Monday, November 26, 2007

November 2007 Dream Car of the Month - Acura NSX

2002 Acura NSX

The year was 1989 and Honda, best known in the U.S. for smaller, light, fuel efficient cars, introduced the stunning NSX at the Chicago Auto Show. The world of exotic sports cars would change forever. Honda at the time was dominating Formula 1 on their way to winning six consecutive manufacturer's titles (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991). The NSX (New Sportscar eXperimental) was to showcase Honda's racing technology in a road car.

The car officially went on sale in 1990 in the U.S. as a 1991 model in Honda's Acura lineup. It was sold as an Acura because Honda was associated with mainstream reasonably priced cars and they felt people would not pay what they were asking for the car if it was sold as a Honda. Acura on the other hand was a more upscale, luxury division of Honda. At it's introduction the NSX was the most expensive Japanese car ever sold in the United States. The car was sold elsewhere in the world as a Honda since Acura did not exist outside of North America.

The NSX featured many design aspects that were way ahead of their time. It featured a very rigid but light aluminum monocoque chassis along with aluminum suspension and body. The NSX was the first production car to feature such extensive use of aluminum. The race derived, mid mounted V6 used titanium connecting rods and redlined at 8,000 rpm. It featured Honda's revolutionary VTEC variable timing system and marked the first time this system was used on a vehicle sold outside of Japan. In 1990 the NSX's 3.0L engine produced 270HP and 210TQ and at one time was the highest output, per liter, of any production normally aspirated V6 in the world.

The car was designed in house by Honda and led by Chief Designer Ken Okuyama and Executive Chief Engineer Shigeru Uehara, who was also in charge of the S2000 project. Japanese Formula 1 driver Satoru Nakajima was involved in development along with fellow Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna and American race driver Bobby Rahal. The cars were hand assembled initially in Tochigi by about 200 specially selected workers from various Honda manufacturing facilities. Production was later (2004) moved to the Suzuka plant for the remainder of the car's production.

Production of the NSX lasted from 1990 to 2005 with some minor changes and refinements throughout the run. In 1995 a targa NSX-T was introduced as an option in Japan and replaced the coupe in the United States. The coupe could still be special ordered. The removal of the roof section necessitated adding over 100lbs of reinforcing structure to the chassis. The suspension was also softened up for a better ride and more predictable handling. In 1997 engine displacement rose from 3.0l to 3.2l and power went up to 290HP and 224TQ. The original 5spd transmission was replaced with a 6spd and gear ratios were also revised for added performance. Brakes also grew from 12 inches to 13 which required new, larger wheels. In 2002 the NSX received a visual facelift with the addition of fixed HID headlights and other minor cosmetic changes. The optional fixed roof was dropped altogether.

1992 NSX-R

Throughout the production run there were also various special editions sold mostly in Japan. In 1992 Honda began production of the limited edition NSX-R. About 483 of these were built for the Japanese market and they included a blueprinted engine making 280HP along with extensive weight reduction, more aggressive gearing, and stiffer suspension. The car was very purposeful and track oriented as it did not come with sound deadening, a radio, or air conditioning. The production of this first generation NSX-R lasted until 1995. There were also other Japanses market only editions dubbed NSX TypeS and S-Zero. These models debuted in 1997 and and were lighter weight with stiffer suspension than the standard model. In 1999 the Alex Zanardi edition NSX was introduced exclusively for the U.S. market. This model commemorated Zanardi's two back to back Champ Car championships for Honda. The Zanardi cars were similar to Japan's NSX TypeS. In 2002 the NSX-R returned in Japan. Again, the car featured extensive weight reduction along with various aerodynamic enhancements. There was also an NSX-R GT released with a production run of only five cars at a price of $462,400. These cars were created to help Honda enter the Super GT race series in Japan which required that the race cars be production based. The NSX-R GT cars featured snorkel air scoops and a wider body along with lower suspension.

2002 NSX-R

Performance numbers for the NSX were better than the power numbers would suggest. This was mainly due to the relative light weight of the car. In 1990 the NSX made about 30HP less than the Ferrari 348 but it was over 300lbs lighter resulting in the NSX being faster in a straight line. Tests showed that 3.0L NSXs hit 60mph in about 5.4 seconds and the 1/4 mile in around 13.8 - 14.0 seconds. The 3.2L cars would hit 60 in 4.5 seconds and the 1/4 mile in around 13.3 seconds while the special editions were even faster with the Zanardi running 13.0 in the 1/4 mile and the NSX-R ripping through in 12.5.

Production of the NSX lasted for 15 years and around 8,900 cars were sold making it a pretty rare site on the road. Even so, it is the car that caused major changes and a sort of renaissance in the exotic car market. Combining beauty, performance and Japanese reliability, it was the first car that could be described as an everyday supercar. At the time, comfort and reliability were relatively unheard of in the supercar/exotic market. Most owners accepted the flaws of their supercars as an acceptable trade off for the exclusivity and performance they possessed. The NSX scared manufacturers like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche so much that in the years following the NSX's release these other manufacturers had no choice but to make their cars better and better. The NSX raised the standard for an exotic sports car. No longer was it good enough for the car to be beautiful and fast, it also had to be comfortable and reliable.

