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1997 Acura NSX - Challenging The Spirit

A Homebuilt NSX-R For The Masses

Adam S. Geczi
May 1, 2009
Photographer: Henry Z. DeKuyper
Htup 0905 01 o+1997 acura NSX+NSX R front end Photo 1/19   |   HTUP-090500-040-45-NSX3

In 1990, Honda introduced the NSX. Two years later it made it lighter, made some tweaks, and called it the NSX-R. Ten years after that it brought it back and made it even more precise. In 2005, Honda ceased production, all before allowing a single NSX-R to be sold in the U.S. That same year, Tom Rutherford decided that he was going to get one anyway. At the time, it was the only way for him to do it.

Htup 0905 02 o+1997 acura NSX+NSX R rear valance Photo 2/19   |   HTUP-090500-040-45-NSX3

Tom set out to buy what is arguably one of the modern world's most incredible sports cars. The NSX, built primarily of aluminum, was the first of its kind and ahead of its time. In 2002, Tom purchased a '97 Grand Prix White NSX with only 13,000 miles on it from a dealer in Bellevue, Washington, who had originally acquired the car from a seller not far from Tom's Southern California home. It was meant to be. The car was a rare find. Between 1997 and 2005, only 40 cars were produced in Grand Prix White with Onyx interior schemes. Do the math and you'll find that that's fewer than five per year. While Tom had no intentions of performing a second-generation NSX-R conversion initially, he soon realized he'd stumbled upon what is quite possibly the most suitable car for such undertakings. Early NA2s hit the road in 1997, with their bigger and more powerful C32B engines that replaced the original C30A yet an exterior that looked no different than their predecessors. Development of the NSX-T (1995) demanded a more rigid monocoque body than the coupe, which was introduced years earlier. For this reason Honda began using higher tensile strength aluminum and a more rigid frame produced by a highly advanced extrusion manufacturing technology. By 1997, the coupes were phased out and the new materials became standard for all NSXs.

2018 Acura NSX
$156,000 Base Model (MSRP) 21/22 MPG Fuel Economy

In 2002, about the same time Tom acquired his NSX, Honda introduced the second-generation NSX-R with much fanfare. Further capitalizing on the weight reductions introduced in 1992 and refining the car's aerodynamic characteristics, the NA2 NSX-R met the challenges of a new century of sports car performance. Unfortunately for North American buyers, they would again not be able enjoy the fruits of Honda's research and development. Soon, the NSX's rebirth was on the minds of sports car fans everywhere, with those of earlier models now left to ponder about the car's new look. Tom did just that, and began to wonder how his NA2, still with pop-up headlights, would look re-skinned. He made his move in 2005, after several years of toying with the idea, and replaced the front end, headlights, side skirts, and rear valance with those found from later models. The venture's success, coupled with a newfound enthusiasm for the NSX-R, prompted him to consider an even bolder undertaking in building a LHD NSX-R of his own, a task only an elite few NSX owners have successfully done.

To do this he had to first accept the fact that no NA2 Acura body would ever truly be identical to that of a genuine NSX-R. The NSX-R's body is derived from a coupe, not the NSX-T. But with the phasing out of NA1 bodies, production coupe configurations after 1995 were limited to only 20-in addition to the 50 Zanardi models that made their way to the U.S.-and production ceased entirely in 2001. And then there are the subtleties. Standard NA2 bodies seeing daylight for the first time in 2002 incorporated a rear-deck lip that NA2 NSX-R models did not share. In this regard, NA2 chassis produced from 1997 to 2001 more closely resemble the NSX-R. The remaining differences are negligible and are most often only spotted by the trained eye, like the North American-spec side marker lights that Japanese-spec models, including the NSX-R, do not share.

Htup 0905 13 o+1997 acura NSX+volk racing CE28 Photo 6/19   |   HTUP-090500-040-45-NSX3

Beginning with the most suitable chassis for the job, a series of conversions, which ultimately lasted for nearly five years, commenced. Most of Tom's NSX-R parts were sourced from Japan but, surprisingly, some components came from Germany. The hood conversion serves as an example of the effort required to arrive at the NSX-R look. The NSX-R's spare tire was removed and replaced with a carbon-fiber duct that lays against the radiator's back side. Air travels past the radiator, through the duct, out the hood, and along the body for added downforce. Honda wasted nothing when designing the NSX-R, not even air. But such air ducts were only manufactured in RHD configurations, for the RHD-only NSX-R. A German source provided the reconfigured dry carbon duct while Honda delivered the OEM dry carbon hood for the price tag of about $10,000. The lofty price is reflected in how well the hood fits. The carbon-fiber rear wing was also sourced from Germany, along with the shift light control unit to accompany the NA1 NSX-R instrument cluster he'd acquired, which would normally receive its signal directly from the ECU but isn't used in Tom's case. Other components like the NSX-R-only carbon-Kevlar Recaro seats, NSX-R-specific pedals, shift knob and boot, steering wheel, side-vents, Japanese-spec NA1 taillights, and engine cover were all sourced from Japanese Honda dealerships at nothing short of astronomical prices. Each seat alone is responsible for nearly $9,000 in expenses, give or take a few thousand for fluctuations in the Yen. An inexpensive and simple undertaking this is not. And money is only part of the equation. Buyers must present an authentic NSX-R serial number to Honda before being aloud to purchase specialty items like the hand-laid carbon hood.

Visually, NA1 and NA2 NSX-R engines are no different from other Japanese-spec C30A and C32B engines, respectively. They aren't stamped differently, like the Civic Type R's B16B, but they were blueprinted and each rotating part was balanced to much higher levels of accuracy by specialized Honda technicians. Despite that, Tom decided that funds would be better spent on a Comptech supercharger and carbon-fiber intake box, Comptech headers, and a lightweight ARC titanium exhaust system. He enhanced braking with a Brembo "Indy" and Comptech Powertec combination and reduced the car's unsprung weight with custom-made Volk Racing CE28 wheels in a titanium gunmetal finish to fit the NSX appropriately, and he entrusted Comptech with suspension tuning, an essential part of the NSX-R configuration, which is responsible for much of the changes to the car's handling. Tom carried the NSX-R's weight-saving mantra one step further by adding aluminum bumper beams and deleting the windshield wiper motor.

Htup 0905 14 o+1997 acura NSX+recaro seats Photo 10/19   |   HTUP-090500-040-45-NSX3

Notwithstanding the argument that the only true way to obtain an NSX-R is in the JDM configuration, Tom will be the first to admit that his car is not a flawless replica. But it looks the part for which it was intended and he remains one of the elite few who've taken on the NSX-R on his own and came out ahead.

Htup 0905 10 o+1997 acura NSX+NSX R front end Photo 11/19   |   HTUP-090500-040-45-NSX3
Htup 0905 12 o+1997 acura NSX+carbon fiber wing Photo 15/19   |   HTUP-090500-040-45-NSX3
Htup 0905 19 o+1997 acura NSX+NA1 taillights Photo 19/19   |   HTUP-090500-040-45-NSX3
By Adam S. Geczi
17 Articles

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