The Japanese Supercar.
In 1984 Honda commissioned the Italian car designer Pininfarina to design the HP-X (Honda Pininfarina eXperimental), which had a mid-mounted C20A 2.0 L V6 configuration.
After Honda committed to the project, management informed the engineers that the new car would have to be as fast as anything coming from Italy and Germany . The HP-X concept car evolved into a prototype called the NS-X, which stood for “New”, “Sports-car” and “eXperimental”.
The NS-X prototype and eventual production model were designed by a team led by Chief Designer Masahito Nakano and Executive Chief Engineer Shigeru Uehara, who subsequently were placed in charge of the S2000 project.
The original performance target for the NS-X was the Ferrari 328, which was revised to the 348 as the design neared completion. Honda intended the NS-X to meet or exceed the performance of the Ferrari, while offering targeted reliability and a lower price point. For this reason, the 2.0L V6 of the HP-X was abandoned and replaced with a more powerful 3.0L VTEC V6 engine.
The bodywork design had been specifically researched Uehara after studying the 360-degree visibility inside an F-16 fighter jet cockpit. Thematically the F-16 came into play in the exterior design as well as establishing the conceptual goals of the NSX. In the F-16 and other high performance craft such as unlimited hydroplanes, open-wheel race cars, etc., the cockpit is located far forward on the body and in front of the power plant. This “cab-forward” layout was chosen early in the NSX’s design to optimise visibility while the long tail design enhanced high speed directional stability.
The NS-X was designed to showcase several Honda automotive technologies, many derived from its F1 motor-sports program. The NS-X was the first production car to feature an all-aluminium semi-monocoque unit body,incorporating a revolutionary extruded aluminium alloy frame and suspension components. 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 (much of it unsprung weight); a suspension compliance pivot helped maintain wheel alignment changes at a near zero value throughout the suspension cycle.
Other notable features included an independent, 4-channel anti-lock brake system; titanium connecting rods in the engine to permit reliable high-rpm operation; an electric power steering system; Honda’s proprietary VTEC variable valve timing system and, in 1995, the first electronic throttle control fitted to a Honda.
With a robust motorsports division, Honda had significant development resources at its disposal and made extensive use of them. Respected Japanese Formula One driver Satoru Nakajima, for example, was involved with Honda in the NS-X’s early on track development at Suzuka race circuit, where he performed many endurance distance duties related to chassis tuning. Brazilian Formula One World Champion Ayrton Senna, for whom Honda 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 initially testing the car at Honda’s SuzukaGP circuit in Japan.
Senna further helped refine the original NSX’s suspension tuning and handling spending a whole day test driving prototypes and reporting his findings to Honda engineers after each of the day’s five testing sessions.Senna also tested the NSX at the Nurburgring and other tracks. The suspension development program was far-ranging and took place at the Tochigi Proving Grounds, the Suzuka circuit, the 179-turn Nurburgring Course in Germany, HPCC, and Hondas newest test track in Takasu, Hokkaido. Honda automobile dealer Bobby Rahal (two-time CART PPG Cup and 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion) also participated in the car’s development.
The production car made 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 to positive reviews. Honda revised the vehicle’s name from NS-X to NSX before final production and sale. The NSX went on sale in Japan in 1990 at Honda Verno dealership sales channels, supplanting the Honda Prelude as the flagship model. The NSX was sold under Honda’s flagship Acura luxury brand starting in November 1990 in North America and Hong Kong.
Upon its official release, the NSX design concept showcased Honda’s technology, and measured only 1,170 mm (46 in) in height, making it only 141.3 mm (5.56 in) taller than theFord GT40, an extreme GT racing car designed and funded solely to win at LeMans.
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 aluminium monocoque chassis and front and rear double wishbone suspension, with forged control arms connected to forged alloy wheels.
The car additionally boasted the world’s first production car engine with titanium connecting rods, 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. The NSX exterior had a dedicated 23-step paint process, including an aircraft type chromate coating designed for chemically protecting the aluminium bodywork and a waterborne paint for the base coat to achieve a clearer, more vivid top colour and a smoother surface finish.
The car’s chassis rigidity and cornering/handling capabilities were the results of Ayrton Senna’s consultation with NSX’s chief engineers while testing the NSX prototype car 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 assembly experience 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.
Production of the first generation NSX ended on November 30, 2005. Sales in the United States and Canada ended in 2000 and 2005, respectively.
As of the end of June 2005, the NSX achieved total worldwide sales of more than 18,000 units over 15 years.
On December 27, 2014, Honda announced that its second-generation NSX would debut at the 2015 North American International Auto Show. The introduction of the 2017 Acura NSX on January 12, 2015 was broadcast live on YouTube.