Honda has promised a replacement for the NSX which should arrive within then next few years. Initial concepts showed another mid engined exotic type car but more recently they have changed to a front engined GT car more resembling the BMW M6 or Ferrari 599. The car reportedly will have a Formula 1 derived V10 with over 500HP and a sequential manual gearbox mated to Acura/Honda's SH-AWD all wheel drive system. I'd much prefer a true mid engined successor.

Acura HSC Concept - Mid Engine

Acura ASC Concept - Front Engine

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's Nice But Does It Have A Cupholder ?

In an obvious sign of the coming apocalypse, Lotus has decided to include an optional cupholoder in their recently announced Exige S Performance Pack. Obviously bowing to pressure from owners and potential owners (probably mainly American ones) Lotus, the company famed for lightweight, simple, raw sportscars, has added this to a car that is more suited for the track than the road.

The question of why is easy to answer. They obviously have heard from enough people that they feel it will make buyers happier and maybe increase sales. I don't blame them for that. The real blame lies with the people who are actually looking for such a device on such a car. I have to say that if you bought a Lotus Exige or are thinking of buying one and the thing you are not happy with is the lack of a cupholder, you've obviously got the wrong car. These are cars that demand all your attention and are all about the driving experience. Not about whether or not your big gulp can come along for the ride.

I stated that it is probably mainly American customers who are looking for this because I imagine this is one of their biggest if not the biggest market for their cars. Here in the US, more than almost anywhere else, most drivers think of cars as appliances and of driving as a necessary inconvenience that they would rather avoid if they had the choice. Most American drivers feel that they need to do something else while driving to pass the time. European manufacturers were probably the last ones to put these kind of non-driving related options in their cars because they don't get it. They don't understand our need to do other things while driving. They put them there because we demanded them and we are a huge market for their cars. Europeans seem to take their driving much more seriously than we do. Even our mainstream automotive press reinforces this since most car reviews I see in the magazines complain if a car doesn't have a good cupholder. I don't give a crap if a Lotus has a cupholder or not. The damn car is meant for driving, not a picnic!

I don't know how this happened but there are probably a number of reasons. The highway system in our country is pretty boring with it's mostly straight driving and relatively low speed limits. Driving is a necessity here in the US much more than in most parts of Europe. Population density is higher in Europe and public transportation is relied on more. The US is much more spread out requiring longer more boring interstate travel. Also, because of this the automatic transmission has become more popular here than anywhere else in the world. That in itself frees up the driver to do other things while driving because you only really need one foot and one hand to drive. The newest dangerous trend here is to send text messages via cell phone while driving. I don't know how the hell you do that at all while driving but it would be pretty much impossible while driving a manual transmission car. In fact almost anything, besides actually driving the car, would be much harder if not impossible in a manual transmission car.

Sure I've used the cupholders in my cars but if I was in the market for a track toy type of car, I wouldn't even think to ask if it had one. It's just not important and not what the car is all about. I'd probably never use it on such a car anyway. I'd be too busy enjoying the driving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Jay Leno's Garage

Jay Leno seems like a real cool guy. Not only is he funny and talented, but he is also an absolute car fanatic. For those that don't know, Jay has a very impressive car collection and his own garage and staff that does all the maintenance and restoration/fabrication on his cars. The garage is called the Big Dog Garage.

I recently found out that he has a website dedicated to the garage at What a great site! It has photos and histories of all the cars, motorcycles and other items in the collection. It also has a video collection, most with Jay himself giving some info on each car and usually a test drive. Really cool stuff.

I've never met the man but everything I have read seems to indicate that even though he is hugely famous, he is a really down to earth guy. I've read stories from people who have bumped into him in various places and they all say that he is just a regular guy with a passion for cars and the means to have a very impressive and unique collection. He apparently is always showing up at various car gatherings in California, not as a publicized star appearance, but rather as just a guy with a one of his cars who'll just stand around and talk to anyone who shares his interest in cars.

I really admire his passion and knowledge of cars and their history. When you see the videos on his site you immediately understand that he is genuinely excited about each car he owns. He's like kid with a new toy. Entertaining is his job, but I think that his collection is what he is really all about. I'd love to see that collection and garage first hand. It must be like Disneyland for guys like me.

Now before anyone gets the wrong idea that I have some sort of affiliation with the site or Jay, or that I'm some kind of super Jay Leno fan, let me just say that none of that is true. I can honestly say that I've never watched the Tonight Show since he took over and I was actually upset that Letterman didn't get the gig. I do think Jay is a funny and talented guy but I am most impressed by his cars and love of them. Sure other celebrities have collections like Jerry Seinfeld with his Porsches. But I doubt that Jerry gets his hands dirty and has the passion that Jay does. Maybe I'm wrong, but either way, I admire Jay and I'm jealous as hell.

Anyway, check out the site, it's pretty cool.