The Original Honda NSX Is The Coolest ‘Alternative Supercar’ Of The 1990s
Photography by Andrea Casano
The collective of apps and message boards that constitute social media have been far more active on the media element than the social one since their creation, but even more so since we started bunkering down and keeping our distance from each other. But there are still chances to make the jump to communicating face to face instead of via thumb.
This story is one of those chances, initiated by sending a simple Instagram message. I saw Enrico Renaldini’s photography of a red first series Honda NSX, and knowing him to be a bonafide driving enthusiast and excellent photographer (in addition to possessing a knowledge of cars at the anthropomorphic encyclopedia level), I reached out to see if we could get together to tell the story behind the photo that drew me in.
A few quickly tapped out messages later, we agree on a time and location to go out for a shoot. The NSX has far more representation in America and Japan than it does in Italy, and though I’m one of many people who grew up driving the wheels off the NSX and its ilk on my living room tube TV I’d never seen one in person. I’ve seen far rarer cars that perform much better on the track or auction block, but this is the kind of enthusiast car that is somehow more elusive. As Enrico puts it, more plainly, “Not many were imported in those years.”
I’ve watched that video of Aryton Senna testing the car around Suzuka in his loafers enough times to commit it to the same bank of memory responsible for my name and first kiss. It’s an exaggeration, but the point is that I was excited to finally meet this car, and to learn more about the guy who tracked down this rarity.
“I was and am still madly in love with it. It’s a car that despite being a rear-wheel drive feels balanced more like an all-wheel drive, but still with mid-engine characteristics that you’d hope for,” says Enrico, continuing, “And just as I was reaching you here, I passed another one! We looked at each other as if to say ‘Hello, goodbye, surprised to see you, too!”
If you see a red mid-engine sports car out here in Brescia it’s a safe bet that it isn’t a Honda, but I would have loved to catch that moment where two of the few managed to find each other on the street, if only briefly. I’m sure each original NSX that made it to Italy has an interesting story behind it, and in Enrico’s case it’s a classic Italian tale of family. Enrico tells me that he and his uncle bought the car together, and although his uncle has passed away, the car and the memories they shared with it will keep his spirit alive.
Meeting the NSX for the first time, I am struck by the ingenious pairing of high-tech supercar with comfortable, usable, classically ergonomic and friendly Honda-ness. Honda has built some of the meanest engines in F1 history, no doubt, but the stuff you see on the road and on the back wall of people’s garages doesn’t remind one of crazy-powerful championship-winning turbo motors.
The NSX sits in between those two worlds, and while I don’t particularly like the overuse of “race car for the road” phrases when people talk about sports cars, I think the NSX is worthy of being called that. Not because I’m trying to be hyperbolic and pretend this thing is a race car, but it’s a pretty darn good example of what the translation from motorsport to production can be in reality. What’s better, a race car that’s been watered down just enough to wear a license plate, or a car that’s been engineered from the ground up as a road car, but following a core set of racing car best practices? It’s not a rhetorical question, and I don’t claim to have anything more than a preference—it’s just something to think about.
Enrico appreciates a good track-only car as much as the next guy who knows how to handle one, but part of the reason he appreciates the NSX is that it isn’t that. His example is about as new and preserved as they come without resorting to zero-mileage, filtered air and plastic bubble storage. “Since we have owned it, only we have driven it, only me and my uncle,” he tells me, “I now use it very often for long journeys as well as the short ‘exercises,’ and I can say from firsthand experience now that the NSX is a car that can be used for almost any type of occasion. You can do a cross-country trip in other fun-to-drive cars like this, but you’ll arrive without cramps and sweat stains in the NSX. There is no context I’ve found that this car won’t face head on and prove to me on the other side that it wasn’t bluffing.”
As the sun starts to dip below the taller trees, I make the most of the sweet but fleeting moments to capture the gradient of sunset and the deepening red of this special Honda. I break a temporary silence, asking Enrico how he feels about the car’s reputation as a “daily supercar,” considering the fact that he’s been able to experience more than just his NSX.
“It is absolutely true!” he says with the kind of smile that let’s me know he was waiting for this question to be asked directly, “I was lucky enough to be able to drive several supercars in my life, and it’s clearly difficult to make a comparison between them all—each has a personality—but none were as balanced between ‘car’ and ‘super’ as this one is.”
And this is not to suggest that the NSX is just an overly padded, muzzled version of something more baldly dedicated to high performance. The NSX has its share of cutting-edge engineering and sporting credentials. The most novel element of its development was the extensive use of aluminum. The engine—an all-aluminum 3.0L V6 that’s happy to be wound up to 8,000rpm—was just the obvious place to start, as Honda went much further with its use of this weight-saving alloy and developed a new facility to produce the car’s monocoque chassis out of aluminum, the first of its kind in mass-production form.
Between the body, engine, and the suspension components, the use of aluminum and other materials is said to have saved about 485lbs compared to steel. Among other technical innovations featured in the NSX are titanium connecting rods, Honda’s oft-joked about but well-engineered VTEC system, an electric power steering, and ABS with four independent channels. Later, in 1995, Honda added the first electronically controlled butterfly intake valves.
Enrico and I continue trading our NSX anecdotes and knowledge as we do our static shots, but before we head home through the darkness there’s still a chance to catch the last bit of light left in the day, and we decide on some shots in motion to cap it off on a literal high note. The V6 singing with the dusk-loving insects, the pop-up lights swinging through the corners, illuminated stripes of blurred asphalt as I hang on to the camera car’s bumper and the camera itself—I couldn’t ask for a better way to meet one of my hero cars. It just so happens that the owner really “gets it,” too, and from a few taps on Instagram we’ve found ourselves at the end of a day very well spent.