How To Buy An NSX Sight-Unseen

Have you ever considered packing your every belonging into a shipping container, moving to an exotic country and buying an old ‘supercar’ you know nothing about? Well, neither had I… until I did.

This story does its best to condense about six months of activity before, during and after the purchase of Project NSX, to bring you up to speed on the car’s current condition and what’s on the horizon as far as fixing, upgrading and using the car.

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I’ll start by saying that the NSX isn’t my all-time dream car, as many of my car friends tell me it is for them. As a young lad I never had a poster of one (that was a 996 GT3), nor was it my go-to in Need for Speed Underground (always the FD3S RX-7). Honda Australia only ever delivered something like 280 of the original NSX over the lengthy 14-year sales lifespan, so even in Honda circles they have remained exceptionally rare in my home country. In fact, outside of organised events, I can only remember seeing one on Australian roads. Ever.

But the more I absorbed about Japan’s performance car history over the following years, the more it became impossible to ignore Honda’s mid-engined oddity. The Porsches and Ferraris I lusted over? This was the car that made them lift their game, said the headlines. Ground breaking technology, phenomenal driver engagement, and the day-to-day usability of an Accord – in 1990. It seemed too good to be true.

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Since moving to Tokyo in the middle of last year I’ve seen more NSXs than I could’ve ever hoped for in Sydney. Even amongst the exotic and insanely modified machinery you find here in Japan, I feel that the NSX has earned a special place in the hearts of local enthusiasts. Those who know, know.

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The first opportunity to actually slip into an NSX’s cockpit wasn’t until late last year when my car-loving cousin was in town and as a birthday treat I lined up a day exploring the touge of Hakone with popular rental company Fun2Drive. Our weapon of choice? The 1990 Formula Red NSX seen above.

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There was no hiding the scars of a hard life as a rental with nigh on 200,000kms, but looking past the scuffed alloys and rubbed-back interior plastics, the charming personality of the car sang through. Gradually building up to the limits of the small radial tyres over the next six hours, it seemed that the NSX is a car surprisingly devoid of surprises. The chunky factory wheel and seat don’t look or feel special, but they channel a level of communication and playfulness that modern sports cars can only dream of. I’ve always considered cars from this period to be the sweet spot between old school engagement and modern reliability, and the NSX exemplifies that ethos. Climbing out of the incredibly low driver’s seat at the end of the day the decision was made – I would hunt down an NSX.

On The Hunt
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What followed was an obsessive period of research, calculation and self doubt that I’m sure many of you can relate to. I had three key criteria: the car had to be accident-free, relatively original, and a manual. Oh, and Brooklands Green Pearl, if I could find it. There was no doubting that to get the quality of car I wanted, I’d have to part ways with a significant amount of money, but I’d also figured that prices will only keep going up from here. If I bought something clean and honest, I’d probably be driving around in an appreciating asset.

It didn’t take long to realise that in the current collector-driven market there was no way I could get my hands on an original, non-repaired, manual car within my budget limits. Bugger. What were the other options? Find a damaged car and hope the repairs have been professionally completed? Or give up on the NSX altogether? A third option presented itself through a grainy Best Motoring video from the early 2000s – find a factory automatic and convert it to manual. As the presenters reasoned, you can buy and convert a low-kilometre automatic for the same price as buying a flogged-out factory manual. Sounds good in theory, and at the least I’d have a fun project to kick off with.

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I was put in touch with Kikuchi-san of K2 Racing (also known as Autoworks K2), an RX-7 and GT-R tuner based in Saitama who runs a medium-sized used car dealership in between building and racing record-breaking time attack cars. Kikuchi-san was my ‘in’ to USS Auto Auction and its Japan-wide weekly auctions of used cars on a barely believable scale.

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An R35 GT-R was actually my second choice behind the NSX; in Japan an early model year example can be had for about the same money as a clean NSX. Obviously the sheer performance capability is tempting, but I was ultimately looking for a more pure driving experience than the R35 can offer with its hefty weight and relatively high seating position. Here, fellow gaijin TB was having K2’s staff eke out a bit more performance potential from his car.

