Senna’s NSX Masterclass

Cars People

In 1991 the launch of Honda’s NSX had a tectonic effect on the world of supercars. Japan’s first pretender to the throne of track bred, street-legal speed was light and preternaturally responsive – but was also rigorously reliable and easy to live with. It was built and delivered with same indestructable yet passionate engineering as a Civic. It didn’t matter that the NSX had almost the same basic interior and little more badge appeal than Honda’s mass market everyman – if driving was your thing, nobody did it better.

This car was responsible for raising not only Honda’s performance kudos, but made the boys at Maranello tremble. Their current Berlinetta, the 348, was as quick but sloppy in its handling and finish. The European aristocrats were forced to raise their game.

In 1989 the Brazilian maestro Ayrton Senna had been at Suzuka to test the McLaren Honda, but he ended up doing a few laps in the prototype NSX. His critique was brief and relatively humble: “It feels a little fragile,” he said.

The story goes that the Honda engineers went back to the drawing board and came back eight months later with the prototype’s body stiffened by 50%. The torsional weakness that Senna had identified in the long, low slung NSX frame was gone. Senna went on to help Honda develop the suspension settings that helped make the car a brilliant handler.

The testy Brazilian driver wasn’t universally loved by F1 fans before he was tragically killed at San Marino in 1994, but all we remember of him is the way he applied his natural gifts. And rightly so.

Similarly the ‘plasticky’ feel of the NSX and its lack of European panache are all put into shade by the incredible driving experience it gave its pilots. Even the car’s looks, which were rooted more in the eighties than the nineties, conjure these days a retro kind of cool.

We’re not sure if the footage below is from the original Suzuka session or from one that came later. Whichever it was, it’s a thing of beauty to watch.