© 2020 kertong © 2020 kertong

1991 Acura NSX

And here we are at car #14 – one that changed my perception of cars fundamentally and permanently. The only “religious experience” I had in my life was when I drove this car for the first time. I finally got one of my own in early 2014 – a 1991 Acura NSX, 5 speed, 36k miles on the odo. I went through many cars trying to get the NSX-experience, without the concerns of an old, aging car. After the disaster of the BRZ, I just decided to bite the bullet and go for it. On a quick note, this is the first car I “flipped” and made money on, even after taking into account repairs/tires/gas. 

I’ve talked a bit about how that happened in car #4 (C5 Z06), so I won’t go over that now. There’s just so much I can say about the car, let me just list a few thoughts stream-of-consciousness style before moving onto why I sold it. The significance of this car is well known and documented (senna tuned, hand built, all aluminum, ferrari killer, etc etc), so I’ll skip those and talk about things you don’t quite appreciate until you’ve owned one for a bit. 

– The NSX has something incredible that no other car has; a low beltline. The “line” that goes around the car, the area where the body stops and the windshield/glass begins, is incredibly low. When you sit in the driver’s seat, the windshield comes down almost to your knees. Due to not having an engine in the front, the short front hood slopes down rapidly – and you see nothing but the road in front of you. Because you’re so low to the ground, you see the texture of the road incredibly well; and at speed, the road flies at you and you see it right up to the point where it tickles your toes right before disappearing under them. What a sensation! 

– Y’all probably know the meme “vtec kicked in yo!” It comes from the effect of the car “kicking” forward as vtec engages the more aggressive valve timing profile and starts to make more power once it engages at higher RPMs. The interesting thing about the NSX – vtec was subtle, and there was no kick. You just got nice, even power delivery all the way to redline. The only car where I’ve experienced such smooth and linear power delivery is in the BMW E46 M3, and the flat-6 powered, naturally aspirated Porsche cars. This NSX’s power delivery profile actually feels very similar to the 996 Porsche 911 GT3. 

– Speaking of redline, this engine went all the way up to 8000rpms, partly thanks to the titanium connecting rods (a first in a production engine) and some valvetrain tweaks. Sounded great, and ran smooth all day long at high RPMs – a feat considering this was an inherently rough and choppy 60-degree v6. This engine loved to rev, but unlike rev-happy engines, still delivered solid torque at all RPMs. Very un-honda. 

– The small ergonomic touches were amazing. The NSX first came out in 1990 and put many exotic cars to shame because it was just so driver-friendly. One touch I loved was the tilted window up/down switches on the door/armrest. It looked strange at first, but when your hand rested on the sill to operate the windows, your fingers lined up *perfectly* with the switch angle. 

– I always talk about how great the manual steering rack here is. Sure, it’s heavy to turn at low speeds; but due to the lack of an engine up front, the wheels were actually not difficult to turn. But at speed, oh boooy – the wheel was organic and alive, squirming and moving back and forth in your hand, its weight changing with the load that was on the car. When the road was wet, you could feel just how slick the road was. When you were turning / braking hard and overcame the front grip, the wheel went light – and as you turned to correct, the weight would magically come back as you aligned with the slip angle and the wheels started catching traction again. I had a 2nd NSX a few years after this one – a 1996. That one had power steering, and while the rack was great, it fell way short of the tactile joy the manual one provided. 

– The visibility around you in this car was phenomenal. You sat in a “greenhouse” surrounded by glass and tiny a/b pillars. Blind spots were almost nonexistent – it was truly an unparalleled panoramic view. 

– When I had this car, it was 23 years old. I could take speedbumps or driveways at an angle and the car didn’t complain at all – no squeaks or creaks. For comparision, a brand new 2014 Corvette Stingray I had with 1200 miles on it would groan and creak going up the very same driveway. This car was light *and* stiff. 

– I loved the exterior door handles of this car. They moved it up above the beltline in its own little area, so that the surface of the door would stay clean and uninterrupted. 

– If you removed the Climate Control unit from the dashboard, there is a sticker hidden on it on every single NSX – with the quote “An Eternal Sportsmind For You”, and hand signed by the NSX tech working on the car. 

– Speaking of NSX techs, these were hand built by master honda techs, only allowed to work on the NSX if they had 10 or more years of exemplary service. 

– I remember seeing these in the 90s in my high school days and lusting after one; that one piece taillight, the low sharp design, the minimal functional lines; even today, it looks amazing – imagine how it looked back in the era of 90s cars! Even today it sits on the top 5 most beautiful cars of all time in my mind. 

– Gordon Murray of McLaren, known for his legendary F1, used this NSX to benchmark his F1 car against. He was floored by how refined, comfortable, yet sporty the car was. Good reading here if you’re interested: https://oppositelock.kinja.com/gordon-murray-on-the-honda-nsx-1495548371 (link

So why did I sell it? 

“Classic” car ownership is no joke. 

I had this car PPI’ed by an expert, highly recommended NSX mechanic before purchasing. Minus a few minor items, it passed with flying colors. 

That day, Kat and I took it to one of our favorite taquerias in Pleasanton for a nice long drive. 2 hours later, we were stranded on the side of 680S at night, trucks whizzing by us, because the throttle cable had snapped and the gas pedal sunk straight to the floor. The first night I spent with the NSX was on a tow truck. 

Big deal, it’s an old car, let’s just fix it eh? Well, it turns out the throttle cable assembly is no longer made by Honda. The NSX mechanic had to send the broken cable pieces to a local motorcycle company to have them refabricate a replica. That took 2 weeks. 

6 months later, it snapped again, because the idiot NSX tech had routed it incorrectly and the cable was rubbing against some sharp metal edges each time it moved back and forth. This time, stranded on the side of 280 for a change, I folded up a receipt from my wallet to make a ~0.5cm thick paper square, and jammed it in between the throttle body butterfly lever to keep the engine pegged at ~3000rpms. Driving home at night with the hazards on at 25mph with no throttle control, driving purely with the clutch was fun. 

The other story I like to tell is that a local NSX club member had his driver’s side window broken into. He took the car to a dealer (Justin @ Fremont Acura, one of the few places that have certified techs to work on the NSX); and they couldn’t find a replacement window as honda didn’t make them anymore. There were so few of these cars in existence, that no third party glass maker bothered to make replacements either. So, insurance wanted to total the car as it couldn’t be repaired – the member (Ben) declined and spent a couple months scouring junkyards to find good windows to replace it with. 

Anyways, I still adore this car. I miss it every day. But man – peace of mind was a nightmare; little things break, and the replacement parts are almost impossible to find. And with a low mile car that have less than 18000 in existence in the entire world, there is immense pressure to keep it nice, unmolested, and low miled.