Every once in a while I get to drive a car for this column that really is more about the intrinsic feel and sense of the machine as opposed to the parts list and the numbers. Sure, it makes sense that looking at what a car has slapped on it can give you an idea of what the performance numbers should be and can even give you a vague sense of what the car might be like from behind the wheel. But then there are those rare cars where the mods, the performance numbers and what we perceive to be the potential are overshadowed by the sheer thrill and visceral enjoyment of the driving experience-the sounds, the senses, the smells-and the fact that such cars can make a 5-foot, 4-inch driver who looks like Chim Chim feel like a 6-foot bronze Adonis. For this month's column, I drove just such a car and it came in the form of a '92 Honda NSX, supercharged and otherwise perfectly enhanced by ScienceofSpeed in Tempe, Arizona
Although I had previously driven some of ScienceofSpeed's work and have even done a couple write-ups on the company's machines, this particular car was something different. Although primarily street-driven and used as a rolling showcase for all that is technically good about the work that SOS does, Chris Wilson, the company's general manager, saw fit to enter the car into the '09 Modified Tuner Shootout, which you can read about in next month's issue. I was eventually able to convince Mr. Wilson to bring the Honda out for me to shakedown for the mag. As always, he was very accommodating, and I must admit that I was more eager to drive this particular car than many of the machines I've been lucky enough to flog
In terms of visceral appeal, perhaps it is best to start with the visual impact of the pristine championship white NSX as it strolled casually down the Bondurant School driveway on a cool April morning ready for our shakedown. The NSX body has always been a favorite of mine, with its egg-shaped cockpit/engine glass encapsulation that sits so perfectly above the car's straight-edged and flat-lined main bulk. The NSX, in each of its various iterations, is futuristic, precise and elegant in its sight lines, exhibiting a delicate balance of purpose and beauty. The SOS team took that balance further toward the purposeful side of the scale by widening the body with a Cantrell Studios carbon-fiber/epoxy/nomex honeycomb mix bodykit and updating the headlight assembly (doing away with old pop-up-style lights). A Downforce NSX-R hood replaced the stock panel and an SOS rear downforce undertray (diffuser) and radiator duct were worked into the body lines. An exquisitely crafted carbon-fiber GruppeM Mugen spoiler finished off the body mods and resulted in a car that looked simply bad-ass.
Aesthetics are only part of the game, however, and SOS went the full mile with the '92 Honda, having worked hard to make the car perform even better than it's visually presented. Although my previous tour in an SOS NSX came from a spunky normally aspirated powerplant, this ride was running 10.2 psi of boost from an SOS supercharger system into an SOS-prepared 3.3-liter engine with Cantrell Concept headers. With a stellar AEM engine management system, the blown Honda put down a very respectable 460 whp with a flat, linear torque curve and a wide, flexible powerband. To maintain the reliability that is such a staple part of all things Honda, and in the face of such lofty power figures, an Accusump was used along with an SOS oil cooler and baffled oil pan. The pan alone would've been worth the expense, as the SOS car cornered at what felt to be well beyond 1 g of lateral acceleration. Certainly a stock pan would potentially allow the oil to pool away from the pickup under maximum cornering load, thus scratching one perfectly good Honda engine due to oil starvation
To put the power to the beefy and absurdly sticky Hoosier A6 compound 295/30R18 rear meats wrapped around Rays Volk RE30 18x10.5 wheels, ScienceofSpeed decided to fit a Honda NSX-R 6-speed gearbox using an SOS conversion kit. Along with the SOS NSX-R spec shift lever and the precisely tuned detents, the gearbox was perfection in action. It's precisely because of the wonderful tactile feel of gearboxes like this and the satisfaction that they bring to the driver that I have such disdain for the paddle-shifter crap that is so quickly proliferating street cars. Leave that to the race cars, where accumulated tenths and hundredths really make a difference, and bring back the proper gearbox. The art of driving in this respect is slowly, painfully and regrettably being lost.
To round out the driveline mechanicals, SOS used a Honda NSX-R 4.23 final drive and an RPS single-disc clutch. The final drive allowed the engine to operate with what felt like an increased level of efficiency, and the clutch-with its light, streetable pedal weight-was firm in its grasp on engagement. The entire driveline felt so solid it really was hard to believe that I was piloting an almost 18-year-old car!
An enormous amount of thought and attention to detail was clearly afforded to the braking and suspension elements, with the '92 sporting a superb Moton double adjustable coilover setup, with 600 lb/infront and 500 lb/in rear springs. SOS adjustable end links and sway bars were used along with SOS Rapid non-compliance toe links and rear beam bushings. To further increase the already excellent torsional rigidity of the SOS car, a Honda NSX-R front chassis brace was added.