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Buying a car directly from a dealership can be a rather expensive experience in Japan, and through Kikuchi-san I was on track to save about 15-20 percent of the ‘sticker price’ for an equivalent car. After all, this is where the dealers purchase their stock from.

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USS Tokyo, the largest of all auto auction houses in Japan with around 15,000 vehicles going up for sale every Thursday, has to be one of the seven wonders of the JDM world. The amount of interesting, obscure and modified machinery available was mind-bending, not to mention the sea of kei cars, people movers and other four-wheeled transport destined for the dealerships and ports of Japan. It’s always hard to go past a 993 Turbo…

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And let’s not forget limited-run motorsport specials like the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 6.5 TME, although this one had seen better days.

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One of the cars we were there to see, however, was this highly modified NA1 which had the allegorical shopping cart thrown at it – body kit, suspension, a 6-speed, and an NA2 (fixed headlight) front-end conversion.

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The car had good credentials from Yokohama-based tuner Advance, but the full roll cage, stripped interior and existing (albeit seemingly well repaired) impact damage to the rear concerned me when thinking about bringing the car back to Australia, so we walked away from the sale. I’d placed a bid on a silver auto car but it wasn’t exactly what I was chasing, and we let it go after the price pushed too high.

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It wasn’t until some seven weeks later that I found something that looked to fit the bill. 1992 NA1, automatic, a scratch over 70,000kms, graded as a 4B by the auction team, and finished in that beautiful green that seemed to never turn up at auction. With only the low-resolution auction photos (above) and a scribbled auction sheet to go on, I called Kikuchi-san, set a bid, and crossed my fingers that I wasn’t making a massive financial mistake. Don’t try this at home kids – always inspect a car before you buy it!

Was This a Huge Mistake?
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I guess it’s no surprise that I won the auction, and a few days later Kikuchi-san was dropping the simple alloy key into my palm.

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The good news was that a thorough look over the vehicle and paperwork determined I hadn’t made a horrible mistake and I wouldn’t have to retreat from Kikuchi-san’s workshop with my tail between my legs. Sitting in front of me was a clean, honest car that would seem to be a solid starting point for a project.

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Being an early NA1 car the latitudinally-mounted DOHC V6 is a 2,977cc unit. It’s certainly not as pretty as Ferrari’s longitudinal V8s, but allows for the existence of a helpfully large trunk behind the engine that can swallow plenty of camera gear.

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It didn’t take long for Kikuchi-san to mention the success he had extracting more power from the NSX he owned in the early 2000s.

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The V6 is certainly no powerhouse compared to newer, turbocharged sports cars, but it’s certainly the torquiest Honda I’ve ever driven and swiftly builds speed right up to the 180km/h limiter thanks to the slim aerodynamic profile and lightweight aluminium construction. Forward motion is hamstrung by the long ratios in the 4-speed automatic, but that won’t be a problem for too much longer.

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It’s surprising how completely normal the car feels at city speeds. The low, wedge styling still turns heads, but from the driver’s seat it almost completely lacks the drama you’d expect from a mid-engined Ferrari competitor: great visibility and NVH, comfortable seats and sensibly configured switchgear.

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After thrashing the red rental car on some of the best roads Japan has to offer, taking my green automatic example around the block was admittedly underwhelming. But I guess that’s the point of the NSX – the dual personalities differentiated it from European competitors at the time.

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Paperwork is always the least exciting part of buying a car, but it at least deserves a mention here. Japan loves to drown its residents in processes and forms, vehicle purchase being no exception. On top of purchase documentation, insurance and ‘name change’, your parking space needs to be inspected and approved by the police department. A massive shoutout here goes to Speedhunter Ron and his girlfriend Chiaki for providing translation support.

Drive, Break, Fix
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With my life signed away it was time to start putting some new digits on the odometer. Being a relatively low kilometer example the car still feels tight as a drum, but there are a few areas that require attention, namely bushings in the steering rack and sway bar mounts.

