NSX History (1990-2005)
Article by Mark Trotta
The Acura NSX, also known as Honda NSX, is a mid-engine sports coupe first offered to the public in 1989 for the 1990 model year. Among it's many innovative features are aluminum chassis, body, and suspension, and high-tech V6 engine.
In 1984, Honda was developing the HP-X model; a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, V6 sports car. Their aim was lofty - to rival both Porsche and Ferrari with a lower-priced exotic sports car that would have greater reliability. The original design was penned by famed Italian automotive designing firm Pininfarina.
Engineer Shigeru Uehara and chief designer Masahito Nakano started with the basic shape of the car; a wedge design that would remain relatively unchanged throughout its production run.
Much of the NSX's unique look comes from the forward-mounted cabin, which Uehara felt offered the driver a peripheral view of the road.
To make the car as light as possible, Honda engineers experimented with several suitable materials, including high-strength steels and carbon fiber. Ultimately it was decided that the frame, body, and most suspension parts would be built from aluminum. Several different aluminum grades were tested before settling on the best one for their needs.
Honda engineers invested a lot of time on weight distribution. The fuel tank and seats were positioned in such a way that with or without passenger, and with or without a full gas tank, weight distribution hardly changed. The outcome was a front/rear ratio of 42%-58%.
With the engine mounted midship, sub-frames were attached front and rear, similar to Formula One race cars. The suspension was double-wishbone front and rear. Honda engineers succeeded on getting a firm suspension for best handling, while still having a comfortable ride.
To achieve the highest quality end product, Honda built a new factory solely for NSX production. The new plant soon became one of the most prominent aluminum manufacturing facilities in the world.
To power their new sports car, Honda designed a completely new engine. The 3.0 litre V6 engine featured many weight-saving measures, such as an aluminum block with cast-in iron cylinder liners, forged pistons, and sodium-filled exhaust valves. The crankshaft is made of forged steel. Further weight-reduction was done by using specially patented titanium alloy connecting rods.
VTEC Timing System
Capping off the dual-overhead-cam V-6 was Honda's newly-developed valve timing system, Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control, commonly known as VTEC. The complex timing system was basically two cam profiles in one; giving power both at low-speed and at high-end revving. This was the first application of a VTEC engine, which would be featured on subsequent Honda and Acura models.
Rated at 270 horsepower and 210 ft/lbs of torque, the 3.0L VTEC motor gave the driver a combination of high-end power and low-end tractability. Transmission was either the standard five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic.
NSX Performance (1991-1996)
- 0 to 60: 5.7 seconds
- Quarter Mile: 14.2 seconds
- Top Speed: 170 mph (273 kph)
First displayed to the public at the 1989 Tokyo motor show, the NSX was available to the public in 1990 (1991 in the U.K.). Although it debuted as the Honda NSX, it would be known as the Acura NSX in the North American market.
The letters "N-S-X" stand for New Sportscar eXperimental.
A driver's side airbag was added in 1992 (passenger side added 1994). In 1994 the wheels went up an inch, now 16" up front and 17" in back. This year also saw the original automatic transmission replaced by the F-Matic unit.
Along with the original coupe, a second NSX model was added, the Targa-topped NSX-T. Although heavier than the coupe model, Honda lightened other components to keep weight down. Modifications were also made to keep the T-top body from flexing.
Larger 3.2L Motor
The big news came in 1997, with the NSX getting a bigger, more powerful motor. Displacement increased to 3.2 litres (194 cubic-inches) as did horsepower (290) and torque (224 ft/lbs).
The exhaust manifold was redesigned; now made of stainless steel rather than cast-iron. Transmission choices became a standard six-speed manual or an optional five-speed automatic.
NSX 3.2L Performance
- 0-60: 4.4 seconds
- Quarter Mile: 12.7 seconds
- Top Speed: 170 mph (273 kph)
In 2002, the NSX received a mild face-lift that would remain until first-gen production ended. The original pop-up headlamps were gone, replaced with fixed HID headlamps. The wheels got larger, with both the fronts and rears now running on 17's.
From 2002 onwards, the coupe was no longer available in North America. All 2002-2005 NSX models sold in America were Targa-topped cars.
First-Gen NSX production spanned the years 1989 through 2005. In that time, 18,737 units were produced. Since it was hand-built in its own facility, quality control was top notch on every car.
The mid-engine NSX was a great technological showcase for Honda, and the all-aluminum chassis/body was a first for a production car. The NSX was also the first production car to feature titanium (connecting rods).
NSX Special Models
NSX Type-R - offered in Japan only, 483 made, with the original 3.0-litre engine.
NSX-R - similar to the Type-R, but with the later 3.2L engine (140 made).
NSX-R GT - built to comply with Super GT production-based race-car requirements.
Alex Zanardi Edition - Offered in 1999. Built to commemorate Alex Zanardi's two back-to-back CART Champ Car championships for Honda/Acura in 1997 and 1998.
The Acura NSX has been called the first reliable exotic sports car, and rightfully so. Several years after first generation NSX production ended, Honda started planning a second-generation NSX.
Read: Classic Sports Car History