Sacrilege or sanctification? I’m sure the purists out there will have an opinion. Cutting up an iconic and priceless automotive demigod like the NSX will always leave the room divided. It’s the same kind of thing as stuffing a Honda engine in a Ferrari – glorious to some but completely blasphemous to others.
What do I think? Well, this latest offering from the mind of Kazuki Ohashi at Madlane definitely looks cool, but I feel a little piece of what makes the NSX great may have been sacrificed.
To understand what exactly makes this late-’90s Honda so special, all you need to know is that the NSX was fine tuned by the brilliant F1 driver Ayrton Senna. In 1989, while Senna was testing his new Honda-powered McLaren F1 car at Suzuka, Honda themselves just happened to be testing the almost finished NSX prototype.
Senna jumped in, wearing jeans and loafers, and took the car for a spin. His feedback on that day, and during subsequent testing at the Nürburgring, gave Honda’s engineers valuable feedback. They ended up refining the NSX’s chassis stiffness by 50% and made numerous other suspension and handling adjustments based on Senna’s recommendations.
So for a car that has been revered for decades as a masterpiece in driver engagement and handling, which made the Ferrari 328 look like something out of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbook, what has dropping it on air bags done?
The NSX was always designed as an extremely useful, practical ‘every day’ sports car. This meant it never had any problems navigating multi-story parking on ramps or speed humps. But, in stock form the NSX does look a bit gappy around the arches, something that 99.9% of owners would rectify by dropping their car on coilovers. Of course, this modification alone could then make the NSX quite impractical for day-to-day driving. Do you now see the irony?
What the lads at Madlane have done is create a balance of both worlds. With the press of a button, this NSX can be pumped up to a curb-hopping urban champion. Another a press and it will deflate on its bags into a low-slung highway sprinter.
To get the air suspension fitted, the all-aluminum chassis has been modified. I bet Honda’s NSX design engineers will be pleased about that.
Kazuki-san assured me that endless hours of road testing have allowed him to dial in the air suspension to the point that the average customer wouldn’t be able to feel the difference. He says it reduces body roll on cornering, and stops rear end sag on acceleration.
The NSX will forever be one of the greatest cars of its era, beautiful in every aspect and way ahead of its time. With input from Ayrton Senna, who pushed himself, those around him, and the cars he drove to the limit, I wonder if he might actually like the fact that this bagged NSX has also been pushed to the limits of stance.
I’ll let you decide for yourself, but if you find yourself getting a bit hot under the skin, take a deep breath, and look back through the photos at just how damn cool the Madlane NSX is.