1 Jan 1991
By CHRIS HARRIS
THE late racing legend Ayrton Senna was one of the original NSX‘s test-drivers back in the late 1980s when the Brazilian drove for the F1-dominating Honda.
His small, but important contributions, sums up a two-seater supercar that changed the supercar world when it was unveiled during 1990.
Futuristic in design, with an aluminium body, a mid-mounted race-bred 3.0-litre powerplant and an exquisitely engineered chassis, it was the sheer breadth of abilities that instantly placed the Honda into motoring’s great hall of fame.
Developed during Japan’s bubble economy, the NSX was, naturally enough, Honda’s tilt at Ferrari.
But it went many times better than the uninspiring Ferrari 348 of the day by equalling its performance and handling yet improving on its user-friendliness, quality, reliability, durability, comfort and strength.
It was Honda taking on the establishment and winning. Except in sales.
Launched as the global economic recession of the early ‘90s was biting hard, potential buyers evaporated and the Honda, hand-built in a purpose-built factory in Japan, was left to languish with precious little visible development as the 1990s – and rivals – progressed.
Initially only a single model was offered in Australia on its January 1991 launch.
The 3.0-litre DOHC 24-valve VTEC V6, producing 188kW of power at 6800rpm and 284Nm of torque at 5400rpm – and mated to a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual gearbox, made one of the most melodious noises as it spun its way to the redline of any modern motor car.
Independent double wishbone and coil spring suspension, teamed with a hydraulic rack and pinion steering system and driving the rear wheels, kept the power in check.
Reflecting its $165,900 new price, equipment levels were to luxury car standards, and included a driver’s side airbag (a passenger’s side airbag arrived in early ’93), anti-lock brakes, a limited slip differential, traction control, cruise control, powered leather seats, a high-end CD audio, power windows and central locking.
In May 1995 the NSX-T arrived, sporting a slightly different and somewhat heavier body in the form of removable roof panels.
The extra mass blunted performance and rendered the Honda supercar a bit of a boulevard cruiser in comparison to the sharper and more focussed NSX Coupe.
Small modifications occurred throughout the life of the NSX, but none as important as the switch to a 3.2-litre VTEC V6 and a six-speed manual gearbox from April 1997.
While the automatic continued with the 3.0 V6, the manual enjoyed 3179cc instead of 2977cc, helping to produce 206kW of power at 7300rpm and 298Nm of torque at 5300rpm – making it much the more desirable of the two NSX powerplants – available in Coupe or Targa editions.
But sales slowed down to a trickle by the late ‘90s, as Ferrari once again gained the critical upper hand – first with the 1994 F355 and then again when the magnificent F360 Modena arrived in 1999.
Yet there were still those who believed that the NSX still had no true rival in its all-round and everyday capabilities.