Taking A 3500 Mile Test Drive in an Acura NSX (1 of 4)
Photography by Yoav Gilad
What had I just done? The money was sent and gone. Last time, my research had been far more thorough and my actions much less impulsive.
Perhaps I need to back up a bit. A couple of months ago I was preparing a feature wherein you, the Petrolisti, would get to choose my next daily driver. You see I’ve been daily-driving a beaten-to-hell Kia Sorento for about six years now. Finally, I’d had enough and while I’ve bought other cars in the interim, I didn’t want to use them as commuter vehicles.
So I came up with a set of parameters (price, drivetrain, usability) and narrowed the field to about twenty-five cars that I’d be happy to drive every day. Some were two-seaters, but most were 2+2s between twenty and forty years old. For example, the list included an Alfa Romeo GTV, BMW 635CSi, Ferrari 308, a first-generation Ford Mustang fastback, and the Acura NSX. I had the post written up and ready to go.
Like many of you, I browse Ebay, Craigslist, and a few forums rather frequently. And while I had been writing the article and preparing the online poll, ready to put my automotive fate in your trusted hands, I stumbled across an ad on NSXprime.com for the Acura pictured here. The ad read as follows:
I have owned this beautiful NSX for the past eleven years. During that time I have put approximately 4,000 miles on it, thus I am thinking it is time to pass her on to a new owner that will take her out of the garage once in a while.
This car is in wonderful shape, with glossy paint and a near perfect interior. All maintenance is current, tires are brand new, it needs nothing and it’s ready to go. I am an adult and have never beaten or abused this car, though my wife says I pamper it too much. I have always believed that Honda got the NSX right from the start and I have avoided making any modifications from stock. The exception to this is the wheels, which are from the 2003 model, and the addition of Zanardi style floor mats. The only known issue is the stock radio, which seems to be on its last leg. I would have replaced it with an after market unit if not for my desire to keep the car original. Besides, radios are usually a personal preference item that a new owner would like to choose for him or herself. As mentioned above, I scratched the rear bumper while backing out of the garage. It was very minor, but I thought I should mention it.
I was hooked before I read the end of the second paragraph, but the fact that the seller was seemingly so forthcoming and honest inspired confidence. He also included the maintenance history during his ownership. Additionally, the price was significantly cheaper than similar NSXs listed in Southern California. Oh, did I mention the car was about 2,400 miles away in Atlanta, Georgia? Well the fact that it was number sixty-five off the line in its second year of production didn’t hurt either. I emailed him immediately and after getting his number I called.
At this point I must confess a few things. First, prior to my purchase, I had been in an NSX once. Ever. And it was as a passenger for ten minutes during which I really hadn’t been impressed. I owned my first Honda S2000 at the time and felt that the sensation of speed in the NSX was much more muted. Essentially you had to be going fifty percent faster in the NSX to achieve the same feeling as in the S2000. And based on my frequent run-ins with the California Highway Patrol, Pasadena City Police, and Los Angeles County Deputies I thought it imprudent to drive something that needed to be driven even harder to feel fast.
Second, I thought I’d have some time to test drive a few cars after you guys voted for your favorite and that I could write a few test-drive horror stories (“the brakes didn’t even work!…”). Also, I wanted to document the process of researching and buying the car to help anyone looking who might not know how to go about buying a vintage car.
And finally, I’ve never really thought much of the NSX as an exotic. I remember that when Acura (or Honda, elsewhere) released the car, the automotive press gushed over the handling and chassis. But as an about-to-drive fourteen-or fifteen-year-old, all I saw was a car that lacked the drama and presence (and horsepower) of a real supercar. For instance, the Ferrari 348 had side-strakes and could be had in Rosso Corsa. And it had a V8!
The NSX had a friggin’ V6. Was that meant to be a joke? Hey, Honda, this isn’t an Accord! They could talk about F16-inspired design and chassis balance all day. It wasn’t European and it didn’t have as much power. Of course, I had never even driven yet and knew about as much regarding cars as I did about women (my philosophy for both at that time was the faster the better). So, due to my prejudices and immaturity the Acura NSX had always been an also-ran.
