Our very own editor bought an NSX last week. He'd been looking for a while. When we last spoke, I asked him if he'd picked one up yet. "I'm driving it right now," he says.
After congratulating him on a more fitting mode of transportation than some of the other cars he'd been driving, I began to reflect on my own arm's-length relationship with the NSX over the years. I'm not much of a supercar or exotic enthusiast, but anything with titanium rods and an aluminum chassis designed on a Cray-2 supercomputer deserves its due respect. The NSX has always struck me as a bit of an outsider-a car that few really appreciate and even fewer truly master.
My first NSX experience was in 1989. I was in school studying photography and working part-time as a commercial photo assistant. Photographer Vic Huber got the job of shooting the Acura NSX for a swank, hardback, aluminum-covered "sales brochure." (Acura dealers later sold them for $20 apiece.) Most of the shooting locations were in the San Francisco Bay Area. One was a spectacular country road near Mt. Tamalpais, a few miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. Vic, myself, and another assistant left our hotel well before dawn one morning to meet the car prep company guys and a trailer containing one of the only two NSX prototypes in the country. It was a million-dollar car someone said, and there would not be any more until the production line began rolling the following year. The message was clear: Be Careful. Vic had the challenge of producing a full page of unique action shots in less than an hour before the light turned to crap. Over 25 would eventually be used in the book.
I was honored that Vic put me on "second camera" during some of the pan shots. He then moved to a hard cornering shot after the slower, low-light stuff was out of the way. The turn he set up for was a smooth, cresting off camber leading over a rise to another bend just out of our view. This spot allowed a low-angle view of the car in a spot the driver would be able to push it a bit and induce some visible body roll. That was the idea, anyway. Trouble was, the NSX didn't have much body roll. Vic was looking for some visual drama, and the NSX just wasn't showing any.
Cops had the road closed for us. Radio calls to the stunt driver increased asking him to pick up the pace. Back and forth he drove, each time with increasing speed, each time with little, if any, additional body roll. Each time burning up precious minutes during the short period of ideal light left in the morning. We needed to show some action and suspension movement.
The NSX was just cornering too flat to give it to us. A final exasperated call to the driver emphasized the urgency. He would have to really push it for Vic to get the shot. Push it he did.
On the next pass the million-dollar NSX prototype hit the apex at the absolute limit of grip. It looked bitchin'. Vic's excited, triumphant grin turned quickly to an openmouthed gasp. Tires squealed as the car disappeared from view and entered the next turn. We then heard the car leave the road and the sound of a crash. Oh sh*t. Everyone broke into a run to see if the driver was OK. What we found was a shaken, uninjured driver and the prototype NSX stuffed in the bushes, adorned with clumps of grassy mud in the wheels and fender wells. Amazingly, the car was OK, with only a few scratches to the finish after the mud and grass were cleaned away. The driver, a seasoned pro, shook his head remarking how quickly it had gotten away from him and that he just couldn't save it.
Another event reminding me of just how unforgiving the NSX can be at the limit; it occurred around Y2K. Another editor of mine (I'll call him Tom) and I were attending the Motor Press Guild's annual track day at Willow Springs Raceway. Participating manufacturers bring their latest cars to the track and line them up alphabetically from Acura to Volvo. Qualifying journalists are then able take them out for a few laps at a time in order to familiarize themselves with what each manufacturers are building that year.
Tom is an excellent driver with plenty of race experience under his belt. Arriving at the event, we went our separate ways, each climbing into whatever was sitting in line with the keys in it. There's a fine line between pushing a car to evaluate its limits and pushing it beyond those limits. Every year there's at least one clown who gets in over his head and goes off the track in a marvelous cloud of Mojave dust. Word circulates among the journalists who did it. Everyone snickers and jokes about it for the rest of the year. Sure enough the dust cloud appeared off Turn 9 shortly after lunch. When I got back to the paddock, Acura's NSX press car was sitting off to the side covered in dust, finished for the day.
The drive home was a chance to swap stories with Tom and talk about which cars stood out or impressed us most. At some point in the conversation I mentioned that some clown had backed the NSX off the track. "Yeah, that was me," he said sheepishly. "It's a wonderful car but you'd better have your act together to drive it at the limit. It got away faster than I could save it." Yep. I'd heard that before.
Keep it between the fence posts Aaron. We need you around here, and I suck at bodywork.
- E. John Thawley III