Travel: Learning to Drive Stick in an Acura NSX, 1000mi to Go (2 of 4)

Learning to Drive Stick in an Acura NSX, 1000mi to Go (2 of 4)

Avatar By Yoav Gilad
October 24, 2014
21 comments

Photography by Yoav Gilad

If you haven’t yet, read part one of the Acura NSX test-drive story.

Giving a wave, we turned out of the seller’s driveway deliberately. Early NSXs don’t have power steering. The seller had mentioned it, but honestly, I thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. Well, hell, I need to work out anyway. I eased into the throttle slowly as we crested a hill and went down a bend.

A couple of stop signs and heavy, slow turns later and we were on a main road headed towards the highway. So far the car was unremarkable but I realized that the ergonomics were anything but. Between the low dash, great visibility, and controls that are a small reach away I couldn’t ask for anything more from the interior (well, besides a functional radio). But I still wasn’t sold on the car I had just bought and I certainly wasn’t sure what all the accolades were about.

Granted I had only put about two miles on the odometer at this point, but it definitely wasn’t love at first sight. I pointed the car southeast towards the Florida coast and the category one hurricane that was churning our way. I had checked the local weather before the flight but we only found out about the incoming hurricane after landing.

We eased onto the highway and drove the two-hundred-forty-or-so miles to the Florida border in about three hours. We had been warned about police near the border, but didn’t see too many. They probably weren’t very motivated by the hot afternoon sun and oppressive humidity.

Not having a radio in a car is a funny thing. This was my third cross-country drive (all in different cars) without a radio. I like hearing the local radio stations and I’ve discovered some great music this way. But when you’ve never driven a car before, and you have a very long drive ahead, it’s both a blessing and torture.

It allows you to get to know the sounds your car makes in a variety of conditions but each unfamiliar click, groan, or whine is imminent disaster. On a positive note, at this point I had enough miles to feel comfortable and discovered that while the car may lack a Ferrari V8, it had a wonderful growl above 4500rpm all the way to its 8000rpm redline. Man, I want to take the mufflers off! I’d be Ayrton Senna.

Every time we passed a sign for Georgia peaches my wife exclaimed, “Oooh! Peaches!” and I’d ask her if she wanted to me to pull off the highway. She never said yes, but as soon as we were in Florida and the signs disappeared, she said “it’s too bad we didn’t stop for peaches.” What?!

We arrived in St. Augustine, Florida (the oldest city in the US) late that afternoon to see Aunt Florence. She’s ninety-four. Soon she’ll be ninety-five. And she announces both facts with pride to most people she meets. She lives in a second-floor walk-up only a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean and she wanted the three of us to take the NSX to dinner, suggesting in her Brooklyn patois that, “Maaaahrsha can sit in my lap.” We called a gypsy cab and took our chances with a mid-2000s crimson colored, beige-Landau-roofed, and gold-rimmed Cadillac. The driver, who was barely literate, scrawled his phone number on a three-by-five postcard when he dropped us off, “in case y’all wan’ a ri’ back.”

When we finished dinner, we did not call “Willyam, with a ‘y’” for the ride home (or is it Wylliam?). Instead, one of Aunt Florence’s nieces (from the other side of the family tree) picked us up driving a newer, manual (!) BMW three-series. She couldn’t believe the NSX was more than twenty years old. This would become a common theme.

I was falling asleep on the couch while Marcia and Aunt Florence talked, having slept about two hours in the previous forty. Tomorrow was our big push across the US in order to allow more time in the southwest, and so I turned in.

The following morning, Aunt Florence, who is ninety-four years old (yes, I know I’ve mentioned it but thought it was worth repeating as she believes it is), was making breakfast. We chatted for a bit and after Marcia woke up, relieved of my responsibilities as a guest, I grabbed my gear and ran outside to get some early-ish morning shots. Somehow, I had only shot one photo the previous day. I think I was still in some sort of shock.

While the setting was less than ideal, I made it work as best as I could. It was also a bit later than I’d have liked and so I spent more time staring at the car, studying its lines and angles, than really shooting.

