When you sit and think of the ever-growing industry of Honda tuners there is Mugen and then there is everyone else. In respect to Honda vehicles, there is the legendary flagship NSX and then there is every other car Honda has built. This begs a question: what happens when Mugen, for the first time in nearly two decades, creates a concept vehicle based on Honda's pinnacle of performance? For Honda enthusiasts everywhere it can be summed up in three words - it's a miracle!
As you may have read in our April issue, I visited the Tokyo Auto Salon for the very first time in 2009. While nearly the whole show was a shock-and-awe ordeal for me, when I first set my eyes on this NSX - while it was atop its rotating podium - I had a near heart attack/jizz in my pants experience. When I finally came to, I remember snapping pics like crazy along with the frenzy of other photogs trying to get their fill. After roughly two minutes and fifty frames, my boss, JDM Wong, came up to me and said "so... you like this car huh?" A sarcastic "uhh... yeah!" was all I could mutter. Grinning, Jon replied "good, you'll be shooting it on Tuesday!"
That night when I returned to my hotel room, all I could think about was making sure this car looked the best it could. Granted there were plenty of amazing cars I would end up shooting while in Japan, but to a die-hard Mugen fanatic this was possibly the coolest car I had ever seen in my existence. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen that wasn't equipped with female reproductive organs and I still couldn't wait to get my hands on it.
The day of the shoot I woke up late, as usual, to Tetsu and Jon getting ready to go and load up our JDM rental car with gear for the day's shoot. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived in Saitama, Japan at Mugen's headquarters. While I admit the first thing on my mind was to get a picture of me with my newly acquired Mugen gloves doing a bird-man hand gesture in front of the Mugen sign (which Jonny sadly declined), I quickly gained interest in the shoot at hand once we rounded the street into the parking lot behind the structure.
As we passed the employee lot on our way to main area where I was to be shooting, it became very clear - I had died and gone to heaven. While the daily drivers sitting in the gravel employee lot looked like an entire year's worth of Honda-Tuning cover cars, we had bigger fish to fry - and little time to do so. How little of time I didn't realize until I had unloaded my gear and Tetsu explained frantically "They have meeting at one-o-crock..." which left me with approximately one hour to shoot both the NSX RR and the Civic RR Advanced... needless to say I spent the majority of my time on this monster.
When I finally had my gear setup I decided to walk the premises to find the optimum location to shoot my dream car... unfortunately even though M-TEC is actually a huge facility by Japan's standards, no such location existed. I essentially had a smorgasbord of angles - all conveniently located within the same 40 square feet of concrete covered with harsh shadows, ugly grating and extremely distracting backgrounds... but I got over it, hell I was in Japan, at Mugen - for free! So I did what I do best and tried to make due with what I had.
Knowing that time was of the essence, Mugen had assembled a team of workers to take on the delicate task of moving this automotive masterpiece. After deciding on a location, the team scurried the vehicle into position and I started moving in the lights. Shooting a white car in the middle of the afternoon is about one of the most difficult things you can possibly photograph - coincidentally it's also one of my favorite scenarios. And while setting up my lights I knew how tough it was going to be to show all of the technical aspects of the car through a photograph.
While I was framing the car up a million things were running through my head. Would the photos look good? Should I ask about the museum? Do they want to sponsor my EK? The list went on, but once I started shooting I came into a rhythm. Watching the beautifully sculpted curves of the car I did my best to accurately capture each intricacy. The way the brushed aluminum emblems reflected the light, how the fenders rolled over into intimidating sharp shoulders and the texture of the carbon-fiber were all equally important.
This was an aerodynamic work of genius, taking styling and performance cues straight from SuperGT. The way the scoop peers over the roofline sends chills down your back in person. And it was easy to tell that Mugen was extremely proud of their masterpiece - at no time were there less than five employees watching my every move, making sure nothing on the car was harmed and that every last logo was straightened and clean, moving the car wherever I needed it - under normal terms a photographer would have to pay $2,000 a day for this type of assistant team.
After shooting most of the exterior, I moved on to the engine bay. For those of you not familiar with the NSX, the engine layout of this vehicle was completely changed. Normally the C series engine is mounted transversely, or in other words, left-to-right. The Mugen team decided to take the development of this car to another level and repositioned the engine directly in the middle of the compartment in a longitudinal, or front-to-back, configuration. This engine layout allowed the team to make custom headers, which would now lead straight out the back into the exhaust, instead of wrapping around under the engine like they would with the OEM configuration, allowing for a shorter/more free-flowing exhaust system.
Once I was done with the engine compart-ment I moved to the interior, comprised of full red suede. After hastily snapping a few shots I decided to press my luck and asked Tetsu if it would be possible to sit in the car for a few shots. Fortunately, Mugen obliged and I removed my Dunks and stepped in. It took all of my will power to prevent myself from grabbing the steering wheel and pretending to go rip on the Wangan. A few shots of the shifter, console and gauge cluster sufficed.
Before I knew it, I was getting the "you better hurry up" look from Jon and I knew my time with the car was almost over. I had the team reposition the car one final time as I scaled the stairs towards the upstairs cafeteria to get an overhead view of the RR. Once I was in place I directed the car into position and had JDM Wong run around the car to reposition my lights. My 50 minutes with the car had gone by in what seemed more like five - but I didn't care. That was all the time I needed.
Out of all the cars I have ever shot, not only was this my personal favorite, but it probably has the most meaning and by far the best story of all. While sorting through the extremely vague spec sheet and talking with Charles about the car, he mentioned something I never realized - as a fellow Mugen nut, he talked about how for all of these years we did as much research as we could about Mugen's concepts, or cars that never were. How everything that we knew was essentially hearsay and that now, I would be the one with the inside scoop. I would be the one documenting the fact for others to trustingly repeat on web forums. I was now the one that knew of the unwritten secrets... but unfortunately for you, what happens at Mugen, stays at Mugen.
Mugen NSX RR
Owner M-Tec (Mugen)
Hometown Saitama, Japan
Daily Grind Making the best honda parts on earth
Under The Hood Longitudinally- mounted 3.2L naturally-aspirated C32B; custom RR Spec Mugen carbon-fiber intake plenum w/roof scoop, spark plug covers, radiator cap, headers, dual exhaust, carbon-fiber covers
Drivetrain RR Spec custom gearbox
Stiff Stuff RR Spec Mugen coilovers ROLLERS 18" Mugen GP wheels; Mugen Lugnuts; Michelin Pilot Sport tires 255/35/18 front, 335/30/18 rear
Stoppers RR Spec forged calipers w/custom rotors
Outside Complete Mugen RR Concept body kit (front bumper w/carbon air dam, fenders, vented hood, fender mirrors, front fenders, carbon-fiber side skirts, rear fender covers, rear bumper w/mesh exhaust cutouts and diffuser, adjustable rear spoiler, gas cap)
Inside Mugen RR spec Recaro seats; Mugen shift knob, shift boot surround, pedals, steering wheel, gauge cluster
Ice Mugen RR navigation home screen display
www Michelin-us.com; mugen-power.com