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Japanese Imports - Editorial

The Best Of Times

Aaron Bonk
Sep 1, 2009
Htup_0909_01_z+japanese_imports+editor_shot Photo 1/2   |   Japanese Imports - Editorial

The mid-1990s was a special time. The original 90201 was on T.V., a gallon of gas was a buck, and Nirvana still had a lead singer. But the mid-1990s was also a blessing for enthusiasts. It was a time when consumers bought cars based on passion and performance-not hydrocarbon repercussions or the number of side-curtain airbags. And the Japanese automakers knew this. In 1993, those who willingly shied away from the likes of the Camaro Z28 SS, Mustang Cobra, and Corvette ZR-1 had their choice of no fewer than five Japanese alternatives that were each arguably as capable (if not more so) as what Detroit had to offer. The pie was split evenly: Mitsubishi had its AWD, 3000GT VR4; Mazda, its rotary-powered RX-7; Toyota, its Supra; and Nissan, its 300ZX; all twin-turbocharged, mind you and, save for the VR4, all RWD-configured. And then there was the NSX-the only one of the lot not to share in the lust that is boost. And it didn't matter one bit.

The NSX isn't any faster than its circa-1993 brethren. It handles better not by leaps and bounds but by small, carefully engineered and calculated steps. Its engine and drivetrain are not the stuff of motoring legend but instead are much more like the old lady's Accord down the street. Inside, there's a tape deck. Outside, there are brake pads that the parts counter guy might easily mistake for a Legend sedan's. And none of it matters one bit. Its mid-engine configuration, suspension geometry that remains advanced nearly 20 years later, and all-aluminum chassis and body make up for all of that.

Htup_0909_02_z+japanese_imports+nsx_side_view Photo 2/2   |   Japanese Imports - Editorial

One day, the VR4, the RX-7, the Supra, and the Z will each occupy my garage, but my collection began with the NSX. Here's why: The NSX is a Honda, so by default it simply makes sense. If you've ever diagnosed an RX-7's 13B rotary engine's nightmare that is its vacuum lines or chased boost leak gremlins on a sequential-turbocharged platform (any, take your pick), then you'd understand. The NSX is indeed more like the old lady's Accord, but in a good way. As is the case with most Hondas, engine designers and chassis engineers at the very least communicated with one another on their lunch breaks to ensure that space, or the lack of it, was a non-issue. The same cannot be said of the 3000 GT VR4's cramped engine quarters where mechanics with adult-sized hands need not apply. Indeed, the NSX's quarters are by no means as spacious as, say, an Integra's, but basic procedures can be performed by full-grown adults with full-grown hands without having to yank the engine.

No, the NSX isn't turbocharged, it doesn't have one of those near-indestructible cast-iron blocks like the Supra, and it is by no means a brute. It doesn't snort and snarl to its 8,000rpm redline-it sings to get there. And it does all of this from behind the driver's seat, delivering the poise and control once reserved only for cars assembled by guys named Giuseppe or Carlo. But the car is so much simpler than what Giuseppe builds. Learn the inner-workings of your Civic hatchback and mastering the NSX is all but guaranteed. Few procedures differ, including mostly everything that has to do with the engine and drivetrain, the brakes, even the electronics. About the only thing that remains NSX-exclusive is its suspension. It's even been said that the NSX's C-series is little more than a B-series engine with two more cylinders and an extra head. Perhaps I'm the one who said that, but I'm sticking to it. Of course, all of this is what makes the NSX an NSX and a truly special car. To be sure, when was the last time the guy with the Supra was asked what kind of "Ferrari" he had while pumping gas?

The Mitsubishi, the Nissan, the Toyota, and the Mazda all demand attention. And for good reason. Each has the potential to make the NSX look quite silly with the addition of little more than a boost controller and an exhaust. As much fun as it is to discuss the NSX's titanium connecting rod metallurgy and twin-disc clutch (NA1 only) with other NSX weirdos, the truth is that those lightweight rods are really only good for a few hp, at best, and the twin-disc clutch is, well, mostly there for exotic bragging rights. It's obvious that Honda had no intentions of winning the hp-per-dollar competition; as such, a more competitive twin-turbo configuration wasn't considered. But again, none of this matters. Despite the power discrepancy, despite the tape deck, despite the fact that the ECU, oil pump, timing belt, VTEC mechanism, transmission, and nearly anything else you point to is on the same technological plane as that old lady's Accord, the NSX remains, at the very least, relevant, even by today's standards. One day I'll make room for the others, but the NSX will remain front and center.

By Aaron Bonk
405 Articles

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