Let me try and break this down to you very simply: There are Honda guys—and then there are true Honda guys. To say it bluntly: You're not one of them. But Chad Castelo is. Consider this—he's built more Hondas over the years, from the ground up and all built to the extreme, with modifications considered rare or ahead of their time, and could have, in fact, played a huge part in how you decided to build your Honda today. Most Honda enthusiasts start with a Civic or an Integra, deck it out over the years, and later move on to maybe one more platform if they're lucky, usually another later model Civic or Integra. If they've got the scratch, they'll pick up an S2000 and call it a day. When you're ready to go pro, you go for the jugular; we're talking the holy grail of Hondas, the NSX.
"I knew at some point in time, after building so many different Hondas and being exposed to the fitment and quality that these [Mugen] parts are made of, sight unseen one of my dream cars to build has always been the NSX," Chad starts off. "Whether those parts were available for the car or not, I just knew that if I found them, they'd provide the same type of quality and performance I'd come to expect, especially if I were to build my dream car." But having the ability to afford an NSX, let alone build one for pleasure, can be a challenge all its own. First off, you need to have sufficient funds, something Chad didn't originally think would be in the cards. However, timing and luck played an integral part in him being able to take the first step toward NSX ownership. He saved for several years after finishing college doing IT work, and a couple of older projects were sold to put a decent bankroll into his pocket. The first NSX he looked at (and had hoped to purchase) was, unfortunately, sold to another person. Six months later, that person decided to put it back on the market. "He hadn't even transferred the title ownership over," Chad explains. "My wife told me I couldn't pass it up, that it had to be fate. Next thing I knew, I had an NSX in my possession."
From here, you'd probably think: Honda guy builds cool Hondas, sells them, finds car of dreams, installs Mugen parts, nothing crazy, not much of a "wow" car, end of story. You couldn't be further from the truth. The way Chad builds his car—just like many of his inner circle of car buddies—is done with a certain je ne sais quoi, in that they don't just source trending performance parts from Japan. No, they seek the rarest, even if that means scouring Internet auctions around the globe and paying top dollar to acquire said parts, sometimes stockpiling extras—much like sneaker collectors do with rare Nikes—parts so rare that they are often unheard of or thought to be long extinct, erased from existence. This is the challenge Chad presents himself: to not just buy the best car, but to build it to the best of his capabilities. This attention to detail is what makes him a true and very unique car enthusiast. It is not to say that anyone else's way is less than special, but the details are within this car, and they have to be seen up close to be truly appreciated. Photos somehow fail to deliver true justice. But back to the lesson at hand...
Chad's first point of attack is wheel selection. This pretty much makes or breaks the car. He knew right away what he wanted, and it fell in line with the theme he had in mind: Mugen. But they had to be right, that is, model specific. The bolt pattern is common, but the correct size wheels are not. Mugen Japan has a limited selection of wheels made specifically for NSX fitment, and the M7 is one of them, albeit quite rare to find. But Chad found his first set...and almost left it at that. "I wasn't sure what else there was in the way of Mugen parts for the NSX when I was looking for the wheels," he says, "I searched high and low, but the parts just weren't available in the U.S." They were, however, somewhat attainable in Japan and one other region of the world that Chad wasn't expecting to have to turn to, specifically Europe. One by one, though, the parts started coming around.
"Knowing how OCD I can be about sourcing parts, that's what I focused my attention on," Chad happily says. "It's going on eight years now of constant looking. It may take a while, but I always manage to find something else to help fuel that search." Although he has an older Mugen NSX catalog to reference back on, it's been said that with the exception of the one or two photos published inside, there is little in the way of what parts actually made it to the market and into the hands of enthusiasts. As Chad continued to collect the various pieces of the aero kit, it was a challenge in itself to know if the body pieces would even fit the car since there were no other examples completed to go by—only the prototype car used in the catalog. At best, someone had just the rear wing or the front bumper, but never the kit in its entirety. He wound up sourcing a majority of the Mugen kit (front bumper, side skirts, and wing) from France of all places, from the original owner who paid many francs (many years back) and who often raced his NSX with the kit intact. In France, the kit was exclusively available to Honda dealerships; the only way you could get one was with a valid VIN, and it had to be ordered directly from Mugen Japan. There is no record of a Mugen kit ever making it stateside. Other pieces, like the rear bumper, came right from his backyard in Southern California. As far as Chad knew, he was well on his way to building the first Mugen NSX in the world, as the body kit, his piece de resistance, was finally complete.
The exhaust is also a bit of an anomaly. It's actually not a Mugen original, but one could easily mistake it for being one. After doing his fair share of research (what else, right?), Chad discovered that the original engineer who had designed the Mugen exhaust went on to form his own company called Saclam, which is based in Japan. For those of you who are Mugen fans, you'll notice the similarities most at the exhaust tips. What do you think of most? That's right, the older Mugen exhausts (like the teardrop EF or DA mufflers) have the same tips. But one simply cannot just call Saclam and order an exhaust; they don't sell or ship the exhaust to anyone outside of Japan for fear of ill fitment, performance issues, or some company knocking off the design. Chad knows this because he tried ordering one himself. But wouldn't you know it—he found it while searching the Internet once again. He says it fits perfectly and sounds better than it looks. I can only imagine...
One more rarity to highlight for you, those Mugen seats. Without a doubt, they're a true gem as they're JGTC-specification seats, used in an actual JGTC Mugen NSX from the '04 race season. What sets these apart from the ones you'd find in Mugen's normal line of seats is that they're Kevlar-backed and made to accommodate larger bodies. They're contoured specially for an NSX interior and they mount to Mugen power seat rails, also model-specific to the NSX, ensuring OEM-like fitment.
Those seeking to do what Chad has done with his NSX should probably reconsider their decision. He laughs when I ask if there's an approximate dollar amount that it took to build the car. "I honestly don't know," he says. "There's no reference point for me. Some parts I bought at fair market value, but others I was willing to pay whatever it would cost to get those parts into my hands. As this car has become older and more important to Honda's tuning legacy, more and more people have started seeking out Mugen parts. If you know how to network and use the Internet to your advantage, anything is possible. Just know that you're going to have to pay to play. For what you're getting, you cannot beat the quality, fitment, and performance that Mugen delivers." And to that—and you, the up-and-coming Mugen enthusiast—I say, good luck.