Future Classic

The Honda NSX

Developed by Senna, dedicated to Zanardi

Photo credit: Wheelsage

It has never been a secret that the Honda NSX was intended to be a (much more affordable) rival to the V8 Ferrari 348. In fact, that message was clearly conveyed by the frequent use of red, also on Ayrton Senna’s World Championship winning McLaren Honda. On delving more deeply into the history of this mid-engine sports car — back then a novel configuration for the Japanese manufacturer —, it emerges that in 1984 Pininfarina had created a magnificent concept car: the HP-X (Honda Pininfarina Experimental).

In 1984 Pininfarina created a concept car for Honda: the HP-X was the inspiration for the great Japanese car maker’s first mid-engine sports car

At this point, a suspicion naturally arises: given Pininfarina’s long history as a designer for Ferrari, could its recruitment to create the Japanese concept car have been a deliberately mischievous move? We put this question to the great designer Lorenzo Ramaciotti, who headed Pininfarina’s design department for over twenty years. He puts the doubt to rest, explaining that while Honda certainly used Pininfarina, for years, to study future projects, this particular prototype, which Ramaciotti himself worked on, represents an entirely different stylistic language to that used for Ferrari, although every bit as beautiful.

However, the version of the NSX that was subsequently marketed, recording fantastic sales, was conceived in Japan. Technically, it was highly innovative, being characterized by extensive use of aluminum and original engineering solutions (such as the VTEC system with two cam profiles, one for low revs and the other for higher ones, and the 2997 cc V6 engine). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the design, which lacked originality; in particular, the side vents and rear wing failed to set the car apart.

Nevertheless, its performance was outstanding, especially once the chassis, on Ayrton Senna’s suggestion, had been stiffened, improving the vehicle’s drivability.

Ayrton Senna owned three NSXs, including the one shown here, which he used in 1991-1992, during breaks spent at his seaside villa in the Algarve

The success of the NSX, especially in the United States, came on the crest of the wave of sporting victories such as the two Formula Cart Championship titles notched up, in 1997 and 1998, by Alex Zanardi, to whom a special series was subsequently dedicated. It was also a result of the passion for this brand, which had started among US college students in the 1970s and grown ever since, creating a generation of successful young professionals who were naturally drawn to the NSX when it was unveiled in 1990.

The NSX Alex Zanardi Edition was produced in 1999 and sold under the Acura brand, exclusively on the US market. It was only available in New Formula Red, the same color as the car Zanardi drove for Chip Ganassi Racing