And yet in spite of my biases and brief experience I wired a significant amount of cash to a bank account across the US to a man I’d never met, after two ten-minute phone conversations and a couple of emails. Whimsical is one way to describe it, but I think idiotic is more appropriate.
Time to take the ride. Yessir, Mr. Thompson, I had definitely bought the ticket.
Assuming everything worked out, I was the proud new owner of a Sebring Silver 1992 Acura NSX. And while initially I thought about having the car shipped, as it was across the US from me, I decided to fly out and drive it back. Why not, right? Nothing like getting out on the road for a three-thousand-mile test-drive. The only question that remained was who would ride shotgun?
The obvious answer was actually not my then-new bride, as she’s never driven a manual transmission longer than a few minutes in a parking lot. Two of my friends were actually the front-runners, but she expressed some interest. Frankly, I was thrilled! Of course she might ruin the clutch, but even if she did, it can be fixed, can’t it? The flight was booked.
We touched down in Atlanta a few weeks later, following a non-stop red-eye from Los Angeles. It was a humid and bright Wednesday morning and I had slept maybe two hours while aloft, following a full day of work. In the time that passed between the wire transfer and that morning, I had learned that the seller was a real gentleman. Not only did he agree to hold on to the car for about six weeks, but he also offered to pick us up at the airport, which was literally across the city from his home, during rush hour.
As gracious as his offer was, we had to turn him down because Petrolicious friend, noted Ferrari historian, and Atlanta resident himself, Mr. David Seibert, had also volunteered a lift as well as a breakfast detour. I am a sucker for waffles.
But for some reason I had yogurt, fruit, and muesli. Clearly, my lack of sleep was taking a toll. David, Marcia (my wife), and I chatted in the car, crawling through traffic, as he wove stories from the early days at the Scuderia mixed with his own racing history and experiences with Ferraris.
“I shouldn’t even be alive though,” David said nonchalantly, and I expected him to blame a concrete wall or ill-timed pass. He continued, “I had a double lung transplant.” His last sentence hung in the air for an instant, before I answered.
It’s not something that I share very frequently or freely. I mentioned it in an interview earlier this week on Cars Yeah when asked what my greatest challenge has been. Everyone faces some hardship in his or her life and my health has always been mine. You either deal with it, and keep pushing, or you die. Still, I’ve always felt myself an outsider and my health just one more difference.
The chances of meeting someone like me in this regard are amazing. The only other lung-transplant recipients I’ve ever met have all been seated in doctors’ waiting rooms, along with me. Our new bond discovered, David and I talked like old friends, and indeed, I now count him as more than a business associate. He gets it. I get it. And I look forward to repaying his kindness next time he’s in Los Angeles.
We crested a green, shady hill and there was the NSX. It was parked in a driveway, leading to stately brick house. David slowed the SUV and almost before we were completely stopped I was out, beaming, just absorbing the slippery, gorgeous shape. David and my wife followed, less hurriedly. The owner came out and greeted us.
Following the usual pleasantries, he showed me around the car. The battery had died just the day before because a plunger that detects when you’re pressing the brake pedal had broken causing the brake lights to remain lit. Thus the seller had to scramble to replace the battery and the little plunger. But he changed the oil and filled the tank up, so we’d be ready to hit the road when we finally arrived.
That moment was upon us. After he handed over the keys and presented us with a couple of NSX related gifts (a dealership book from when the car was new and a Lucite laser-etched sculpture) we threw our bags in the trunk and climbed in. We thanked David again and he took off.
I gently shut the door. I was in my NSX. I had never even driven one and now I owned it and was going to put nearly as many miles on the clock (in five days) as the previous owner had over eleven years! The leather groaned and squeaked as I adjusted the seat and my position. I looked out over the low dash at the wheel arches then fine-tuned the mirrors. Rear-ward visibility was impressive.
Then I slipped the key into the ignition and turned it to the ‘on’ position causing the instruments and warning lights to flash to life. Twisting a little further to ‘ignition’ and the engine barked to life settling into a very smooth Honda-esque idle. There was certainly no mistaking it for a Ferrari V8. Clutch in, first gear, and we’re off.
Continue reading part two of the Acura NSX test-drive story…