To shed off the Honda's speed potential and to help stop any would-be journalists from potentially painting tire walls with white Honda paint, SOS chose a Brembo Comptech Pro Indy braking system with Carbotech brake pads up front. To provide cooling for the imminent buildup of heat, Downforce carbon-fiber brake ducts were used.
The final mods were centered around the immaculate interior of the NSX with the addition of Recaro Pole Position seats on custom SOS seat rails. Mounted to an SOS steering hub is a beautiful F1-inspired Mugen GT steering wheel, complete with the "R" Honda symbol; a clean execution with a race car feel, but miles and miles from boy racer.
So that's the parts list. But again, this car was far more about the feel. To say this '92 SOS NSX is far more than the sum of its parts is to truly make an example of such a statement. Driving position was comfortable, supportive and satisfyingly snug. I really get the feeling that the NSX, although made for a wide range of body sizes, was really intended for little people like me. Everything is within easy reach and easy sight. Although called an Acura here in the U.S. to help with some marketing appeal, it's clear that Honda is proud of what it has achieved with all of its cars, as the switchgear in this rocket was exactly like that in my '95 Accord. Such immediately palpable connections to its more pedestrian machines allow Honda to offer its NSX owners a sense of familiarity and comfort as well as a respect for the company's exemplary family lineage
Start-up came sans drama and was followed by a quick and sharp bark from the TAITEC GT lightweight exhaust. A quick check of systems was made and then it was a pleasant snick into first gear and off we went. The car's entire dynamic made itself felt immediately with everything working in concert with everything else. From motor to gearbox to suspension and steering, the NSX seemed to wait for me. In its capability, the SOS car seemed to offer plenty of "Let's go have some fun"-and who am I to deny something like that?
The first run through to the stratospheric (especially in 1992) 8000-rpm redline and fuel cut-off came with a powerful linear surge of acceleration and a spine-tingling rip from the exhaust-the sound alone in this car was intoxicating, invigorating and, as it tuns out, crowd-pleasing. My second time by the initially empty lane showed a crowd of people leaning over the wall to catch a glimpse of the white Honda streaking by, and an earful of the artful music trumpeted out the exhaust.
It seemed to me, as I hurtled down the main straight at the Bondurant circuit, that the SOS NSX was trying as hard as it could to tear my face off. Acceleration just kept building and seemed equal in each gear. My only regret this day was that we couldn't really let the car stretch its legs on a circuit like Road America or Mid Ohio, where we would undoubtedly reach speeds well beyond 150 mph, but the Bondurant School track provided its own challenges. As I approached turn 1 at close to 120 mph, it was time to sample brakes and chassis for the 40 mph chicane that lay in front of me.
Braking was without fault, with the Brembos offering exceptional feel and initial bite. But it was the way that the entire car reacted to the brake that made the system all the more impressive. I was able to achieve threshold pressure on the brakes almost right away due to the exceptional feel, and I got to that pressure with the immediacy that we do such things in a race car. The Hoosiers dug in hard as the binders clamped down, and the chassis-rather than going through the dive attitude that is so common to street cars-simply settled straight down. As a result, all four tires seemed to be doing equal work and the rate of deceleration was really impressive. Despite the few high-frequency bumps scattered throughout the braking zone in turn 1, the NSX shed off the energy with total stability. At turn-in, some subtle brake pressure along with the scalpel-sharp steering response allowed me to rotate the car with surgical precision.
Downshifts prior to turn-in were something that I looked forward to in each braking zone. Pedal position facilitated heel-and-toe technique, and the staccato bark from the exhaust on each blip gave me more and more confidence. Not only did the car do things well, it made me feel like I did things well-a rare commodity in a tuner car.
Despite a mild to moderate mid-corner to corner exit understeer that we tried unsuccessfully to dial out, the suspension offered amazing ultimate grip and was quick and nimble in directional transitions. The lack of power steering was actually a wonderful thing, allowing the chassis and steering rack to provide me with unfettered feedback. Granted, I suspect that over a long stint in the car, my arms would become limp noodles. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant connection between car and driver.
We did have some time to make some damper changes, and the Motons reacted immediately. The tunability was impressive for a two-way system, although it would've been nice to have been able to play with high- and low-speed settings. Ultimately, we decided that more negative camber, a little toe-out and a softer spring at the front may have helped the mid-corner understeer matter. Frankly, I couldn't protest too much, as Brady Dohrmann took the settings I used and ran a very impressive 1:05.2 during testing at Firebird for the time attack
Alas, the time came to bid farewell to my white Honda chariot, and I was very sorry to see it go. I consider myself very lucky to be able to get behind the wheel of some of the modded hot rods that I've driven, but few are as capable as that SOS car. As I sit here in my hotel room waiting for another out-of-town work week to begin, I sense that I have to hatch some type of plan to own one of these things one day-legally.