The Everyday Exotic: The 1991 Acura NSX
The particular car I had for the day was a 1991 first generation pre-facelift NSX with a glorious 5-speed manual transmission. Berlina Black paint, Ivory interior and 105,000-miles on the clock. // Photos and text by Nathan Christian
January 11, 2017: I met my hero car for the second time. I had driven the same Acura NSX roughly a year ago for a photoshoot, but at the time I wasn’t as concerned about how the car felt or made me feel, I was just trying not to wreck my friend’s NSX in busy downtown Kansas City. This time though, it was different. I was given a $20 bill for gasoline and as much time as I needed to gather how the car made me feel while driving it.
The particular car I had for the day was a 1991 first generation pre-facelift NSX with a glorious 5-speed manual transmission. Berlina Black paint, Ivory interior and 105,000-miles on the clock.
I backed the NSX out of its winter hibernation spot in the garage and allowed it to warm up on the beautiful 65 degree January day we had in front of us. After a few moments of talking with Justin, the owner, the NSX was ready to go and I set off towards the nearest gas station. I filled it up with premium fuel as the clerk at the counter stared in amazement at the car. And like that, I had an almost full tank in my dream car and a beautiful day ahead of me. Where do I even start with this thing?
First of all, let’s talk numbers, which are pretty much irrelevant with this car. Power comes from a 3.0 liter DOHC VTEC equipped V6 (C30A1 for the Honda nerds) producing a rather modest 270 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque that screams to a dramatic 8000-rpm redline. It’s paired to a close ratio five-speed manual, with throws that are delightfully short and precise. With a 0-60 time in the mid five second range, it isn’t mind-blowingly fast by today’s standards, but the NSX is much more than a 0-60 number.
Let's talk about the important stuff – the stuff that can’t be quantified on paper: How the car makes you feel. This car makes you feel connected to it unlike any car I’ve driven before. The lack of power steering would often be considered a downside for many, but this car doesn’t need it. Yeah, it’s a bit heavy at parking lot speeds, but the precision of the steering once you’re up to speed is unreal. It’s a dangerously-confidence-inspiring car.
It bolts from one direction to another faster than you can even think about which way the road leads ahead of you. The car has sporty intentions with the way it rides, but at the same time it’s extremely comfortable to drive for short or long periods of time. The drilled and slotted brake rotors on Justin’s NSX performed well and kept me from going into the Missouri back road corners too fast for my own good.
The original design was created by Pininfarina, a well-known Italian automotive design firm, for Honda’s concept car at the time, the HP-X, or Honda Pininfarina eXperimental. The HP-X eventually evolved into what we now know as the NSX, or New Sportscar eXperimental, after the project received the approval of the big wigs. Showcasing some of the innovating ideas Honda had at the time,The NSX featured a VTEC variable valve timing system and was the first production car to feature an all-aluminium semi-monocoque unit body.
Satoru Nakajima, a highly respected Japanese Formula One driver was involved in much of the early chassis tuning of the NSX on the Suzuka Race Circuit. Three-time Formula One champion Ayrton Senna, who had Honda powering all of his winning racecars, continued to refine the handling of the NSX by testing it out on many famous tracks, including the Nürburgring and Suzuka. He would report back to Honda and provide suggestions and complaints prior to his death in 1994.
In 1989, The NSX was first introduced to the public at the Chicago International Auto Show. The first model year for the NSX was 1990, with the first year available for North America being 1991, sold under Honda’s luxury brand for North America, Acura.
More than 25 years later, the NSX is still turning heads. Justin’s NSX is sitting on some later model year wheels which help modernize the look of the car quite a bit as opposed to the smaller diameter five spoke alloys that would’ve came on this car. The paint and body is still in remarkable condition considering the age of this car. Aside from the small ding and dent here and there, the lightweight aluminum body has stood up to the last 25 years quite well. And let's not forget to mention the pop-up headlights. Pop-ups earn “cool points” from me instantly.
Once inside the car, you’ll notice that the cockpit wraps around you like a fighter jet (where Honda originally got their interior inspiration from); the view is incredible. This car has more visibility than any other fixed-hardtop car I’ve ever driven or been inside of. The Ivory colored bucket seats have held up to the last few decades surprisingly well with no tears in the seat bolsters and very little creasing.
Throughout the day, I explored several busy main roads, scenic back roads and curvy lakeside roads. While I was out, I learned that you don’t have to be behind the wheel to love the NSX. I’ve never been waved at in a vehicle as much as I had on this day. Seriously, everyone loves it. I have yet to drive any other vehicle that makes you feel like more of a celebrity on the road than the NSX. Yeah, I’m sure a Ferrari or Lamborghini could do the same, but are they an Acura at the end of the day? I even got a pop-up headlight “wave” from a first generation Miata, so naturally I “waved” back.
The NSX is truly the everyday exotic, it features a light clutch, excellent visibility, and has usable power in every single gear.
Whoever said “Don’t meet your heroes” was wrong with this one. I’d like to meet my hero in my garage every morning if I could.
Now if only the NSX market wasn’t going nuts (for good reason).
Nathan Christian lives in Lee's Summit, MO and enjoys daily driving his Laguna Blue Honda S2000 (when it's above freezing outside). Check out his Instagram account (@speedenthusiasts) to view more of his work.
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