The NSX isn’t a beautiful car. It’s got a smooth, slick shape that looks very aerodynamic, but beautiful? I don’t really think so. Let’s call it functional. It also doesn’t have much presence. I mean it’s low and looks the business, but it doesn’t demand to be noticed like a Lamborghini Diablo does.

Also, the greenhouse on the NSX looks a bit tall. Certainly, the low hood and waistline are what make the visibility so good, but it tends to make the greenhouse stand out. I’m just glad that mine has tinted windows so that it’s less visually obtrusive.

Marcia came out of the apartment and leaned over the balcony, “come say bye!” My few shots snapped, I packed up the DSLR and headed back inside. There’d be time for more. We said our goodbyes and I offered to let Marcia drive. Now, if you recall the first article, she doesn’t drive stick. But what better car to learn on than a twenty-two-year-old Honda, right? She promptly freaked out.

We packed the trunk and got going. “You can’t just ask me if I want to drive now,” she protested at eighty mph. “Why not? If I tell you you’ll have to do it two hours before it’s time, you’ll just worry for two hours. Best just to jump in,” I explained as I downshifted to pass an overloaded pick-up truck. “Alright, consider this your notice: at the next fuel stop you take over.”

“Fine,” she replied in mock anger. She watched me drive for a bit and asked some questions about the sequence of shifting. Knowing the theory doesn’t quite prepare you for the practice. As she grew anxious about driving, I became concerned about liability issues.

The nice thing about driving from the East Coast to the West, is that you get an hour back as you cross time zones. We finally stopped for gas somewhere in northern-central Florida. Maybe it was Tallahassee? She ran inside while I pumped the gas. Upon her return she accepted the keys hesitantly.

I had a ’77 Porsche 911S that I owned for exactly one hundred days, last year. She drove that in a parking lot for about five minutes, same with my S2000. Now she was going to drive about three-hundred miles in her first real attempt to drive a car with a manual transmission.

She turned the key, depressed the clutch, and started the engine. She asked about the process again and then began feeding the engine some gas as I saw her left leg ease back. The car crawled almost imperceptibly. Emboldened, she let the clutch go and we leaped forward and settled into a bucking motion, then went dead. “You stalled. Do it again.”

Marcia did it again, five or six more times. “That man is laughing at me,” she said, pointing at the obese man fueling the Corolla in the next lane. She was right, the man stood shaking his head and laughing heartily, his fat shimmying. “He probably doesn’t even drive stick. Who gives a shit what he thinks? Maybe he’s laughing at his own Corolla. Do it again.”

Once more, she pushed the clutch in, fired the engine, and slowly withdrew her foot. But this time, the NSX eased out of the gas lane. “What happens if I have to stop?!” she yelled in excitement. “WHEN you have to stop,” I answered, placing emphasis on the word ‘when’, “you put the clutch and brake in, simultaneously.” We crept forward until we reached the stop sign at the exit.

She stalled a couple more times, but once she got going she shifted to second well, and soon after we were on the freeway eating up insects and muggy Florida pavement. I recalled sometime after Marcia took the wheel that we had expected to drive through a hurricane. It must’ve changed its mind or taken pity on the new NSX because its path swung northeast and missed coastal Florida altogether. Anyway, we were rolling west now and it was clear.

Interstate 10 is an impressively boring stretch of road, particularly on the east coast. With the exception of parts of the Florida panhandle, there are exits every couple of miles where one can partake of the usual fast-food suspects and gas up. The scenery is uninspiring, the cars even worse (I had no idea just how many Chevrolet Cobalts existed until this drive), and the majority of drivers appear to be in a fast-food-induced coma, courtesy of the [aforementioned] usual fast-food suspects.

She drove us over Pensacola’s Escambia Bay and under Mobile Bay in Alabma, through Mississippi’s bayous and north of New Orleans, Louisiana. That Thursday was all about driving and we were trying to make it past Houston, one thousand miles if possible.

I took over at some point later and she was ecstatic that she could now drive a manual. Obviously, driving three-hundred miles in fifth gear doesn’t make you Tazio Nuvolari, but it was a great start. She was able to downshift when she had to and didn’t stall again once off the highway. I’m glad that she was able to do it and that I wasn’t an impatient jerk before she had a chance to really become comfortable with the technique.