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There’s also a few symptoms of being an early production car that needed to be addressed quickly. The window regulator (as pictured above) was beefed up in the later cars due to a design flaw which caused the glass to drop into the door frame, so Kikuchi-san replaced them along with the broken climate control blower motor with upgraded parts from Honda (which are thankfully, for now, still in production).

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One area where the car is no longer standard Honda is the rolling stock. The slightly undersized stock brakes have made way for Brembo’s ubiquitous F40 calipers and larger slotted rotors up front, and a rotor upgrade at the rear. These are tucked behind a set of Prodrive GC-07 wheels in a double staggered size designed for the NSX. A nice little bonus, seeing as brakes were one of the areas I was keen to upgrade on the stock NSX.

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Big brakes can only work with fluid in the lines, however. After two months of carefree motoring the dash threw a bunch of lights at me on the drive back from Motegi Twin Ring for the Idlers 12-hour race. I managed to ease the car back to its Tokyo parking space, but pedal pressure would disappear once the engine started, indicating a leak somewhere in the system. After some frantic forum-searching and head-scratching, a leak was identified on the front left brake hose – one small enough to only leak once the brakes were boosted by the engine vacuum. Time for a quick visit to the dealer.

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Typically I dread visiting official dealerships due to eye-watering service and parts costs and a general lack of awareness about older models (the NSX is coming up to 26 years of age) and their unique requirements. Not so in Japan. Not only were new brake hoses fitted at all four corners in a cheap and time-efficient manner, but while I was waiting to collect the car a warm towel and iced coffee were placed on the table in front of me by a smiling and impeccably dressed receptionist.

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When I collected the car, the service technician walked me through 10 pages of detailed notes and photographs of the car that he’d observed while replacing the brake lines, and also proactively quoted the work to fix the worn bushings I mentioned earlier. As it turned out, the tech at this particular dealership actually worked on the original NSX production line in Tochigi as an installer of the optional factory security system, which my car has. After a bit of banter about the new NSX not quite living up to the spirit of the old, we were back on the road. I might also add that this was also the cleanest the car has ever been under my ownership (thanks, Honda!).

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I’ve managed not to break anything else so far and have been just enjoying spending time bonding with the old Honda on the raised highways that circle Tokyo and link up spots such as Tatsumi and Daikoku Parking Areas. There’s no doubting Honda built a great car and I’m just stoked to be the current caretaker of one. But life is too short to drive boring cars, so Project NSX will be getting lighter, lower, louder before long to bring it up to Speedhunters standards.

Speaking of which, I’m interested to hear how our readers would approach modifying an NSX? Let me know in the comments section!

Blake Jones
Instagram: blaketjones
blake@speedhunters.com

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62 comments

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1

Congrats on the absolute steal Blake, looks like once that 6-speed is in youll be the happiest of campers, good luck with the continuation of this epic ride, id personally use honda brand or honda specialty tuner perts (Hond-r/Spoon) to modify just so everything is made by people who live and breathe this stuff. hope it goes well man

-Adam

Author2

Thanks Adam. Yes, hanging out for the transmission swap now but it's proving to be more difficult to source the parts required than I'd expected. Many Type R, Spoon (and Mugen) parts are out of production and are fetching insane prices, but I'd love to add a few choice bits to the build where I can. Ironically it seems that most of the innovation for the NSX is currently coming out of the US and Europe.

Cheers,
Blake

3

I own a 1991 acura nsx and its amazing!! Its lile being a celebrity. Every where i go people take pictures and talk to me. I'll never own anything this special.

4

Awesome purchase! Very glad it went smoothly for you.

If I had an NSX I'd honestly be torn between keeping it mostly factory and clean or a track inspired kit (lips, big wing and wider wheels, supercharger). Most likely would of dropped it on some nice wheels like CE28's or TE37's.

Author5

Thanks Dinosawr! I think I'll walk a line between those two approaches - keeping the overall spirit of the car intact (ruling out forced induction) but bringing it up to more aggressive modern performance standards with suspension, aero, etc.

6
Brennan McKissick

I have a deep appreciation now for light but tastefully modified cars rather than having everything under the sun thrown at them. It would be cool to see a 6 speed thrown in (that's a given), a nice suspension, wheels/tires, exhaust and some small interior/exterior bits that don't pull the car away from it's original purpose but enhance what Honda had originally designed the car for.

