Coming up on The Grand Tour: I drive the new Honda NSX. But here now, on Drivetribe, something that isn’t in the film: I drive the original NSX.
A bit of ancient history first. I started working on car magazines in 1990, as a sub-editor on Autocar. I was later fired. But one week we had the new and incredibly exciting NSX in for test, and one evening I was allowed to take it home.
This car, it was touted at the time, would be as exotic as the then Ferrari rival (the 348, not regarded as one of Fezza’s better efforts) but over a third cheaper, and as reliable and easy to drive as a Civic. At the time, ‘reliability’ in Italian exotica was still something of a nebulous concept, and they had a reputation for being hard work. The gearbox wouldn’t work properly until its oil had warmed up, for example.
But none of this meant anything to me. Firstly, I was a sub, not a road tester, so I was pretty low down the class system for driving the cars, although I had tried a Civic. I was also only 27. And I’d never driven a mid-engined car before, not even a Fiat X1/9, nor anything so rare and valuable.
I drove around in it pretty much all night, and I loved it. I was so mesmerised I didn’t even think to go and pick up my then girlfriend in it. I just drove around England in a youthful stupor of disbelief.
It really was pretty easy to drive, and when I was allowed a day in a Mondial some months later, I was amazed at how much ‘management’ it seemed to need. The Honda really did knock over many of the assumptions about supercar ownership.
Many things happened, I was fired from lots of other magazines, I drove and even owned innumerable mid-engined cars, and then found myself in 2016 with the new NSX. But there, at our track, was also a perfectly preserved original, brought along for illustrative purposes. Well, I had to have a go in that. It was like stumbling across an album I’d loved as a student.
It was crap. It didn’t help that it was an automatic, because even a Japanese automatic from the early 90s changes gear with the conviction of me at the edge of a high diving board. It was also cumbersome, rolly polly, heavy and dull in the steering, and quite unbelievably slow. Driving the new NSX was as undemanding and pleasurable as balancing a pencil on your fingertip. The old one was like carrying a suitcase.
Should have known, of course. Never meet your heroes, especially not those from formative periods of your life. It’s why I never want to meet Derek Griffiths or Brian Cant. By the age of 27, I was fully formed in that I had two testicles, my voice had broken and I shaved, but I was woefully incomplete as a car enthusiast. That’s why the NSX made such a huge and memorable impression on me in 1990. It lived in my mind like the vision of Catherine Anderson when I saw her naked in 1984. But I haven’t seen her since.
This is at the root of my growing inner conflict about old cars. Car history is fascinating, because it’s about so much more than cars. It’s about society, humanity, our dreams and misplaced conceits, global power struggles, and our often comedic vision of how we thought the future would be. Car styling is similarly fascinating, because it’s an important part of the history of art and design.
But you don’t want to drive old cars. They’re just not very good. If they were, they’d still be making them.
Credits: Getty Images