Experimenting with the unknown, a new dream is born.
The beginnings of the NSX trace back to 1984, when Honda began experimenting with a
mid-mounted, rear-wheel drive format. Expecting to create a more efficient and dynamic driving
package, they instead found themselves marvelling at the unique and thrilling handling of this test
car. The memory of their unexpected discovery would follow them, and the seed of a new dream
was sown. At the same time, Honda made its celebrated return to Formula 1; the time was right,
and in 1985, development of the NSX began in earnest.
The idea: to create a sportscar unlike any other.
"What particular qualities would a sportscar have in representing the Honda name?" This simple
question would prove the subject of long discussions amongst the development team, and the memory of
the test car in 1984 pushed them to strive for the most thrilling and dynamic performance they could.
To guide themselves they created the famous "Milky Way" diagram, where power-to-weight ratio
(running performance) was plotted on the Y-axis and wheelbase-to-weight ratio (turning/stopping performance)
was plotted on the X-axis. They determined that a true Honda sportscar would push beyond the
boundaries of the typical sportscar, and pointed their aim as close to a Formula 1 machine as possible.
Breaking new ground to create the first truly modern sportscar.
In 1986, the most common material in cars was sheet steel, but early tests proved what the engineers already suspected: steel was
too heavy and cumbersome; it would require a larger, heavier engine and would not deliver the breakthrough driving dynamics they
knew were possible. During one of many trips between the Tochigi and Wako R&D centres, they realised that the bullet
train was made entirely from aluminium. Aluminium was much lighter than steel and more durable, yet expensive and notoriously
difficult to mould and weld; no automaker had ever built a car primarily of aluminium. Many suppliers and external parties
thought the development team must be crazy to try such thing, but a revolutionary sportscar would only come from an incredible
feat of engineering. Their perseverance paid off, and the NSX became the pioneer of the all-aluminium monocoque body.
Human maximum, machine minimum
The R&D strategy pushed Honda to create a car that would have dynamic performance akin to a Formula 1 car. It
would deliver astounding performance, and would demand superior driving skill to control the car at its limits. But the
Honda philosophy was also that driver and passenger should occupy a hallowed space within the car; the moment the
pursuit of pure mechanical performance compromised the ability of the driver to utilise it, it brought the quality and
experience of the car down dramatically. The final concept for the car embraced a vision that only Honda could deliver:
"To create a sportscar for a new era, we should balance human feelings and vehicle performance at higher levels."
Ayrton Senna and the NSX
In 1989 during testing at the Suzuka Circuit, the development team had the opportunity to ask legendary Formula 1 driver
Ayrton Senna to drive the car. In his own humble way, after completing several laps he advised the engineers that he felt the
car lacked rigidity: "I'm not sure I can really give you appropriate advice on a mass-production car, but I feel it's a little fragile."
Inspired to respond to this challenge, the team moved to the Nurburgring in Germany, where they spent eight months putting
the car to the ultimate test. They eventually improved the rigidity of the car by a phenomenal 50%, and in doing so delivered
the thrilling performance they had sought. They had arrived at the consummate integration between man and machine.
NSX: New Sportscar eXperimental
The NSX acronym stands for "New Sportscar eXpermintal"; a testament to the pioneering endeavour of the engineering team.
The car finally debuted at the 81st Chicago Auto Show in 1989 and, still in concept form, test-drives were held later that year at
the famous Laguna Seca circuit. The media heralded the car as a revolution: "This car will change the standard for modern
sportscars". The NSX finally went on-sale in 1990 to overwhelming demand; the waiting list ballooned to 3-years. In 1992 a
race-tuned version, the NSX-R, was released; and in 1995 the Targa-topped NSX-T. Production finally ceased globally in 2005.
Yet the legend lives on, reborn in the equally breathtaking 2012 NSX Concept.