Honda NSX: winking at Italian cars

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In today’s article, we present the history of a revolutionary sports car, with the task of shortening the technical gap between the simple cars built by Honda for us “common mortals” and the stratospheric successes achieved in F1 thanks to a winning mix of technique and reliability: the Honda NSX, the most reliable Supercar of all.

This model, which makes millions of fans still dream of today, let’s us recall the video in which the legendary Ayrton Senna was the protagonist of a fabulous cameracar of the time. Wearing white socks and moccasins, he gave us goose bam uring every acceleration and through every corner.

Honda needed desperately a new sportcar in its portfolio. The previous one, the S360 was produced 28 years before and since that, the Japanese car brand have not realised any more sport model. Despite the winning strike in Formula 1, the production cars were really far away from that technologically advance performance developed for the F1 cars. It was time to close the gap. With all these good intentions together with the meticulousness and profuse Japanese commitment, the NSX was born. A car so close and at the same time so far from the HONDA philosophy. An automobile capable of embodying the principles of solidity and reliability in a new look, with central engine and rear wheel drive, a chassis completely in aluminium and very advanced technical solutions. 

Let’s talk about 1989, when this car was tested by two F1 drivers (one of whom was Senna) to fully prove its pedigree. Paying attention to those subtle technical details that only the most experienced drivers have the sensitivity to grasp, but that determine the success of a car in the segment. Senna advised to stiffen the chassis, so Honda opted for the new aluminium construction, saving 220kg from traditional steel. Thus the Honda NSX was presented with innovative solutions for that time, as a Traction Control that helped to unleash the power in the wet and at the same time allowed “controlled” power slides Also the electronic power steering and an ABS system or then called ALB (anti-lock-breaking) by Honda was developed to allow this mid-engine car not to crack even during braking at mid-curves, and last but not least the Airbags SRS.

Honda was proud of this masterpiece, also because it had achieved the goal of building a safe and performing sports car, with an unknown visual angle for the time, resulting from the study of the cockpit of the F-16. The primary goal was the achievement of the result and the NSX essence is “form follows the function”.  On top of it Honda could not skip a hard refinement on the infamous “green hell”, and they did not. 

The reliability and power of the aspirated VTec 3.0 V6 with titanium connecting rods, which released 270 hp, was not considered in Europe like the V8 of other brands, above all Ferrari, although the needle of the scale for innovative solutions and technology hung significantly on the side of the Japanese. The design was also very original, starting with a 1984 project originally commissioned to Pininfarina and then further developed, leaving a car misunderstood by most for a long time. Comparing the first series of the NSX to the Ferrari 348 of the same period, Honda looked like a time machine, anticipating the future: but it was all true, the car was already there. Furthermore, Honda did not assign an assembly line production for this limited series, but set up a factory where all operations were handled by hand, by 200 technicians, selected among the best Honda employees, to ensure a certain perfection that the machines were not able to fulfil. 

As always, the European market had to be convinced by a design, by a company tradition of success even before the technique and reliability, and this NSX was too ahead of its time, perhaps too far from what the public was able to understand. It is no wonder that it was mimicked as a bad copy of the 911 and if red, of the Italian “Rossa”. This model was essential for Honda to take a first step in the direction of sports cars, and as a result, they presented an automobile able to overcome “big names” with “on paper” a purer DNA for this kind of projects. But we are aware that history, sometimes, stands by who is brave enough to dare and today the NSX is a car appreciated by many. A car with a unique line that despite having been produced for more than 15 years, still struggles to age: an evergreen. Let us consider that in designing and developing the McLaren F1, the NSX was taken as a reference for driveability and reliability, considered better than Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari. After a pause of reflection, in Japan they wanted to refresh the project, obviously in the “Honda way”, with new technologies and cutting-edge technical solutions. We will talk about the result in the next chapter…