Buy an Acura NSX and Then Test-Drive It (4 of 4)
Photography by Yoav Gilad
If you haven’t yet, read part three of the Acura NSX test-drive story.
The air that early-July morning was bracing. It rained on and off during the night, but the clouds were now gone and only a cool chill remained. My wife remained in bed as I closed the door quietly and tip-toed down the stairs across the hall from our room.
I have a habit of being early to most things and this morning was no exception. We had made plans the day before, while my wife and I drove from Austin, to meet at a local breakfast spot that was popular. I had no idea where it was but figured I’d find it using Google maps. When I checked the map, it turned out to be about six or seven miles away and factoring traffic, I figured it would take about twenty minutes.
I’d be there about ten minutes early this way. It just so happened that my idea of traffic (being from Los Angeles) is a bit different from Santa Fe’s reality. The entire drive took less than ten minutes and as a result I now had just under a half-hour to spare until my meeting. I didn’t even turn into the restaurant’s parking lot. Ample spare time, Santa Fe’s mountains, and a sports car? Time to drive!
The restaurant flew past as I braked, blipped the gas pedal with my heel, flicked the transmission from fourth to third, off the clutch, blipped again, went to second, back off the clutch, and then buried the throttle. Up to third again. But then I entered a tight right-hander and downshifted back to second as I swung the NSX towards the inside of the curve. And back onto the gas as the road straightened. Here on my own, I was more comfortable pushing the Acura than when my wife was riding shotgun. And the NSX obliged.
It’s funny, but I hadn’t appreciated how comfortable the seating position and how supportive the seats are. Through all the miles over the last few days, I never really experienced fatigue in my back or legs. And yet, when running through the New Mexico canyons, I stayed perfectly in place as the bolsters are placed ideally. In the first segment of this road-trip cum test-drive I marveled at how well designed the cabin was and how easily the instruments were manipulated–everything was designed and executed with a focus on maximizing ease of interaction. The seats–and shifter–were no exception.
When I managed to break my concentration for a moment I realized that I was dangerously close to being late. I found a dusty turnout and quickly reversed my course in a cloud of dirt and sand. Now I had a real incentive to mash it.
I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot just ahead of a small SUV, parked, and ran inside. My “date” wasn’t there yet. I walked back outside and there she was climbing out of the small SUV. She was wearing sunglasses and a polka-dot blouse. I introduced myself and she extended her hand. As we walked past the NSX, she asked how I liked it, then remarked how it was “two cylinders short for Americans who had their tastes formed by ad writers.” She should know, she’s had a driver’s license since before the US became involved in World War II. Her name is Denise McCluggage and she’s the grand dame of motor racing and automotive journalism.
I’ve been reading her writing since I can remember and while I was officially there trying to woo her for Petrolicious (it didn’t work out, I’m sad to say), I was more than a bit thrilled that she took the time to meet.
We ate breakfast and she couldn’t tell me enough to stories to sate my appetite. Stories of cross-country drives with racing champs like Phil Hill and how the two of them had a system wherein one would use the restroom while the other pumped gas in order to decrease the time off the road. She tells the story of Luigi Chinetti’s Christmas Eve drive to see Enzo Ferrari (which she happened to write up for AutoWeek just this past week). And stories of a local car club, their events, and drives with Sir Stirling Moss.
But she was no groupie. Denise is the real article, a racer herself, quicker in her prime than you, or I, ever were. She won the GT category at Sebring in ’61, achieved a class win in the Monte Carlo Rally, raced at the Nurburgring, and was invited to drive the 24 Hours of Le Mans multiple times by major factory teams but was never allowed because women were banned due to a woman’s death sometime in the past. “Men were killed at Le Mans, why were they permitted to continue?” she quipped.
For me, the experience was surreal. It far exceeded any expectations I had. To chat with Denise, a legend involved in the Golden Age of racing who was no mere spectator but a participant, was incomparable. We walked back to her SUV and hugged goodbye. I wished that I lived in Santa Fe just so I could spend more time with her and knew I’d have to return just to see her again. I may be mistaken, but I truly felt that I’d made a friend.
By the time I returned to the hotel, Marcia was waiting and ready to go. We were back on the road in a matter of minutes cutting through New Mexico’s mountainous desert, headed for Scottsdale, Arizona and an impromptu Petrolicious cars and coffee. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and big, puffy white clouds. The NSX was running strong and we were eager to get back in our time zone. We could almost see the Pacific as we flew through the Rocky Mountain passes.
At some point we got tired of the highway and decided to take local roads. We were also growing hungry and opted for a Navajo fry-bread lunch. There were signs at quite a few exits and on a previous road trip through the southwest we had discovered the fried delicacy. It’s sort of like those puffy clouds but made of fried flour and piled high with assorted chopped veggies, cheese, and meat (in most cases) and very filling. Parking in front of a small building next to another car, this fry-bread spot was also a gift shop, local “museum”, and home to the proprietors. The fry-bread was three or four bucks, a water was one.