Author7

Brennan, we're on the exact same page. I feel that cars with a decent sporting pedigree can be brought in to the modern era with a few choice enhancements, without trying to re-invent the car into something altogether new.

8

This bloke nailed it - subtle appearance, but so correct in the details.

http://www.speedhunters.com/2017/05/king-of-the-90s-supercharged-nsx/

Looks as though you've got a lovely base to start from! Keen to see things progress.

9

There's an ARC tungsten exhaust that's been sitting on Yahoo Auctions for awhile, kind of spendy but looks like a drool worthy piece. I think A set of staggered, concave TE37's would look absolutely mint, but I personally love the GC-07C's and have a set. NSX-R rear wing would help improve the aero a bit, and provide a more aggressive look. A six speed is the obvious choice if you can afford it, maybe throw in an OSGiken diff while the transmission is out? Personally I'd go with Ohlins DFV/Road and Track coilovers, I run them on my Integra R and on full soft it's like stock suspension, which is great for cruising, and cranking them up completely transforms the car.

I'm a huge fan of OEM+ builds on older performance Honda's, just enough to improve the already great performance from the factory, while giving the car a bit of aggression in the looks department. Love the color on the car, can't wait to see what you do with it!

Author10

Well, the TE37 Saga's just got released in 17" - now it would be possible to run a 17-18 staggered setup with those. Personally I think the bronze would really set off the green, too.

11

Very cool buy! This is my dream car. I currently drive an Integra LS to school every day and I'm not touching it because I'm saving money hard to afford an NSX. If I had one, I would do tasteful mods like wheels, suspension, aero, etc. and that would really be it!

Author12

It's always a tough decision whether to modify what you're driving now or put the money towards something bigger and better. Good luck with the saving, hope you join the NSX family soon.

13

Put lighter parts,and add a bit more Hp (Not too much)... last thing: Drive the s**t out of it :P

Author14

Yep, yep and... yep.

15

Dealerships take note. Pay your techs enough so they can take this kind of care with each and every customer. In USA I barely had enough time to give a car a proper 100 point inspection let alone write a book on why broken parts needed to be replaced... Gonna go with flag hours are slave labor. Lol

16

Lol what 100 point inspection. If it's warranty work I'm not getting paid for the actual amount of time I'm spending anyway. You aren't getting any sort of care here because you're right.. pay us shit and make the jobs pay 1hr when the job actually takes 2 1/2hrs you can bet I'm not doing ANYTHING but the repair. You can't even make enough as a dealer tech and that is why I have moved on myself

Author17

It was so surprising. I was there our of pure necessity but now they have a customer for life!

18

Can't wait see what comes from this! Car looks cherry, great find!

-Alex

Author19

Thanks Alex.

20

awesome ride~! I'm still unsure why they gave you a warm towel lol

Author21

A warm towel is one of the basic elements of hospitality in Japan. Most restaurants will give you one on arrival to clean your hands with before eating.

22

That color is amazing.

Author23

I can't get enough of it. It photographs as almost black sometimes though!

24

It is similar to the color of my 2015 Mustang GT, Guard Metallic. Looks green in most lights but in low light can look grey or black.

25

Just curious Blake, but how much did the NA1 cost you?

Author26

I prefer to keep these sort of details private, but can jump on goo.net to see the price of comparable cars in Japan.

27

Nice find.

Granted, my Honda knowledge goes no further than 2 wheels, I'd love to see more engine swaps. A tuned, ITB'd J35 with a 6-speed would be incredible. Keep it stock-looking but go full race on the suspension.

28

Same here. The J-series has pretty good aftermarket support, and would probably be much cheaper for future maintenance. NSX is my dream car, and I'd probably J-swap and build it either all-motor or roots-supercharged. Keep the exterior simple, maybe a few tastefully subtle body pieces, but definitely lower it on a nice set of double-staggered wheels. I can appreciate owners that decide to go wild with these cars, but for my own I'd lean more purist.

