weighed and matched so that all components fell within a very small tolerance of weight differential. Then, the entire rotating assembly was balanced to a level of accuracy ten times that of a typical NSX engine. This balancing and blueprinting process significantly reduced parasitic loss of power due to inertial imbalance, resulting in a more powerful, free-revving powerplant with excellent throttle response. Officially, Honda maintains that the power output of the Second-Gen NSX-R engine is 290bhp (220kW), which is identical to the stock NSX. The automotive press, however, has long speculated that the true output of the engine is as much as 320bhp (240kW), and that other, unpublished enhancements were made.
To complement the revised powerplant, Honda increased the final drive ratio by adding a 4.235:1 ring and pinion gear in place of the 4.06:1 stock unit. This had the effect of increasing the torque at the axles at the expense of a lower maximum speed in each gear. Honda also, in an effort to improve clutch engagement and smoothness, replaced the stock 1-disc clutch unit with a dual disc setup similar to those found in 1991-1996 NSX years.
Honda engineers then turned to the suspension, which was tuned specifically for road-course handling. A thicker front sway bar with hardened bushings was added, along with two aluminum braces to stiffen the front chassis. Unlike the stock NSX, which has stiffer rear springs, the NSX-R uses stiffer front springs, which prevent weight transfer to the front suspension on deceleration and corner entry. Spring rates for front and rear overall (F 10.4kg/ mm / R 8.3kg/ mm) are significantly stiffer than stock (F 3.5kg/ mm / R 4.0kg/ mm). Matching Showa dampers with external fluid reservoirs were added to compensate for the stiffer springs.
To complement the suspension adjustments, Honda re-worked the aerodynamic shape of the NSX. Engineers added under-body panels and air fences in the front along with a small rear diffuser to produce balanced "negative lift" or downforce. To improve front downforce, Honda removed the spare tire and added a carbon fiber duct behind the radiator, which directed airflow into the vented carbon fiber hood, providing a flow path for radiator air to pass over the top of the car. The sum result of these subtle aerodynamic changes and suspension adjustments is that the second generation NSX-R is easier to drive on a road course. The car is stable, with less tendency to over-rotate, ultimately improving corner speeds and lowering overall lap times compared to a stock NSX.
The result of Honda's NSX-R effort was a vehicle that could challenge the latest sports car models on the track, despite having a base design that was more than 15 years old. For example, noted Japanese race and test driver Motoharu Kurosawa piloted a 2003 NSX-R around the legendary Nurburgring road course in 7:56, a time equal to a Ferrari F360 Challenge Stradale. The NSX-R accomplished this feat despite being out-powered by the Ferrari by nearly 100bhp (75kW) and weighing almost 100kg (220lb) more than the track-oriented Ferrari (at 1180kg).
Despite these impressive feats and performance, the NSX-R was generally discarded by the automotive press as "too little too late" for the already struggling NSX brand. Criticism was leveled at Honda for failing to completely re-design the NSX. Indeed, critics charged that Honda had simply recycled the existing NSX with some weight reduction and a few clever aerodynamic tweaks. Many questioned why Honda would go to such lengths to merely tweak a failing product, including, famously, adding a mesh shift boot to save 10 grams of weight, when they could have instead increased engine displacement or added a V8. Whatever the validity of the criticism, the NSX-R failed to re-ignite market interest in the NSX, which by 2003 was viewed as over-priced and under-powered. Still, the Second-Gen NSX-R remains a holy grail for Honda/ Acura enthusiasts, and is the ultimate expression of Honda's performance vision for its mid-engined sports car.
NSX-R GT (JDM)
After the release of the Second-Gen NSX-R, Honda developed a more agile, more responsive, and quicker limited edition NSX-R called the NSX-R GT. The NSX-R GT was created by Honda solely to comply with the Super GT production-based race car homologation requirements. As JGTC rules required at least five production cars for any race car version to compete, the NSX-R GT was limited to a production run of only five cars.
The differences between the Second-Gen NSX-R and the NSX-R GT are not fully known. One clear difference is the addition of a non-functional snorkel attached to the roof of the car. In the JGTC NSX race cars however, this snorkel is fully functional, feeding outside air to an individual throttle body intake plenum. The NSX-R GT also has a lowered suspension and widened body. More aggressive aerodynamic components such as an extended front spoiler lip and large rear diffuser are used as well. It also is speculated that the NSX-R GT incorporates more weight savings over the NSX-R.
