|Early '90s version|
|Honda HP-X (1984)|
Other changes from the HP-X included adding another 1000cc to the V6 engine mounted amidships, making it 3.0 litres. Mounted sideways to create a useable rear boot (if you take the spare wheel out of the front storage area, there is a small second boot as well), it was the first road car engine to feature conrods made of strong, lightweight Titanium to allow it to rev highly on a regular basis without blowing up, which is nice. It was also the first DOHC engine to feature Honda's VTEC valve timing system that improved efficiency as well as power output and delivery, and the first Honda to have Electronic Throttle Control, smoothing the application of the loud pedal. These innovations meant that the naturally aspirated V6 produced 270bhp and soared up to an 8000rpm redline, and yet it was just as reliable as Granny's Honda Civic 1.4, with some NSXs topping 100,000 miles without any serious mechanical failures, not to mention the complete lack of any vehicle recalls. Thus, it is arguably the most reliable supercar ever.
In fact, the handling capabilities were so great that when Gordon Murray was designing his driver-focussed "Ultimate Supercar", the mighty McLaren F1, he was using cars such as the Ferrari 348, Porsche 911 and Lamborghini Diablo... right up until he drove an NSX. As he put it: "The moment I drove the NSX, all the benchmark cars I had been using as references in the development of my car vanished from my mind... the NSX's ride quality and handling would become our new design target". This is coming from the designer of some of the fastest and most successful Formula 1 cars of all time, as well as the father of the greatest supercar of a generation (or two). He loved it so much that not only was it his new benchmark, he actually owned one for seven years, so he would tell you just how much cheaper it is than any of its performance rivals to buy and run. Other famous owners include Rowan Atkinson (who, interestingly, also has a McLaren F1).
|#100 Raybrig NSX ('07) and #16 Castrol Mugen NSX ('00)|
Over the 15 years that it existed - a very long time for a supercar - Honda would keep updating the NSX to keep it fresh. In 1992 there was the first lightened, track-honed Type-R version. In 1997 they revised the suspension, added a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission and bigger brakes, and replaced the 'C30A' with a new and improved 'C32B' engine, featuring thinner Fibre-Reinforced Metal cylinder liners, an extra 200cc - making it 3.2 litres - and an extra 20bhp and 15lb/ft (the mix of extra grunt and shorter gears dropped the 0-60 from 5.2 to 4.5 seconds). They added a targa top version called the NSX-T and made various limited editions in different markets. As the styling started to look dated, they tweaked that too, in 2001, changing the pop-up headlights for snake eyes, refining the tail lights and changing the bumpers. In the same year, they also updated the suspension again and widened the rear tyres... and then came the final Type-R version.
When you think about all this, the Honda NSX truly is a remarkable car, and surely a supercar great in a slightly odd way, because it had supercar performance for Honda money, and with legendary Honda reliability. For a relatively reasonable price, you could buy a car that could keep up with a track-focused Ferrari. This raises a question with a depressing answer: why did almost nobody buy one?
I mean, what's not to like? It still looks good today, it was a hell of a lot cheaper than something like a Porsche or a Ferrari and just as fast (or even faster), it has racing heritage, it sounds excellent, drives better than nearly everything and has almost none of the traditional supercar drawbacks. It's bulletproof and had a 3-year warranty, yet global sales had dropped into the hundreds by the turn of the century, and in Europe they were even lower than that. What's the deal breaker? Annoyingly, it was the badge. A lot of people who had supercars didn't want to be seen spending £60,000+ on a Honda. Even their Acura luxury badge they used in the US wasn't enough to save it from having an image deficiency. It also lived in a time when people in Europe and the US generally struggled to take any Japanese car that wasn't an econobox seriously, although it likely helped to change that a little by the time it was finally deemed too expensive to build and put to rest in 2005. It's a terrible shame, really. If it said Ferrari on it, it would have lived a few less years before being replaced, but sold in the thousands annually...
The upside of this is that buying one isn't just a good idea, it'll also prove to be an investment, as its rarity and future-classic status should see value rise over time. Still, if there were more of them around, more Honda fans could get their hands on them. As it stands, I guess £20-30k isn't bad. I don't have that much, but I would absolutely love to own one. I can only imagine what it's like to drive. Because it's not as high-maintenance as an Italian (which reminds me of a great Tatsuru Ichishima quote), I could drive it in the rain, or when it's cold, or even in snow with the right tyres/snow chains, and even if poseurs in 911 Turbos and F430s may scoff, I would know what I had, and what I would have is the best supercar you've never heard of. Unless you've got a Play Station.