There was a couple sitting on the outdoor plastic chairs at a plastic table awaiting their fry-bread. They owned the hulking GMC Yukon Hybrid parked next to our little Acura NSX. The couple looked like they were in their mid-fifties. Marcia and I joined them at the table and said our hellos. They were very friendly, coincidentally from Georgia where we had started our drive. We chatted pleasantly while munching on the fry-bread and wiping our fingers, and they asked us where we were headed.
“California,” Marcia replied.
“By way of Arizona?” the man asked.
We nodded. “I’m never going back to Arizona!” the man announced, and continued without waiting for an inquiry, “I was attacked by a damned mountain lion there!” He stood and revealed horrific looking scars on his left arm and legs.
“I was riding my Harley in a canyon with a friend. We’re riding through kind-of slowly, maybe fifteen, twenty miles per hour and suddenly!… This hundred-and-eighty pound cougar jumps on my back!” Marcia and I were both speechless.
“I go flying off the bike, tumbling down into a wash with this cougar on top of me! His head is down by my ankles and its hind-quarters on my shoulders. I just started trying to rip its privates off! I guess it decided I wasn’t worth the trouble ’cause after a bit of wrestling, it sprinted back up the canyon.”
His friend stopped videotaping (seriously), called an ambulance, and the man was rushed to the emergency room. He needed hundreds of stitches, but survived. As a postscript, he told us that the same cougar tried attacking a small child a few weeks later and a wildlife management officer managed to shoot the lion. “How did you know it was the same cougar?” I asked. “It had road rash on its right hind quarter. They called me and told me they killed the one that attacked me, as it was reported to wildlife management when I went to the ER. I’m now the only person in the state of Georgia with a legal mountain lion pelt,” he explained with a proud smile.
We told them not to worry as the NSX was a hardtop and that we’d be fine through Arizona, after all, Scottsdale’s cougars were probably more dangerous, but less interested in me. We passed through Gallup and the Petrified Forest National Park, then turned off the freeway again in Holbrook, Arizona. I love traveling by car as you have the option to get out and look around, but it’s also very easy to just swallow miles and miss everything as they just blend from one to the other. In only a matter of hours, you’re in a completely new vista that bears little resemblance to where you were that morning. The transition from Texas’s Gulf Coast to its Western border is extreme and takes little more than twelve hours of steady driving. We were now almost halfway through Arizona and I felt like we really could almost see the Pacific; every time I’ve driven cross-country (this was my ninth, I believe) it has felt too quick. There’s a metaphor for you to chew on.
Anyway, from Holbrook we cut south on some roads (state routes 377, 260, and 87) that looked promising but were actually somewhat congested. Shame that the last two-hundred miles were so frustrating. We arrived at Marcia’s sister’s house and dropped our things off before we had to head out to attend the cars and coffee that Petrolicious‘s home office had publicized on Facebook. I was a bit disappointed that only two people showed up, but between them, Marcia’s sister and her sister’s boyfriend, and us two, we had a good time. Of the two people who showed up, one drove a Porsche 911 Carrera, the other, a younger guy, drove a 327,000 mile Volvo wagon. In the backseat of the Volvo, was a turbo about the size of a large pizza that he planned to install. He managed and maintained some older guy’s collection. In spite of all the “bro-trucks” and stucco strip malls in Scottsdale, it’s home to quite a thriving classic car community. It’s no wonder that Barrett-Jackson is based here and the January auctions take place here.
We spent the night in Scottsdale and then headed for home the following morning.
The Acura NSX made it with no major incidents. More to the point, over the five or six days and approximately 3500 miles, driving it was an easy thrill. The funny things is that had I gone out and test driven one before buying it, I probably wouldn’t have actually bought it. You might remember my list of other potential cars from the first part of this story. I was considering a ’65 Ford Mustang Fastback, or an early ’80s Ferrari 308. And I could easily envision the Mustang’s mighty rumble winning, or perhaps the Magnum P.I. Ferrari’s stunning shape. And I probably wouldn’t have minded driving either one every day. But I would have been poorer for never having given the NSX a chance, because it’s as close to a perfect car as I have ever driven.
Some people equate great ergonomics and reliability with a lack of soul or passion. Those people are idiots. Their cars might have more presence, a higher top speed, or cost more, but they don’t actually deliver a great experience. The people who prattle on about soul would rather stare at their cars gathering dust in a temperature- and humidity-controlled garage, instead of actually driving them regularly. You know why? Because their cars aren’t actually fun to drive. The Acura NSX is.
As a wise woman once said, the Acura NSX is “two cylinders short for [those] who had their tastes formed by ad writers.” If you get the chance, buy an Acura NSX and then take the test-drive. You won’t be disappointed. Oh and yeah, since returning I’ve driven it nearly every single day and no, it isn’t for sale.