Powerplant changes are less obvious. Honda never advertised what, if any, changes were made to the 3.2L DOHC V6 for the NSX-R GT. At least one of the cars, owned by Spoon Sports, is known to be turbocharged, with an approximate output of 420bhp (310kW). Though, it is unclear if the turbo system was installed by Honda at the factory or added by Spoon at a later time.
For several years after its release, the NSX-R GT was something of a unicorn. No one had actually seen one, and the scant images released by Honda appeared to be re-touched photos of a standard NSX-R. Some wondered whether the NSX-R GT existed at all. Speculation largely ceased in 2008, when Spoon, a Japanese performance tuner long associated with Honda, provided its NSX-R GT for a track comparison to the Mine's R-35 GT-R.
Second generation NSX-S (JDM)
The second iteration NSX-S, sold exclusively in Japan, continues with the face-lifted NSX keeping the weight at 1,320kg (2,900lb).
End of the NSX
By 2005, with the original Honda design rapidly heading for its 20th anniversary NSX unit sales amounted to only a few hundred motorcars per year worldwide. Honda deemed continuation of the NSX was not economically viable, considering the very high cost of manufacturing the NSX along with the companies growing interest in producing a new front engined V10 model.
In 1991, the NSX was a technological marvel but today it is considered more a landmark to their earlier F1 racing successes. By 2005 however Ferrari had gone from the 348 (the NSX's original target) through the F355, F360 and to the F430. So too, Lamborghini now offered its Gallardo in mid-V10 trim and Porsche had continuously improved its 911 marque to previously unseen levels of performance. During the NSX's lifetime, Chevrolet produced the C5 and C6 Corvette and Dodge rolled out the thunderous V10 Viper, all at a lower cost than the NSX. Yet, Honda still had took the rigid corporate position of leaving the NSX in virtually original trim, leaving its customers to justify paying over $90,000.
By July 2005, Honda officially announced that it would cease manufacturing NSX and transfer its research and development efforts to the search for its successor. The last US production NSX was sold in Spokane, Washington in the summer of 2006. It was originally supposed to be put in Honda's museum, but was not.
In December 2007, American Honda CEO, Tetsuo Iwamura, confirmed a new NSX powered by a V10 engine would make its introduction into the market by 2010. The new sports car would be based on the Acura 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, prototypes of the vehicle were seen testing on the Nürburgring in June 2008. On December 17, 2008, Fukui announced during a speech about Honda's revised financial forecast that, due to poor economic conditions, all plans for a next-generation NSX have been canceled.
Honda NSX Mugen RR
In 2009 Tokyo Auto Salon, Honda unveiled a Honda NSX Mugen RR concept vehicle, which included 255/ 35R18 and 335/ 30R18 tires, widened front, multi-grooved rear diffuser, adjustable rear wing.
Since the beginning of the NSX's production, the car has been used as a safety car at the Suzuka circuit, even for the Japanese Grand Prix in its early years of production, and is still used at the circuit. The car is also used for the same role at Twin Ring Motegi, the other circuit owned by Honda.
24 Hours of Le Mans
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.
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. 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 clutch and gearbox failure. The third NSX, number 84, was prepared as a naturally aspirated car and run by Team Kunimitsu Honda in the GT2 class. This NSX, driven by Keiichi Tsuchiya, Akira Iida, and Kunimitsu Takahashi, placed 8th overall and first in the GT2 class after completing 275 laps. This NSX was featured in the game Gran Turismo.
For the 1996 24 Hours of Le Mans, only the Team Kunimitsu Honda NSX returned with the same drivers. It completed 305 laps to finish in the 16th position overall, and third in the GT2 class.
For use in the Super GT, formerly the All Japan GTC and JGTC, the NSX has been highly modified (as allowed by series technical regulations) with chassis development by Dome, engine development by Mugen, for Honda.
Externally 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 as per the roadcar. Similar to the setup used in modern Lamborghinis, 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.
The NSX continues to be used as the works Honda car in the GT500 class, even though it is no longer in production.
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