Honda NSX, the street car shaped by Ayrton Senna

Honda Acura NSX Ayrton Senna

Honda NSX (Acura NSX in the US)

Honda NSX is a relatively new model to be called a classic, they started the production of the first generation of this is a 2-seater, mid-engined sports car in 1990 and the model lasted up to 2005. This car benefited not only from the excellent Japanese engineering skills but also from Ayrton Senna’s input in the last stages. The car also got some aggressive aerodynamics and a F-16 fighter jet cockpit. Mr Senna and Honda filmed some videos of the car, you can watch one here.

Honda track record in racing cars

Honda has always been a racing brand but generally more focused in bikes than cars. The heritage of Honda for racing cars is not equivalent to any of the other brands just focused on racing cars like: Ferrari, Bugatti, etc but like many other makers who have produced other things like lawn mowers, jet engines, robotics, solar cells, etc it is quite remarkable the historic success of the brand. We think the strong point of Honda always was engines: fast reliable engines particularly needed in bikes rides on high revs. We don’t want to criticise the actual performance of the brand in Formula 1 here, we just look for the opposite. Honda has always built great engines. One of the cars that precisely shows those capabilities is the Honda S800. Honda celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2017 Goodwood FOS with a fully restored one made by Le Riche restorations in Jersey. Honda UK entrusted them a convertible one and in our view the vehicle and model it is a piece of art. It is because it has a different look but also nice and pleasant. It was the first street car to achieve 100 mph (we are talking this happened in 1967) and you can read more about it here.
Honda NSX was presented at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show and was built in a purpose-made factory in Japan. It was for sale from 1990. They were only originally available as a coupé and, from 1995 with a targa top too. It underwent a performance upgrade in 1997, which saw the arrival of a larger 3.2 L V6 engine, and a facelift in 2002 before being discontinued in 2005. In North America models were sold as the Acura NSX.

honda Acura NSX drawing

Honda NSX creation and transformation

In 1984, Honda commissioned the Italian car designer Pininfarina to design the concept car HP-X (Honda Pininfarina eXperimental), which had a mid-mounted 2.0L V6 configuration. After Honda committed to a supercar project, management informed the engineers of a magnificent challend: the new car would have to be as fast as anything coming from Italy and Germany. No need to name anyone here, the challenge was worded good enough to create a fast beast. The HP-X concept car evolved into a prototype known as NS-X, which stood for "New", "Sportscar" "eXperimental". The prototype and eventual production model—which was marketed as the NSX— were designed by a team led by Honda Chief Designer, Masahito Nakano, and Executive Chief Engineer, Shigeru Uehara (who subsequently were placed in charge of the Honda S2000 project, successor of the Honda S800 we mentioned before).
The original performance target to beat for Honda's was the Ferrari 328, which was revised to the 348 as the design neared completion. Honda intended its sportscar to meet or exceed the performance of the Ferrari, while offering superior reliability and a lower price. For this reason, the 2.0 L V6 of the HP-X was abandoned and replaced with a more powerful 3.0 L VTEC V6 engine. The bodywork design had been specifically researched by 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 forward layout was chosen early in the NSX's design to optimise visibility while the long tail design enhanced high speed directional stability.The NSX was designed to showcase several Honda automotive technologies, many derived from its F1 motor-sports program.
With a strong motorsports division, Honda had significant development resources at its disposal and made extensive use of them for the NSX model. The respected Japanese Formula One driver Satoru Nakajima, for example, was involved with Honda in the NSX's early on track development at Suzuka race circuit, where he performed many endurance distance duties related to chassis tuning. The 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 Suzuka GP 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 Suzuka circuit, the 179-turn Nurburgring Course in Germany, HPCC, and Honda's newest test track in Takasu, Hokkaido. To name another helper, Honda automobile dealer Bobby Rahal (two-time CART PPG Cup and 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion) also participated in the car's development. As you can see the car was made to win and a lot of resources were put at work.

