In this week’s film, we sit shotgun with Sean Lee for a drive around Los Angeles and its famed canyon roads in his first-generation 1991 Acura NSX. Tastefully modified with period-correct parts, this lithe streak of silver is an evolution of the stock car that was already a fantastic blend of sport and practicality, and though it isn’t factory-original, it has respectfully followed the trajectory, embodying the idea of “OEM plus.” It is, in a sense, more of an NSX than it was before; Sean has built upon the car, honing and enhancing this Honda (sorry, “Acura”) without coming at the cost of the car’s original identity.
We love thoughtfully-modified cars like this one, especially when the base is something significant. The NSX in its box-stock form has always been a car with few peers, not because it did any one thing remarkably well, but because it did everything well. It’s understandable then that it has become a car with multiple identities, depending.
On one hand, it is often part of the same import wish list as your typical JDM Skylines, Supras, and RX-7s. It is a boy-racer dream machine for some, but it also possesses a level of maturity and subtlety that’s all but absent in the cars mentioned. It is the original livable supercar after all, a mid-engined machine developed with input from Formula 1 cars and drivers—you’ve already seen the Senna video where he tests it in loafers around the Suzuka, I’m sure—that is equally happy to be cold-started on a frosty morning to do some holiday shopping. The passenger seat looks equally appropriate holding a helmet or a golden retriever.
But it was not a thing of compromise, achieving this duality of purpose. It still looks every bit as captivating and exotic as its Italian contemporaries, and it’s the common and true stereotype that it’s often mistaken for something that you’d expect to hold a V12 rather than an Accord-based V6. It does in fact have some Italian DNA mixed in with the Japanese build quality, for the NSX project was the result of Honda contracting Pininfarina to work on sports car concepts for the brand in the 1980s.
It is a car that adapts to however its owner wants to drive it. In the case of Sean Lee’s example, he enjoys it thoroughly and has clearly built it to his desired spec and look, but he also likes to share the driving experience that he’s come to love so much. He explains that unlike a fine painting or other piece of static artwork, cars like this do not leave your mind so readily once they’re out of your sight. You might remember seeing the “Mona Lisa,” sure, but actual tangible connections to objects are much more meaningful, which is why Sean is happy to give the keys to friends to take it around the block: “You’re come back and you’re gonna have a memory and a smile that you will talk about for generations and generations.”
It’s not hard to imagine why in a car like this; R-compound tires, adjustable coilovers, supreme balance, and an F-16-inspired cockpit make a compelling case for good times to be had behind the wheel. While Sean lists it as one of his favorite cars to take into the canyons for the blow-off-steam kind of driving that follows a long day at the office, he also acknowledges the fact that you can climb out after a few hours of highway driving without being reduced to an aching mess of sore butt cheeks and a swollen clutch leg.
It was ahead of its time, and in many ways it still is. You just can’t get away with offering even hardcore sports cars without satellite-linked infotainment systems anymore, and all too often people mistake those kinds of sparkly features for true comfort and usability. The NSX achieves its status not through gadgetry, but through a mechanical harmony between sport and comfort. It is a very human car in this regard, reflecting our numerous desires for driving, and it delivers so much more than a single car has any right to.