Despite the best attempts over the years of Messrs Prior and Saunders in these very pages, and the likes of Harris and Clarkson on the TV, there will always be one joyless cynic on hand to tell you how all supercars are utterly irrelevant.
You will be as fast point to point on UK roads in an Vauxhall Astra diesel, get as much sensory pleasure in a Mazda MX-5 and impress your peers far more with an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio or possibly the Performance version of the Tesla Model 3, they’ll declare, not entirely unreasonably.
Just point them in the direction of the original Honda NSX. It took the supercar rule book and tore it up, and all that followed were influenced by this voluptuary car. You see, before the NSX hit the streets, supercars were difficult sods, with recalcitrant gearboxes, awkward driving positions and intractable powertrains. If you could see out of one, you were lucky, and you were blessed if you could complete a whole journey without the assistance of a breakdown recovery service.
What set the delightfully aluminium NSX apart was that it was easy to drive and easy to see out of and wonderfully docile around town. It was also in most respects unburstable, which meant that it was a pleasure to own, as well as a delight to drive fast.
A mid-mounted, all-alloy, quad-cam 270bhp 3.0-litre petrol V6 powered the first NSXs, which were launched in 1990. It was a high-revving, super-responsive VTEC delight, producing performance in the order of 0-60mph in 5.5sec and a 160mph top speed. Drive was to the rear through a slick ’n’ sweet five-speed manual gearbox. (There was also a four-speed automatic option.)
A Targa-style NSX-T version was launched in 1995 and a major refresh in 1997 brought in a 276bhp 3.2 V6 with a six-speed gearbox, while a 2002 facelift dispensed with the pop-up headlights. There was even an NSX-R version, with a blueprinted engine, a 145kg weight reduction and tweaked steering, suspension and gearing. NSX production eventually ended in 2005.
Debate rages about whether the auto was a step too far, or the ‘Targa’ worth the effort, but whichever version you ended up in, it was all thrillingly quick and handled beautifully. For the discerning, it was rammed full of exquisite engineering details. Its stiff, stressed sheet-aluminium hull was innovative and the aluminium wishbone suspension and the titanium conrods were all exquisite details that set the NSX apart from the hoi polloi.
So, it was a grown-up and graceful supercar, and such was its brilliance in nearly all departments that it made every other manufacturer raise their game for years to come.
Being well built in the first place means that buying one now at a great age is not as onerous a proposition as it is with a lot of its contemporary rivals. You might need to spend more than you would have had to, though. Once upon a time, you could buy a used one for loose change, but prices are on the up. You’ll need more than £40k for a good example now.
What we said then
19 December 1990: “Fast, stylish and beautiful – the NSX has what it takes to challenge Europe’s finest supercars. The driving position and visibility both impress. While its standing-start and in-gear acceleration suffer from a torque shortfall, the NSX beats all rivals but the Ferrari 348 for top speed. It is an inspirational driving tool that combines a great engine with a responsive yet secure chassis. The NSX is a real-world supercar that beats Ferrari in most conditions.”
How to get one in your garage
An expert’s view
Neil Shaw, Chairman, NSX Owners Club: “I guess I’ve owned around 15 NSXs over the years, including two Type R models, one early and one late, that I imported from Japan. I currently own a 2001 and a 2005 car. There’s really nothing else like the NSX. I’ve owned Ferraris and Porsches, but nothing is as good an all-round package. My favourite of the ones I’ve owned was the 2004 Type R, which was more than fast enough (0-60mph in 4.3sec) and sounded fantastic. It was very different to the standard car, despite looking similar.”
Engine: A comprehensive service history is very desirable. Oil leaks are quite common, so take a good look at the valve cover gaskets, the rear cam plug seals and the solenoids. Ensure the timing belt, water pump and camshaft belt pulley have been changed every seven years or 70,000 miles. Listen for any noises in the VTEC operation. It should be smooth and quiet hot or cold. Check the header tank for coolant leaks.
Transmission: Clutches last around 50,000 miles and replacements can be expensive. With the gearbox in neutral, depress the clutch and listen for input shaft bearing noises. If it’s an early 1990- 92 five-speeder with a loose lever or a noisy ’box or it pops out of gear, check for snap ring or circlip failure. Noise under load and popping out of gear in early manuals are the giveaways. The affected range is J4A4-1003542 to J4A4-1005978, identified on the white gearbox number sticker.
Suspension, tyres and brakes: Suspension is durable with normal use, but the lightweight aluminium construction of the wishbones makes them less resistant to knocks and pricier to replace. Track days can be hard on bushes, ball joints and bearings. Front tyres should last 15k-20k miles, rears 12k. Irregular tyre wear indicates alignment issues. Any buzzing from the ABS on startup should quickly fall silent. Expect discs to cover 30,000 miles.
Bodywork: Aluminium front wings cost a lot and plastic front bumpers are expensive to replace. Panel gaps and finish should be perfect. Aluminium is hard to work and difficult to repaint so check for filler, overspray and a poor finish. Lift carpets and check for factory-fresh seams. Check the condition of all rubbers and seals, including the windscreen’s.
Interior: Stereo amplifiers on early cars are prone to failure, and installing aftermarket sound systems isn’t very straightforward. The rubberised centre console might peel. It’s not uncommon for electric window regulators to burn out. Inspect the condition of the Targa-style roof panel. Ensure the air conditioning and door handles work. Check the electric windows rise and fall because the motor and regulator are sold as one so aren’t cheap. Expect the side bolster on the driver’s seat to be worn on leggy cars.
Also worth knowing
Grey (private) imports aren’t always easily maintained due to Japanesemarket specification differences, and the pre-import service history is tricky to corroborate.
How much to spend
£40,000-£49,999: A mix of very early cars, mostly autos. Some genuinely good buys here, though – most well-kept and with a full service history.
£50,000-£69,999: Sweeter cars with more modest mileages. Make sure it has a full or nearly full service history and has been properly refurbished and unmodded, if possible.
£70,000 and above: Mint, low-mileage (for the year) cars, extensively refurbished and original in spec. Plenty of post-facelift cars in this price bracket.
One we found
Honda NSX, 1991, 38,000 miles, £89,995: Simply stunning, ultra-low-mileage car with its original factory paint and in remarkable condition. Just three keepers. Driven on dry days only. Has almost always been kept inside. Full Honda dealer maintenance record includes 35 (yes, 35) Honda stamps.