Back in the good ol' days, when one wanted a mid-engine supercar, their choices are limited to either a quick and flashy Ferrari such as the 328 or a flamboyant and bonkers Lamborghini like the Jalpa. While these cars are definitely fun to show off in and fun to throw around a track on a track day, there was one major problem with these Italian thoroughbreds, reliability. As a short and wise hamster once said, " it didn't go around the track like a robot and boring, it goes around the track and exploded immediately". It is not new information that Italian cars back in the 80s and 90s were pretty problematic, probably spawning a new problem or breaking down every hundred miles. However, the woes of those who wanted a mid-engine supercar that was both fast and reliable would soon be heard...
Enter the New SportsCar Experimental
Photo from Automobile Magazine of the original NS-X concept at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show
Under the motto "Our Dreams Come True" 「緊張ではない、開放するスポーツだ」(which roughly translates to "A release of sport without nervousness" kind of glad they came up with a better English motto) Honda started experimenting with different drivetrains. At the time (and even now) Honda has specialized in FWD vehicles and so in 1984 Honda's automotive research department decided to create a new sports car based on an MR drivetrain (Mid Engine Rear Drive). I will not bore you with too much detail on the research, but Honda aimed at taking on the Ferrari 328 and had even bought a few Ferrari 328s to gather running data. Honda then employed two F1 drivers to test its prototypes, one being Satoru Nakajima 中嶋悟 and the other one being some Brazilian guy named Ayrton Senna. From the data gathered from these tests, Honda stiffened the body and decided to do something that has not been done before, create a road car with an all aluminium monocoque body which saved loads of weight. Now comes the problem of what engine to use. Originally the NS-X was to come with a 2.0L 4 cylinder SOHC engine(Imagine that, an NSX with a 4 cylinder SOHC) and then a 3.0L V6 SOHC. However, around the same time, Honda had just finished development of an engine we all know and love today, a VTEC DOHC four cylinder for the Integra. With that in mind, Honda made a six cylinder VTEC engine for the NS-X. Next came the styling which was inspired by the F-16 fighter jet. Honda took the canopy of the F-16 and adapted a style around it for the NS-X which boosted visibility which for most other mid-engine supercars are quite poor. After six years of intense research and development, the NS-X was ready to make its debut at the 1989 Tokyo Motor Show and surprise the world.
NA1 NSX at Cars and Croissants
The NS-X that debuted in 1989 was basically the Honda NSX that was sold in showrooms around the world with little changes. The NA1 NSX which sold from 1990 to 1997 came in a five speed Manual and 4 speed Automatic option and was at the time, the most expensive Japanese car to hit the market. However, with "276bhp"(Official figures say 276bhp, but actual output may be higher due to Gentlemen's Agreement between Japanese auto makers to keep power at 276bhp) and a top speed of around 170MPH was definitely a worthy contender for the lower end model Ferraris at the time. It was also an incredibly reliable and practical car with some calling it the first true daily supercar. It has quite a large boot, decent fuel economy with an average of around 20 miles to the gallon, CUP HOLDERS!!!, many functional buttons and features that are placed in a matter that made sense(if you are confused, go take a look at the gauge cluster and buttons in an old Ferrari like a Testarossa, it is a complete mess) and the most important thing, it does not break down every hundred miles. It was apparently so impressive, Ferrari in turn bought a few NSXs just to figure out how the Japanese made a car so quick and reliable.
NSX Type-R NA1 (Photo from Motor Trend)
Enter the Type-R
We have just had a lot of fuss over the new FK8 Civic Type-R, but what was the original Type R? Well in 1992 Honda engineers decided to make a performance version of the already quick NSX. The 3.0L V6 remained as it was, but the entire car was stiffened and given much more precise steering and was able to shed around 128kg of weight through removal of heavy luxury items, carbon fibre seats and replacing the engine cover and bumpers with aluminium ones. The car was dubbed the NSX Type-R and so began the dynasty of Honda Type-Rs. Unfortunately for us, this car was only produced for three years and was sold only in Japan.