Honda NSX-R, NSX-T and other rare versions

For those NSX customers seeking a no-compromise racing experience, Honda decided in 1992 to produce a version of the NSX specifically modified for superior on-track performance at the expense of customary creature comforts. Thus, the NSX Type R (or NSX-R) was born. Honda chose to use its moniker of Type R to designate the NSX-R's race-oriented design.
Honda engineers started with a base NSX coupe and embarked on an aggressive program of weight reduction: sound deadening, the audio system, spare tire, air conditioning system and traction control along with some of the electrical equipment was removed. The power leather seats were replaced with lightweight carbon-kevlar racing seats made by Recaro for Honda. However, electric windows and fore/aft electric seat adjusters were retained. The stock forged alloy wheels were replaced with lighter forged aluminium wheels produced by Enkei, which reduced the car's unsprung weight. The stock leather shift knob was replaced with a sculpted titanium piece. Overall, Honda managed to remove approximately 120 kg (or 265 lb.) of weight, giving the NSX-R a final weight of 1,230 kg (or 2,712 lb.). So job done right? Nope sorry. The NSX, due to its mid-engine layout and rear-end link travel, was susceptible to a sudden oversteer condition during certain cornering manoeuvres. While this condition rarely occurred during spirited street driving, it was much more prevalent on race tracks where speeds were much higher. To address the problem and improve the NSX-R's cornering stability at the limit, Honda added one aluminum bracket under the front battery tray and added one aluminum bracket in front of the front radiator to add more chassis rigidity then replaced the entire suspension with stiffer front sway bar, stiffer suspension bushings, stiffer coil springs and stiffer dampers. So do we have a perfect car now? Well, how about creating a convertible version? So at the beginning of 1995, the NSX-T with a removable targa top was introduced in Japan as a special order option and in North America in March 1995. The removable roof resulted in decreased chassis rigidity and Honda added about 100 pounds (45 kg) of structural reinforcements to compensate, including significantly thicker frame side sill rocker panels (the body component which contributes most to the chassis's rigidity), bulkheads, roof pillars and the addition of new front/rear bulkhead and floorpan cross members. The targa models, produced for the rest of the NSX's production run thru 2005, sacrificed weight and some of the original coupe's chassis rigidity in return for an open cockpit driving experience.

Other rarer models include: Along with the engine displacement increase in 1997, Japan exclusively received the NSX Type S (NSX-S) and NSX Type S-Zero (NSX-S-Zero). The S-Zero is a more circuit-oriented version of the standard Type S and also did not offer cruise control, stereo, power door locks, airbags, air conditioning, traction control, power steering, fog lights or a navigation system.
The Alex Zanardi Edition NSX was introduced in 1999 and exclusively sold in the US. It was quite similar to the Japanese market NSX Type S. Some visible differences between the Zanardi Edition and the Type S were the Zanardi's left-hand drive, black leather and suede seats with red stitching, airbag-equipped Acura steering wheel, and a brushed-aluminium plaque with an engraved Acura logo, Zanardi's signature, and a serial number on the rear bulkhead. Seems quite a nice car to drive. 51 cars were made, where chassis #0 was a car made for the press and got serious media coverage, chassis #1 was given to Zanardi himself and made to fit his personal specs and the rest were sold to the general public.
Other rare models include NSX-R and NSX-R GT.

honda acura nsx alex zanardi dashboard

Honda NSX in Motorsports

The most common appearance of the car is in the Suzuka circuit as a safety car. The car started being used in the early ages on the model and it is still used now. The NSX has also raced the Le Mans 24hr between 1994-96 with not a huge success, they only managed to win the GT2 class in 1995. A super GT version was built and developed race after race, but this is more modern racing than classics.

I hope you have enjoyed learning about this car.

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Less known stories, Racing History
02/06/2018 - 11:38
Less known stories, Racing History
01/22/2018 - 11:58
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