This makes me wonder how cheaply manual conversion parts could be sourced in the US, if I were able to find a clean auto for a great price.

29

I think for the first time, I can't really think of anything I'd do to change the outward appearance. Maybe some Type-R lip and spoiler

30

Cool project! Surprised no mention of the detuned engine that sits in the NSX auto though? The autobox can't handle the full power & torque of the manual cars motor, so only gets 252bhp - and married to the poor 4 speed autobox performance deteriorates markedly. Will you be upgrading the motor too? Not sue the auto cars engine is as tuneable as the manual

Author31

The VTEC cam profiles are different and the rev limit is 500RPM lower but as far as I know that was done to boost the torque of the engine (due to the longer ratios) rather than a weak auto box. The good news is that to have an MT-spec engine all that's required is a camshaft change and the removal of a resistor from the ECU.

32

Sounds like you have it all under control then!

33

That's a good question... I'd like to have an NSX built like that red one from the, "King of the 90's" article. Provably one of the best looking and well executed NSX's I've ever seen.. It's highly modified, but it's all done in a manner that makes it look like it could've came from the factory that way. Although I'd have a hard time not going for a far more aggressive approach, like how Advance builds their NSX's.

34

Can't wait to see what happens with this project! Man, with Dino's R34, Aki Itoh's R33, Louis Yio's GC8 and now THIS! I'm in heaven.

Author35

I feel like we're still missing a Supra though!

36
Seb Agent-Orange Betts

Blake reading your story at the beginning sounded a lot like my recent experience with an NSX, never thought a great deal about them, until driving the same red one at Fun2Drive (even though it had an electrical gremlin on the day) it opened my eyes to why people love the NSX. Really looking forward to seeing what you have in store for yours

37

With the NSX honestly I would get a manual version and rebuild the V6 from the ground up and add a turbo to it. Better tires and wheels of course and suspension to handle it all.

38

Amazing condition, 4B so expected it to be clean, but has added goodies like the Brembo and Prodrive wheels. Excellent buy.

Curious about the headlights, looks like it's running 4,200+K bulbs, PnP kit? Did the flip up lights have projectors?

Author39

Good eye - they are HID projectors installed by a previous owner. Original car had normal projectors unless I'm mistaken.

40

congrats for your new car. if me, changing tranny from auto to manual is a must..then start putting really nice set of wheels like ce28 with nice offset for nsx..change oem steering wheel with momo tuner (at least u can feel like driving a nsx typeR)

41
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

I am still utterly jealous that you are rolling around Japan in my favourite Japanese machine.

My idea for your car is similar to what I suggested to Louis the other day: modernize the car instead of hardcore modification. I know I'd build mine as simple as possible for a daily driver.

Author42

Yeah it seems wrong to throw away all the hard work Honda did in making the car so comfortable and easy to drive. Having said that, it could definitely do with a little more personality (especially engine noise)!

43
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Oh yes, intake, exhaust, a simple ECU remap, etc.

But then again, I won't be surprised if you get carried away later on. :P

44

I am curious as to how the security system would work with no remote, if there isn't one. Unless it was bundled with one and it wasn't pictured? But I would suggest getting something like bolt ons like an exhaust and headers maybe. Then start with some interior upgrades?

Author45

Unfortunately the remote has been lost at some point, the car didn't come with one when I bought it. I'm not even sure if it's possible to buy a second hand one and reprogram it for the car, but I'll investigate the possibility eventually.

46

It could have been possible. You probably could have bought another remote from the dealer and maybe the guy who serviced your car might be able to program it, since he worked with installing security systems for the nsx, so he's gotta know the workings of it, he could've probably been able to program a remote then and there.

47

Google - amo nsx, U.K. Owner, just being mapped after turbo conversion, lovely car!

48

I'll check it out now!

49

I forgot to mention as you will notice from photo's, its originally done by garage trial :)

50

Blake, are you really that tall? or the NSX is sitting low? ;)

51

Haha, I'm only big in Japan!

52

These are such nice cars - and that colour is amazing!