While Marcia drove, she waited patiently to pass. In the words of singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard, “patience is not a virtue I possess” and hence I’d downshift the NSX to third and punch the gas at the slightest opening. After I took over, I started driving like I was trying to qualify for the US Grand Prix. We had stopped for breakfast at a Waffle House (a guilty pleasure), which is probably more common in the Southern USA than Starbucks. I had a waffle, drowned in syrup, and a steak while Marcia had hash browns with nothing else (lame!). The bill came to about three dollars I think. They’re not known for quality, but flavor? Oh yeah.

The sun began to set under big, puffy clouds when we were about eight hundred miles from our starting point. We were in the West Louisiana swamps and the clouds grew tall and dark. We saw lightning strikes hit the ground only a few miles away judging from the thunder and decided it would be a good time to eat. There wasn’t too much around except for more chain restaurants, but we made the best of it. After dinner I insisted on taking a few photos in the rain, but without a proper set-up I was trying to predict lightning strikes (due to my low shutter speed) while getting drenched. There is a photo below, you can judge my success.

Night blanketed east Texas and it stopped raining some time after dinner. We could see Houston’s orange glow reflected against the clouds as we slashed through wet marshes and rice paddies. I was exhausted. I don’t remember too much of the drive after dinner, except for the taste of Mountain Dew. I was slugging the Day-Glo-green soda for the caffeine. We had passed the day’s first test—whether Marcia would be able to drive part of the way, having never had practical experience driving a manual.

And the following morning, I realized that we did not pass the second test. We made it past Houston, but not much. The odometer reported about 970 miles (about 1560 km) the previous day. I had been shooting for 1000. Small difference but a goal is a goal. Either way, it would allow us plenty of time in Austin and the southwest to really become familiar with the NSX…

Continue reading part three of the Acura NSX test-drive story

Join the Conversation
Related

Leave a Reply

Rex Seven
Rex Seven

I bought a 1993 RX7 sight unseen having never even been in one in 1998. I still have it and love it to death. Getting in it the first time is something I’ll never forget. A mixture of fear and excitement. Within 2 miles I was totally smitten.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson

I like the story as much as the car itself. Personally, I’m more of an NSX fan than you seem(ed) to be, they are truly remarkable in every sense of the word.

Also, blatant rookie mistake not going for the peaches. When you’re passing something and they say: “oh, that looks nice”, you ask if they want to stop and they tell you they’re good, they are clearly not good and you should stop as soon as possible. You might even have to turn around!

MitchB
MitchB

As a long time, multiple Porsche owner – I decided I must have at least one mid-engine two seater before I die. The Ferraris I wanted were were beyond my budget, those I could afford – I did not want. So three years ago I bought an NSX. Every comment here is spot on. They (it) are remarkable in their “un-remarkable-ness”. No quirky-ness as with the P-cars. Mine has a +2 wheel set, lowered on kW shocks, and better flowing / sounding exhaust – all of which help the sound, look and handling. It now feels a little more raw,… Read more »

TrafficMadman
TrafficMadman

” For a sports car enthusiast who is a realist, this might be the best car in the world ” is maybe one of the best and most defining quotes I have ever read on the NSX topic. Well thought!

Guest (DCharles)
Guest (DCharles)

Bought my ’91 in ’98 and thought about selling it 6 years ago as I just wanted something with more power. Then a Xcross buddy tells me about Shad Huntley in NorCal who came out of Comtech and opened his own shop. He installed the 2.3 blower with no other engine modifications except we did install a “dry” clutch to handle the new power. I dug around for my dyno sheet which showed a before/after rwh going from 212 to 409 and torque from 167 to 312. If Honda had done this they’d still be selling these things.

Paul Harvey
Paul Harvey

As a prick myself I am thoroughly enjoying these stories. The NSX is a remarkable car, and the more so because it will grow on you every day. You will always think it is not quite beautiful, until an onlooker reminds you it actually is. You will always think it is a little boring to drive, until a passenger begs for a chance to drive it. You will never regret selling it, until you buy a Ferrari. The Japanese set out to prove that a car can have supercar performance, absolute reliability, genuinely sensible running costs, and bust the myth… Read more »

Mirko
Mirko

Yoav, I dont really think you deserve the car. Well maybe in part 3 and 4 you will appreciate it a bit more, but that beautiful NSX would be better off with a real enthusiast. It seems like you have bought the car because it seem to be sold by e very genuine buyer, it is in an excellent condition and maybe because its far away. I dont think you have bought it because its an NSX.
Still nice writeup and I look forward to the next parts.

