Every gearhead wants to drive something unique. We yearn for the thrill of g-sled acceleration, the feel of cornering as though on rails, and styling that makes you the envy of everyone at Cars and Coffee. This usually means an exotic or nearly exotic car. The thrill of being shoved back in your seat, hearing the wail of a high performance engine, as the scenery outside your window blurs, as you watch the speedometer tell you you’re approaching warp speed, it’s an experience few others eclipse. The problem, for most of us, is that exotic car experience is usually accompanied by a hefty price tag, and that job working at Uncle Plucky’s House of Chicken hasn’t impressed your loan officer enough to finance a new Aventador. So, how do the true car geeks among us scratch that itch to go fast, corner hard, and look cool without selling off our first born? Look for those rare-but-attainable affordable exotics. As the average price for a new car is just over $33,500, I have tried to find exotics with an entry price around $40,000. Compared with the sticker of the 2018 Ford GT (around $450,000), Porsche 911 Turbo ($159,200 base), Ferrari 488 ($245,400), and the Lamborghini Aventador ($399,500), $40k begins to look like an absolute bargain.
Acura NSX 1990-2005- Designed with the intent of going head-to-head with Ferrari’s V8 line, the New Sportscar eXperimental originally began life as a 2.0 liter, mid-engine V6 design project. The idea was to build a car that would meet or exceed that of the Ferraris, with reliability and a lower price. The NSX benefitted from well-developed aerodynamics, an interior inspired by the styling of the cockpit of the F-16 fighter jet, an all-aluminum body (the first production car to feature one), aluminum chassis, and engine. In the later stages of development, Honda tapped no other than Ayrton Senna for his expertise and advice. Power came from Honda’s 3.0 liter VTEC V-6, and was routed through either a 5-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Initially, the NSX could only be had in coupe form, but in 1995, a targa model bowed. In 1997, the car saw in the introduction of a 3.2 liter VTEC motor, boosting horsepower from 270 to 290, and dropping 0-60 times from 5.5 seconds to 4.7.
Pros: As is typical of Honda (Acura’s parent company) products, the NSX proved itself to be very robust and reliable. It is not uncommon to see these mid-engine rockets with well over 100,000 miles on the clock. They are reasonably inexpensive to maintain in comparison with other cars of similar layout and performance. There are few maintenance concerns to watch for when buying a used NSX. The model has remained popular in automotive enthusiast circles, and for good reason. They return very good performance, are reliable, unique, exotic in appearance, and don’t cost a fortune to maintain, unlike some similar Italian offerings. It seems these first generation NSXs may be seeing a minor price spike corresponding with the introduction of the 2017 NSX.
Cons: Despite being one of the most reliable exotic cars of all time, there are a handful of maintenance issues one must take into consideration when purchasing a used NSX. The clutch design was smaller than it should have been. From the factory, the NSX had a bit smaller clutch than it probably should have. As a result, the clutches only last about 40,000-50,000 miles, or about half that of your average Honda. As with most any other Honda or Acura, the NSX needs to have the water pump and timing belt replaced between 80,000 and 90,000 miles. ABS sensors and accumulator should be inspected, and early models should have the A/C evaporators checked. The final, and most notorious item to check is the snap ring on 1991 and 1992 manual transmission cars. The snap ring failure is limited to transmission numbers J4A4-1003542 through J4A4-1005978. You cannot tell by the VIN, as the transmissions were not installed in numerical order. You must physically check the transmission number. From the website nsxprime.com:
“The snap ring is a very thin metal ring which holds the countershaft from moving in the transmission case. Since the transmission gears are not straight cut, when the main shaft gets power from the engine the cut in the gears makes the shafts want to move back and forth in relation to each other.
Snap ring failure is a result of the stresses put on it by an improperly manufactured transmission case. The snap ring itself is not the cause of the problem, just the symptom. There is a groove in the case which is cut too wide on some transmissions. This allows the snap ring to twist as the countershaft moves back and forth under load. The more load, the more twist.”
Verdict: If you want a reliable mid-engine exotic, there are few others that will match the performance and reliability of the NSX. With some ultra-low-mile examples now selling for more than the original sticker, now is the time to buy. Be sure to have an Acura dealer do a thorough pre-purchase inspection to avoid expensive repairs or possible heartbreak.
P.S., Recently, NSX prices have shot up. If you want one, now is the time.