If it were me I'd change almost nothing about the visual appearance (even though I prefer the NA2 front end). Instead, almost every change would be under the skin - suspension, engine, transmission, brakes. Even an NSX can be a Q-car :)

53

Congrats, great car and excellent colour! Call me crazy but i would keep it auto and "build" a great handling, good looking GT/Cruiser from it. Nothing crazy just some oem+ goodness, and yes it wouldn't be the most extreme build in the planet, but you could travel the s out of it in sporty comfort.

54

I love the wheel and brake setup. Simple and subtle. No decals, wheel and tyre tuck, or N1-style mufflers, please. Rolled double wall tips are the way to go. It doesn't need a body kit either. It could do with the MOMO steering wheel though.

55

I say go with some performance mods to make MORE POWER!!! These old NSXs are way cool but seriously lacking in the power department for me. Maybe supercharge it and go with lots of carbon and aero. I've always liked the white nsxs myself

56

I really like the design of those wheels on the car, though I think a bronze or gold color would compliment that cool green paint even better.

As far as performance modification, I would keep it *relatively* simple. Invest a lot in some proper static suspension parts, and keep the engine N/A. I think the best part of this car is its simplicity and purity. I would modify to maintain that. Maybe some forged internals and ITB's to take it's N/A potential to the next level, but nothing crazy enough to change car fundamentally. Few things sound as good as screaming V-TEC

57
Miles Hayler-MacMillan

Seen the same red NSX twice in the last couple of months in Sydney's Inner West!

58

Good to see it out of the garage at least!

59

Hey Blake, congrats on the drool-worthy NSX, I hope to see it in its native environment before it comes down under...... eventually!

Echoing most other comments here (what a sensible and driver-centric crowd here on Speedhunters, unlike alot of car media sites online...) I would go for modern enhancement without compromising the raison d'etre of the vehicle as an everyday supercar. The four areas which I feel date cars is their brakes, damping, tyres and lighting. The Brembos look great, maybe a ceramic pad for fade resistance with low noise. I would love to see some dampers with modern internals that combine the flow and 'breathing with the road' of the originals with more precise control when pushed (rather some rock hard quasi racecar setup). Modern double digressive valving with slightly uprated spring rates, and maybe even tender / main combinations to preserve initial bump compliance would be great - I can feel a tech article on this coming on, it woul be great if you documented the process with KW, AST/Aragosta, Fortune Auto, MCS, Moton or whichever partner jumps on board. Tyres (Tires) Im sure you can source something which excels in all conditions like a Pilot Sport 4 or something with more of a track bias like as RE71R. Finally, the previous owner already did the HID Projectors so winning there already! Might need to hit the rears with Car Shop Glow gear if you are feeling flush with funds haha. Finally in regards to Intake / Exhaust, I'd love to see a valved system on either / both so that you can maintain everyday civility and when you are in the mood, bypass a muffler or open a flap on the intake for a more raucous experience. I'm sure someone in Japan good with fabrication / solenoids and bluetooth could make this work a treat (as usually titanium muffers with big pipes are 'race spec' drone and are LOUD for street driving.... If you could combine this with everyday comfort then it would be awesome....)

Looking forward to seeing the progress on your NSX and some in-car video too of that VTEC induction howl would never go astray either! :D

60

Great to hear from you Michael! Once again it seems we are 'in tune' - I would love to lift the chassis into the modern era instead of simply stiffening everything and calling it a day. The good news is, it seems there are several companies taking the same approach with their product development. The exhaust is one area I'm undecided on, although after driving a supercharged S2000 with a Varex system over the weekend, I'm definitely won over by the ability to have the best of both worlds.

61
JBfromSiliconValley

ITBS!!!! ITBS!!! ITBS!!!! And a rear window that integrates a transparent intake and ITBS!!!

Otherwise keep the body stockish, some nice KW's and you prob get a good price on CSF cooling parts. LOL
Since its exotic, it deserves a full titanium exhaust too. $$$$$$$$














ITBS

62

JB, you're speaking my language! We might just need a sponsor for those ITB's though, they aren't a cheap bit of kit. I was down at Advance looking at their demo car which has the full Toda ITB kit, absolutely spectacular in person.

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