Tim Goedhart
Tim Goedhart

Great story so far! The way you talk about not having a radio and hearing(worrying about) every new sound is so familiar!
I love the simple design of the NSX, I do not know if they are rare in the US, but I think you can count the examples here in the Netherlands on one hand!

Oh and let’s keep Petrolicious.com a website whiteout rude comments like any other website…please!
Keep up the good work!

Future Doc
Future Doc

Nothing wrong with adding local texture, but the “accent” distracted from an otherwise a interesting read. The taxi’s description was good enough.

Metric Wrench
Metric Wrench

Well told. I find myself reminiscing of similar trips with me wife, before the brood arrived. Our southern moment was at Fort Morgan, near Orange Beach, Alabama. They had a little museum, perhaps a 30 foot square building, with some civil war relics. The attendant, a lady who appeared nearly as old as the author’s aunt, followed us around. I assumed she thought we were a ne’er-do-well couple that might palm something from the displays. As we finished the museum, I politely wished her a good day. She grimly sized us up from her horn rimmed glasses, and drawled out… Read more »

Mark Jordan
Mark Jordan

Mr. Blutarsky, sir, your oafish and hostile remarks only serve to underline the stereotype of the very caricature you hope to defend. Or to put it another way, belligerency is the currency of the intellectually bankrupt.

Now personally, I likes me some Waffle House hashbrowns – scattered, smothered, double-covered, peppered, and well.
What’s your favorite way?

TJ Martin
TJ Martin

Now that … finally put a smile back on my face . Molto grazie ! And to return the favor … here’s one to put a smile on yours Yoav . Ayrton Senna driving the living ___ out of an NSX . The split screen of the tap dance he does on the pedals alone is worth the watch .. ( I was kind of hoping you’d do the NSX pt II ) As to the NSX’s presence though .. I’ll take issue with you on that one Yoav . Park an NSX in and amongst a phalanx of AudiGhini’s… Read more »

Chris Stack
Chris Stack

The NSX isn’t a beautiful car. It’s got a smooth, slick shape that looks very aerodynamic, but beautiful? I don’t really think so. Let’s call it functional. It also doesn’t have much presence.

100\% disagree, on both counts. Beautiful and plenty of presence.

Sodapop
Sodapop

Let’s call whatever we want, since beauty is a relative concept. I, for one, think the NSX is beautiful and has plenty of presence.

Bo Choroszewski
Bo Choroszewski

I thought the same thing as Yoav in the 90’s as a teen. Now i see it as an understated and gorgeous design. It’s perfect and not too many cars have aged as gracefully, especially of Japanese origin! There’s not a bad angle on the car, looks great from head on, front 3/4, rear 3/4, rear. Perfect!

Redd
Redd

Agreed completely. I had a former colleague who owned an NSX, but never drove it to work. The one day he did, i had people stopping by my office left right and center asking if i knew who drove the beautiful red Ferrari.

Beauty and presence. Of course, its all in the eye of the beholder, which in this case appears to be a massive douche.

John Blutarsky
John Blutarsky

I would have enjoyed this article a lot more were it not for the author’s not-so subtle jabs at the South. Buy your next car in Soviet Socialist Republic of California, prick.

Steve Hayward
Steve Hayward

I’ve visited that part of the US a lot. I didn’t see many jabs, rather simple truths. Waffle Houses are everywhere, and aren’t exactly gourmet dining but are satisfying to eat at. You can make fun of almost any regional accent in America.

I for one am enjoying this series wholeheartedly.

Jeff Leon
Jeff Leon

John,
You might be too sensitive to join us on the internet. A political stereotype on a car website doesn’t help. Please sign off.

This article is great! I love it and can’t wait for the next one.

Yolo
Yolo

Thing is, what the author said is true. Seems like you can’t handle the truth because you have an inferiority complex.