Ask any true-blue Honda enthusiast which factory H-badged ride would give them the biggest advantage on the race track, and dollars to donuts most would say without equivocation the NSX. And surely, who wouldn't default to the mid-engine super-car? We all know it was designed precisely for that sort of thing, much the same way S2000s and Type-Rs are built with a specific performance objective in mind. Once one understands what goes into an NSX, there's no confusing what designers and engineers want owners to do with them: track, thrash, repeat.
We're guessing least likely among the models to come up in that conversation would be the RL, Acura's top-of-the-line luxury sedan. With its posh interior, real-time traffic feature and hefty price tag, the car isn't easy to imagine as a racer and is admittedly off the radar for many of our readers. We hope that's only until they realize the RL is an heir to some of what the NSX sought to establish in the way of performance, refinement and drivability. The idea that a yuppified 4-door can hold its own on the track suddenly becomes less implausible when you stop to consider what's been engineered into the RL package from Honda forebears.
One such tuner to recognize this wolf is sheep's clothing is among Japan's preeminent race outfits, Spoon Sports. The skilled pros there have no shortage of experience dealing with unconventional race platforms, most recently converting a 4-door FD chassis Civic into a Type-R spec screamer (which we brought you in our Feb./March issue). In the RL, they saw the potential of Honda's most powerful factory VTEC V6 ever and its Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system. When they realized the sedan's chassis employs lightweight aluminum sub-frames and suspension arms, they automatically knew they had seen the setup before-on the NSX.
Through its tight relationship with the OEM, Spoon began its RL odyssey in 2005 when it took delivery of a '05 Honda Legend "white chassis" at its TypeONE facility in Tokyo. "In Japan, cars that Honda hands out to build into racers usually start off as a 'white chassis,' which is basically a bare shell," explains Mark Villaluna, tech and crew chief for Opak Racing, stewards of the car while it's in America. "This saves builders from doing any strip down."
This is probably a good point in the story to point out a critical piece of translation. The vehicle recognized as the Acura RL in North America is also known as the Honda Legend in Japan. Since it didn't want to confuse anyone, American Honda insisted the vehicle be referred to as an RL while it was here in the States for its competition debut. "Honda even wanted us to change the emblems to Acura, even though it's a right-hand drive," comments Villaluna. Apart from that one regional difference, however, the RL and Legend are essentially the same machine.
With the sedan shell in its mitts, Spoon proceeded to stiffen the uni-body further with strategic seam welds and a 6-point competition cage. From a second, complete Legend the big H handed over, the TypeONE team scavenged hardware like the aforementioned suspension members, electrical components, and other critical hardware. Chassis setup also included installing Spoon coilovers armed with Swift springs at all 4 corners and Spoon brake pads and lines. Furthermore, the brake system bleeds Motul RBF600 fluid.
A previously sourced J35A VTEC V6 powerplant was given the Spoon treatment before it was dropped into the race car, meaning the motor was disassembled, the factory bottom end parts precision balanced, and then everything reassembled by hand. The approach is consistent with Spoon's well-documented philosophy of creating reliable motors, not necessarily the most powerful ones. The stock valvetrain and head were also left unmolested, the only real top- or bottom-end mod coming in the form of a baffled oil pan for those high-g situations on the track.
To foment induction for power, Spoon bored out the throttle body slightly and installed one of its drop-in air filters. On the hot side, emissions evacuation is aided by the use of a custom race exhaust. The RL hauls around fuel in an ATL cell in the trunk, while an Odyssey drycell battery under the hood provides a different kind of juice. All of these systems contribute to a combustion event that is regulated with Spoon-tuned engine management.
The crankshaft spins an OE 5-speed slushbox that sends power through a drivetrain equipped with Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system. SH-AWD works by distributing the optimum amount of torque not only between front and rear wheels but also between left and right wheels, making for unmatched cornering prowess. To complement the system, Spoon race prepped the RL's axles and incorporated cooling systems for the transmission and transfer case; each now employs a heat exchanger, fluid pump, and plumbing. The hook-up picture is completed with the use of Volk Racing TE37 forged wheels on each hub shod in 245/40/18 Yokohama Advan rubber, A0005 slicks for the track and A048s for our camera.
Race cars are meant to have spare interiors, and to that end very little is found in this Legend's cabin outside of the most essential components. A Spoon carbon-fiber bucket seat gives the vehicle's pilot something to sit on, as Takata belts keep him cinched in. The motor is monitored via Defi gauges, and car direction determined with a Spoon steering wheel. An FEV fire suppression system is about the only other item in the interior, the Honda's lean composition amounting to a loss of nearly 1,000 pounds of ballast (and that's retaining ALL of the factory glass and power windows). The svelte 2900lbs. would pair well with the car's reported 330hp generated at wheels.
Racer completed, Spoon looked to test its latest creation in competition and found a suitable trial at NASA's renowned Northern California enduro, the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. As mentioned earlier, Opak Racing in San Bruno, Spoon's official reseller in America, takes care of the car stateside, and put together the team that campaigned the car in the Thunderhill event. Unfortunately, because it was the first RL to ever race in the U.S., many agreed it was classed with faster, more purpose-built Porsches and BMWs, and therefore at a distinct disadvantage. Still, the Spoon/Opak effort finished 6th in the ES class, 14th out of 55.
Currently, the future for Spoon's iconoclastic RL is shrouded in uncertainty. When we tried to find out what's next for the car, the only straight answer we could get was that much more racing will be had, but where is anyone's guess. One thing we know for sure is that the Japanese tuner has expressed more interest in endurance racing, namely the 24 Hours of Nurburgring. A somewhat poetic choice, considering Honda engineers used the famed road course to develop suspension for the NSX way back in the day. Guess it's time for a new generation of Honda to pick up where the supercars of the past left off.