Attacking the Track in a Supercharged 1991 Acura NSX
If you're talking about a day at the track, you have to talk about pressure; tire pressure, throttle pressure, braking pressure, boost pressure—there's all kinds of pressure one needs to take into consideration. Even then, there's no pressure greater than that which is put on you when it's your turn behind the wheel of a car for the first time...in front of the owner, the builders, and one of your favorite motorsport athletes.
Sweltering afternoon heat only further amplifies things, as does the knowledge that the car in which you find yourself is a one-off build. Oh, and that's right, you've never driven this track before, and there are no cones to help you learn the braking zones or find the apexes. You're also the last one in, which means all eyes are on you. Pressure from every damn direction.
The wrong thing to do is try and ignore it, you've got to let yourself feel it, only then will you be able to manage it. The first couple of laps I struggled to take my own advice, my driving was sloppy and frantic. Instead of getting in a rhythm, I was trying to work everything out at once and impress the peanut gallery, like it was middle school and I was trying to kickflip off a curb, bro. Except this time I wasn't on a skateboard, I was behind the wheel of a supercharged Acura NSX.
Clarion took that rinky dink 3.0-liter V6 that came in the '91 NSX, and tossed it out in favor of the 3.2-liter DOHC VTEC power-plant found in the '97-'04 models. And because 290 horsepower, and 224 lb-ft of torque wasn't enough, a Comptech supercharger kit was added to the mix. Comptech also provided the software needed to manage the setup, while AEM took care of making sure it could breathe deeply with a cold-air intake, and custom exhaust. Conservatively rated at 350 horsepower, this thing feels a lot faster than the numbers would have you think, but a 3,010 pound chassis and a very low slung seating position tend to have that effect. It's one thing to feel like you're going fast, but quite another to be told you're going fast. Either way, Clarion made sure the NSX is able to handle that speed—or at least the feeling of which. A KW Variant 3 double adjustable coil over setup, and a superb, confidence inspiring, StopTech big brake kit were also added. Rounding out the safety blanket are Volk ZE40 wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, which are great on the street and the track. I found that out firsthand.
My wakeup call came on the fourth lap when the car went into a slide courtesy of a very ill-advised lift mid corner. When the ass end of the NSX rotated towards the dirt, and the sound of screeching tires filled my ears, I felt all the pressure fade away. I caught the slide, got back on the throttle, straightened the car out. Yes, I had screwed up, but I understood why, and now I knew that much more about the behavior of this NSX. That newfound knowledge gave me a sense of comfort that had been lacking up until that point, and for the remainder of my laps I was in sync with the car. Just me, a sexy, supercharged NSX, and a track.
I wrung out second gear instead of needlessly going up to third, I braked later and harder, and I floored it down the back straight because that's what you're supposed to do in a car like this, damnit. There was nobody keeping track of my lap times, but I knew they were getting better, I could feel them getting better. I would later get unofficial visual confirmation that it did, indeed, appear that I was getting faster each lap, and frankly that's good enough for me. Maybe everyone was just being polite, but nobody heckled me about getting out of sorts in the one corner, nor did they comment that it looked as though I was totally lost out there. When pressed for reviews of my driving, the consensus seemed to be that I was fast, and had not pussyfooted around. Little did they know the car was doing most of the work.
All the newfound confidence was courtesy of one very put together vehicle. Rarely is a car more than the sum of its parts, but what the Clarion NSX adds up to is one of the more memorable vehicles I've had a chance to drive. Through all the reworking, it somehow remained very much a pure "driver's car." But it was even more than that. I can't describe it other than to say it's a seriously intriguing vehicle. The deep blue exterior paint is mesmerizing, and the pairing of brown leather seats was an excellent decision, adding an air of sophistication to a car that's often characterized as anything but. Not being as well-versed in the NSX tuning community, I won't go so far as to say that this is the best NSX build out there. But I'm sure you'd be hard pressed to find a vision that has been realized so fully as it has in this vehicle. The pressure to follow up the BMW 2002 project with something equally as impressive must have been immense, but the Clarion Builds team managed to pull it off. Hats off to everyone involved, and thanks to Chris Forsberg for showing me what a real shakedown lap looks like.
Photo Credit: Larry Chen