Since its introduction in 1990, the Acura NSX continues to be the only true supercar to hail from Japan. But despite its meticulously engineered quality and sterling reliability, automotive critics have questioned whether the supercar title is deserving, citing its stock 3.2-liter, 290 hp engine as the number one drawback-a statistic that largely and surprisingly remained unchanged throughout its history.
More to the point, if you're going to spend close to six figures on a car and hope to take on the likes of Ferrari and Porsche, how can you compete on good looks and smart handling alone? Ergo, what's your logic in acquiring one of these rare birds?
None of this stopped sports car enthusiasts from lapping up the Japanese handcrafted exotic. To date, over 7,500 have been sold in the U.S. alone. Stateside NSX owners embraced what descended from Honda heaven as divine design, a set of engine specs not to be tampered with. And so a breed of NSX purists sprouted and grew.
Over time, getting outgunned at the drag strip and on the track by its exotic peers began to take a toll on some members of this elite crowd. Their faith started to waver. What's more, as the price of late model NSXs began to drop in value due to depreciation and the passage of time, the tuner demographic began to see their dream car become an affordable reality. The need for much greater speed among this younger generation, however, was a foregone conclusion.
With these two trends at play, attempts were made to meet the demand for boost. Donning superchargers and turbo kits, a handful of commercial contenders took turns at promising 40 to 50 percent horsepower gains over stock. Comptech USA led the pack with a highly reliable supercharger kit and excellent support post install. NSX mechanic Mark Basch developed "Basch Boost," a supercharger that was well received by the NSX community, but its rise fizzled after countless reliability and customer service issues. On the turbo front, Gerry Johnson produced the Gerry Johnson Turbo Kit while Factor X tried to peel into the market as well. To date, only a handful of turbo kits can be found on the market, with poor reliability and support, once again, as the main inhibiting culprits to mass adoption.
With nothing on the market to safely satisfy the hunger for power and speed pushing 500-plus hp, the fringe purists and up-and-comer young guns ironically surrendered to the mindset of the age-old critic: "If the NSX looks and handles like a supercar, why doesn't it drive like one?"
In the shadow of this mounting frustration and curious quandary, NSX tuner extraordinaire Devin Pearce conducted research outside of his day job at AEM (Advanced Engine Management). His vision was to break the mold of the NSX and transform its engine into a reliable work of art that lived up to the deserving status of a supercar.
"Visually, the NSX is stunning and is in the same aesthetic league as Lamborghini, Ferrari, and other exotics," said Pearce. "But there was quite a bit of room for improvement in its power, especially if I wanted the NSX to hold its own against the late-model speed kings, such as the new Porsche Carrera GT and Ford GT."
Pearce has been involved in countless high-end import and domestic powered drag and road race cars, both mechanically and from a tuning standpoint, where he delivered reliability, durability, and horsepower. This experience has lent itself well to the dozens of NSXs he has tuned in his career. Pearce says that NSX owners ironically still demand stock-like qualities in the areas of starting, idling, and mileage regardless of how much horsepower their engine produces.
Where Pearce wanted to go, others had gone before, something he admits humbly. But because he had experience in extremely high horsepower projects, he believed there was a way to up the ante of the NSX's power while still delivering reliability, not blown motors. After getting his hands on a pristine black 1997 NSX-T, Pearce began his adventure in the fall of 2003, a journey that would take two and a half years. It began with the help of friend and expert mechanic Dan Lynch, where the engine was removed in preparation for the ultimate race build. The block was carefully disassembled, after which every engine part, nut, and bolt was inspected, cleaned, and cataloged. The previous build's Darton iron sleeves were retained, but bored and honed to accept larger 93.5mm Wiseco pistons.
Overseeing the engine build was Jim Elkins of Elkins Engines, who is well known for his ultra-high horsepower, yet extremely reliable, import engine builds. He was also tapped for his surgeon-like attention to detail during the cleaning, preparation, and assembly process. With Elkins on board, all critical clearances were measured and recorded, and all rotating parts were balanced. Then the meticulous process of assembling the now blueprinted engine took place.
Pearce then enlisted the expertise of nationally renowned fabricator Cody Loveland of Lovefab, Inc., to help design and create the NSX turbo kit. Loveland spent months building and testing several versions of the kit until both Loveland and Pearce were satisfied. "I couldn't believe Cody's level of commitment to quality and performance," said Pearce. "I now understand why he is so sought after to design and build one-off and production turbo systems.
Lovefab's kit utilized a Precision T4-based turbo, Garrett core air/water intercooler, Tial blow-off valve, Tial 44mm wastegate, RC injectors, and of course an AEM Engine Management System (EMS). Loveland himself created the artistic layout of hand-fabricated stainless-steel and aluminum piping, which made up the remainder of the kit. Truly a work of art.
With the race engine assembled and the turbo kit standing by, Lynch and Pearce tidied up the remainder of the install, which consisted of a high-flow fuel pump, as well as related parts from Kinsler Fuel Injection and an AEM adjustable fuel pressure regulator. They also bolted up the newly released RPS clutch and flywheel for the NSX, a required move to withstand the insane abuse dealt to the driveline, which was slated to experience more than double the stock engine output. Tein RA adjustable suspension, Privat wheels by Konig, and BFGoodrich g-Force T/A tires rounded out the handling with the only body modifications being a subtle Wings West front lip and side skirts.
It was now the spring of 2006 and time to test the goods on the dyno. With each pull, more and more horsepower was achieved. Pearce knocked down 400, 500, then 600 hp, stopping just shy of 650 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque. "There didn't seem to be an end in sight, but considering pump gas was being used, I felt this was a safe place to stop," he said.
Elated, Pearce was off to the street for fine-tuning with laptop in tow. "Many people can make power; it's easy to target an air/fuel number," said Pearce. "But can they make an engine live for years on end and drive like a bone-stock vehicle that just came off the showroom?"
Pearce continued, "When I tune a car, I don't want anyone to know it's been modified other than the intoxicating exhaust note. The vehicle should start, idle, and have fuel economy like stock. Riders won't know the difference until the pedal is mashed and the car makes over 600 hp."
With success at hand, word seeped its way throughout the NSX community. Inquiries were made to Lovefab, Inc. about this turbo kit wonder. According to Loveland, a handful have already been purchased and installed. Interested speed freaks weren't the only ones calling. Organizations like the EyesOn Design Car Show contacted Pearce about displaying the NSX at their prestigious invite-only, summer concourse event.
In baseball, a home run means clearing 400 feet. In golf, a huge drive is over 300 yards. So what's the equivalent in horsepower for a supercar that still functions like daily driver? "Anything above 500 hp," says Pearce. It would seem Pearce and his team of extraordinary gentlemen clearly crushed one with their 650 hp turbo NSX and went a long way toward restoring the vehicle's legacy as a supercar.