Happy 25th Anniversary Acura NSX, Thank You, Ayrton Senna

1990 Acura NSX 13 photos
Photo: Honda
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All cars were born from an idea. An unwritten rule says a crazy idea plus draconic work plus brilliant minds equals iconic finite product. We'll discuss the rise and fading of the Acura NSX, the only car in the world tuned according to Ayrton's Senna driving input.
The year was 1984 when Honda decided to build a mid-mounted C20A 2.0 L V6 sports car going by the name of HP-X (Honda Pininfarina eXperimental). Eventually, the HP-X morphed into what petrolheads know and worship today as the Acura NSX ('New', 'Sportscar' and 'eXperimental').

Twenty-five years have passed since the Acura NSX had the first patch of asphalt under its wheels. The 'affordable supercar' was released in 1990 and despite showcasing Honda's state-of-the-art technology at that time, the exotic's impeccable handling and stiff chassis were the direct results of the input of a genius. Yes, I am talking about the Machiavellian but nonetheless brilliant Formula 1 master Ayrton Senna.

The 1987 Formula 1 season marked a turning point in Senna's career, as throughout the competitional term he nurtured a deep relationship with Honda. One year later (1988), thanks to this connection and Alain Prost's approval, Senna joined the McLaren team, who at that time was relying on Honda's V6 turbo engines.

You can call it fate pulling the strings, but in February 1989, Honda engineers were testing the NSX at Japan's Suzuka circuit, as a part of the car's final development stages. Some say they were lucky enough to cross paths with the Maestro, present on the premises to test his McLaren-Honda Formula 1 car.

In a polite and gracious manner, the Brazilian agreed to lap the circuit behind the wheel in the NSX prototype, but no one knew his impression of the car was going to put Honda engineers through an extra eight months of grueling effort.

Keeping his modesty levels up, Senna gave his famous feedback on the car: "I'm not sure I can really give you appropriate advice on a mass-production car, but I feel it's a little fragile."

You can imagine Honda engineers coming on the edge of a heart attack since the NSX's chassis was already as rigid as contemporary Porsche and Ferrari models. It would take an immense sensitivity and driving experience to detect such a flaw, but Ayrton Senna had plenty of both. It was like his back was covered in high-precision ultra-receptive sensors, able to spot even the slightest imperfection in a car. But, as a result, engineers improved the chassis' overall rigidity by 50%.

At launch, the Acura NSX design concept was only 141.3 mm (5.56 in) taller than the legendary Ford GT40, measuring 1,170 mm (46 in) in height. More important, Honda desired the NSX to meet or exceed the performance of the Ferrari 328 (which was later replaced by the 348), while offering targeted reliability and a moderate sticker. For this reason, the 2.0L V6 of the HP-X was abandoned and replaced with a more powerful, high-revving 3.0L VTEC V6 engine made entirely from aluminum, offering 274 HP and 210 lb·ft (280 Nm).

The bodywork design had been specifically researched by Chief Designer Ken Okuyama and Executive Chief Engineer Shigeru Uehara, after looking at the 360-degree visibility one would get inside an F-16 fighter jet cockpit.

With Honda being a force in Formula 1 at that time, it was only natural for the Acura NSX to feature many technologies derived from Honda's motorsports program. The NSX was the first production car to feature a weight-saving all-aluminum monocoque body, a solution that saved nearly 200 kg (441 lbs) in weight over the steel equivalent.

It is believed Senna was granted access to 3 of these cars: a black 1993 NSX in Brazil, which he ordered to his specifications, bearing license plate BSS-8888. The plate stood for a set of initials: the 'B' came from his childhood nickname 'Beco' while the double 'S' evoked his first name 'Senna da Silva'. Lastly, '8' was used to commemorate his first F1 championship, secured in 1988.

Another car drove by Senna was a red NSX with licence plate SX-25-59, which was loaned to him by Honda Portugal, while the third vehicle came as a black NSX purchased by Antonio Carlos de Almeida Braga - close friend, manager and mentor of Ayrton Senna.

These days, Honda is having another go with the NSX. Sadly, Senna was not here to give his precious input one more time, but we hope Honda engineers learned their lesson. And who knows, maybe we'll see the Suzuka track being brought back to life by the 2016 Acura NSX's 3.5-liter V6 rumored to pack over 500 horsepower, and a rightful tribute will be paid.

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