Honda’s Invisible Supercar

If you follow the Top Gear series you know that Jeremy Clarkson doesn’t always give the most flattering of reviews. Over a decade ago he published a book titled “Born to Be Riled” which included some interesting revelations regarding Honda’s supercar, the NSX. The following is the excerpt which I found to be a quite enjoyable read and wanted to share.

“If you want to know whether a car is going to be popular or not, ask Kylie Minogue, who, I feel sure, has more of a clue than me. In 1992, I described the Ford Escort as a dog and it went on to become Britain’s best-selling car. A year later, I reached out into 95 million homes around the planet and said the Toyota Corolla was so dull it should be supplied with a cardigan, and ever since it’s been the world’s best-selling car.

Undaunted, I went out there again and argued vehemently that the Renault A610 was a masterpiece and that it represented truly unmatched value for money. In its first year in Britain, they sold six. But the biggest puzzler to date has been the Honda NSX. In 1994, I showered it with literary rose petals saying that Jesus had come among us once more. They sold 19.

Things were a little better in 1995 when 55 found homes in Britain, but in 1996 a new targa-roofed version came along which could be specified with push-button gear changing. The future looked so good for Japan’s first supercar that I took the corporate shilling and sang its praises in a showroom video. Sales fell to 38. And they’re still falling.

These numbers are seriously small, but the picture becomes even more bleak when you remember that some of these cars must have been registered to Honda themselves as demonstrators. If you could peek inside the computer in Swansea you might come up with something startling – in 1996, not one single person in the whole of Britain actually bought a new Honda NSX.

And I bet Honda simply can’t understand what on earth they’ve done wrong. They gave the world an all-aluminium supercar with one of the most technically advanced engines seen outside a sci-fi movie. They made it reliable and no harder to drive than a pram. They kept the price in BMW land and placed one with Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction. And they were rewarded by people staying away in droves.

Well, to try and put some zest into what was already a vindaloo, they’ve beefed up the engine, added electric power steering and garnished the finished product with a six-speed gearbox. And now I’m going to ensure it’s a spectacular failure by telling you that it’s one seriously impressive motor car.

I spent a day with it at the Mallory Park race track in Leicestershire, and can safely say that round the fearsome Gerard’s Corner it is a match for even the Ferrari 550.

This is a truly nasty bend: a long, long 180 degree right-hander that tightens up right at the very end. You need to lift off the power a bit but you can’t, because at the very same point there’s a slight crest which causes the car to go light.

Back off and you’ll go backwards into the crash barrier. Keep going and you’ll go forwards into the crash barrier. Be in an NSX and you’ll make it, sweating a bit and promising you’ll go to church next Sunday, but you’ll make it and that’s all that matters. The electric steering is a bit of a gimmick but the grip and the ‘feel’ is awesome. And the grunt is capable of making you best mates with the horizon in ten seconds flat.

You still have a V6 with variable valve timing – whatever the hell that means – but it now displaces 3.2 litres so you get from 0 to 60 in a whisker over five seconds, on your way to a maximum of 170mph.

Not that you’ll ever want to get there. What you’ll want to do is go through the gears endlessly, because from inside the snuggy cabin that engine makes a noise that could curdle mud. After five laps my soul was so stirred you could have served it up as soup. I never thought it was possible to be in love with a noise, but take an NSX up to 8000rpm and you’ll be heading for the registry office. It would be a good partner too, because unlike a Ferrari, it is a perfectly serviceable everyday car. And it is so damn easy to drive. Even my granny could manage it, excepting the fact that she’s dead of course.

My only real worry is the styling. Even Honda would admit in a quiet moment that they copied Ferrari, but that’s like asking a nine-year-old boy to copy the Haywain. It won’t really work, and it especially won’t work if he tries to improve on the original. Honda thought it would be a good idea to give their supercar a boot, so the rear overhang is rather larger than it should be. And they felt it should have headlamp washers, which means the smooth front end is sullied with plastic protuberances, like Claudia Schiffer with blackheads.

Now I’ve always subscribed to the theory that you should judge a book by its cover. I will, for instance, never buy any novel unless it has a fighter plane or a submarine on the front, but I do urge you to ignore the Honda’s skin and study its meat. It is not a match for the Ferrari 355, but then it’s £20,000 less expensive. And if you scour the secondhand columns of this paper you’ll probably be able to find one for £40,000, which, for a machine like this, is car-boot sale money.

I bet you’re going to have a look right now, aren’t you? And you keep looking right up to the moment when you buy a Porsche.”


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