In 1997, the first major change was made to the NSX. Although, the NSX's overall styling and body remained unchanged, the same can't be said about its insides. The engine was upgraded to a 3.2L V6 and was given a 6 speed manual gearbox.
Screenshot of an NSX Type S Zero from Gran Turismo 4
NSX Type S
Now you may be wondering, now that Honda has upgraded the NSX, is there a new Type R in the making? Well the simple answer is no, in fact, the NA1 NSX was the only NSX to have the Type R moniker (you may be saying, "What about the LA-NA2 NSX?" well keep reading and you'll have your answer). To make up for a lack of a performance version, Honda made a sportier version of the GH-NA2 NSX under the moniker of the NSX Type S. However, this was apparently not enough because Honda engineers gave the NSX Type S the same weight reduction and treatment as the original Type R and called it the NSX Type S Zero which was also only sold in Japan.
LA-NA2 NSX or 2002 and later NSX photo taken in San Francisco
The Final Change
In 2002, Honda made another major change to the NSX, most notably, the fixed headlights which helped reduce the weight of the car and increase the aerodynamics of the car. Other than that and a new six CD changer, this generation of NSX was virtually the same as the GH-NA2 NSX mentioned above.
The Final Hurrah of the NSX?
Now for those of you who was confused about there only being one generation of NSX Type R, congratulations for making it to the answer. In 2002, after the NSX facelift, Honda engineers decided to give the new NSX the Type R treatment. They took out the CD changer, and many other luxuries from the interior as well as using carbon fibre seats. The car also featured a Carbon Fibre bonnet and rear spoiler and has immensely lost weight. Other improvements include new air outlets to improve aerodynamics. At 290bhp, this weight reduction definitely made the car blisteringly fast. Now with the whole theme of getting rid of unnecessary things, this NSX dropped the word "Type" from its name and was sold as just the NSX-R.
NSX-R GT "For victory at the Super GT. Limited 5 in the world. A $500,000 Homologation model
The Final and Ultimate NSX
In 2005, Honda wished to enter the a performance version of the performance version of the NSX in the Super GT. However, the car must have road going production models, so to fulfill such homologation requirements, Honda made 5 road going versions of the NSX-R GT and was all bought for close to $500,000 by those who wished to remain anonymous. It came with further weight reductions from the NSX-R giving it a power to weight ratio of 218 bhp per tonne , but with a top speed of 174mph and total power output of 290 bhp, this car was not necessarily record breaking in terms of straight up speed. However, the main point of the NSX is its philosophy on lightness and handling and that is the essence of the NSX's philosophy, and the NSX-R GT is the crown jewel of that philosophy.
Now that you know the history of this iconic piece of Japanese engineering, you may be thinking, "WOW, that is a pretty rad car, I wonder how much I can get one for today." Now the NSX has been and still is a very collectible car. For the most part it has kept much of its value with any post 2002 models going for up to $130,000. 2002 models are almost nonexistent on the US secondhand market and no one in the right mind would be selling their Type R or NSX-R or NSX-R GT(which I am sure would auction for a ridiculous price now). However, there is some good news. For those who do want an NSX-R GT but missed out on the 2005 sale of the 5 original ones, there is a way to (kind of) own a brand new one. Tuning company SPOON has had firsthand experience with the legendary car by tuning an NSX-R GT to 420bhp. Armed with that knowledge, SPOON had began selling NSX-R GT replicas (even in left hand drive) in 2009 and even offer engine upgrades of 302bhp and 420bhp with a base price of $150,000. Now for the general public, a decent NA1 1990s NSX can be found in the secondhand market for around $50,000 and even in the $30,000 range. Now you may think this is expensive for a 25 year old car, but the NSX has been appreciating in value in recent years especially after the release of the new 2017 NSX and I am sure it will keep appreciating, making it a worthy investment as this car will become an instant classic.
Screenshot from Carsforsale.com