Without a doubt the first generation of the Honda/Acura NSX is one of the greatest cars to come out of Japan. It challenged the performance of cars from many more expensive competitors from around the world. Honda not only achieved this at a lower price, but the NSX was also far more practical and reliable than much of the competition at the time as well.
Today the Honda NSX has become a serious classic and is one of the more expensive cars we have covered in our series of buyer’s guides. In this article you will learn everything you need to know about purchasing a first generation NSX and the history behind the car as well.
In this guide we will be mainly referring to the car as the Honda NSX rather than the Acura NSX. Essentially, they are the same thing, but the Acura name was used in North America to differentiate the NSX from lower end Honda models. You can read more about the differences between Acura and Honda NSX models here.
How to Use This First Gen Honda/Acura NSX Buyer’s Guide
This is a very long guide so we recommend that you use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To begin with we will be covering the history and specifications of the Honda NSX to help give you a bit of background about the car. Following this we will be diving into the buyer’s guide section of the article and at the end we have more general car purchasing advice, along with information on how to import an NSX from Japan.
The History of the Honda NSX
The Honda NSX was one of the great surprises of the Japanese motoring industry. The country had already produced some excellent motor cars such as the Toyota 2000GT and the Nissan GT-R, but few expected something that could play with the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche, while being cheaper and more practical.
Background of the NSX
Honda’s NSX started off life as an experiment. The Japanese company wanted to create a concept that would embody a future sports car and give them a more premium name. They decided to enlist the help of legendary design studio Pininfarina to create the new sports concept. Pininfarina had worked on other famous designs such as the Alfa Romeo Sider and even the incredible Ferrari F40.
The car would go on to be named the HP-X (Honda Pininfarina eXperimental) and it would be powered by a 2.0-litre C20A V6 engine from the Honda legend. This initial concept inspired Honda’s management to continue development of a premium sports car. When they informed the company’s engineers of their plan, they told them to create something that would be as fast as anything coming out of Italy or Germany.
There main target was the Ferrari 328 and later the Ferrari 348 when that car launched. Honda’s management, engineers and designers not only wanted to exceed the performance of these two Ferraris, but they wanted to do it while creating something that was simple, fun and even practical.
The HP-X concept would eventually evolve into the “New Sportscar eXperimental” or “NS-X”, and once again Pininfarina was called upon to help with the design. Chief Designer, Masahito Nakano, and Executive Chief Designer Shigeru Uehara were put in charge of the product with Honda’s most eager engineers and designers under them.
With high targets set, Honda decided to ditch the 2.0-litre power unit from the HP-X and go for a completely new engine. This powerplant would be given the designation C30A and it was the second engine from the Japanese company to feature their proprietary VTEC variable valve timing system, which adjusts cam lift and duration depending on engine rpm and throttle position.
Interestingly, the NS-X’s engine wasn’t initially designed with the VTEC system in mind. However, Tadashi Kume, Honda’s then-president and a highly skilled engine builder himself, questioned why the lower-market Integra was receiving the system, while the company’s flagship model was being left out.
With Kume’s request coming late in the development cycle, Honda’s engineers rushed to redesign the engine to incorporate the V-TEC system.
Another major change from the earlier engine fitted to the HP-X was the bump to 3.0-litres. These changes meant that power now sat at 270 bhp (201 kW) and 284 Nm (210 lb-ft) of torque. Automatic cars received a slightly less powerful 252 bhp (188 kW) version of the engine.
Honda’s C30A was one of the most technologically advanced production car engines at the time and as such it was exclusively reserved for the NS-X. It made use of titanium connecting rods, a feature that had never been done on a production car before. These rods allowed for higher engine operating speeds due to their reduced weight but maintained strength.
Other major features of the new power unit design were that the block was an open-deck design made from an aluminium alloy, while the cylinders were sleeved in ductile iron. The heads feature 4 valves per cylinder and the engine uses a direct injection system combined with individual coils placed directly over each cylinder spark plug.
Fighter Jet Design
Nakano and Uehara took heavy inspiration from the F-16 fighter jet to create the overall design of NS-X. The cockpit of the car was located far forward for increased visibility as Uehara wanted something similar to the 360-degree design of the F-16. This far forward cockpit design was also a common feature on many other fighter jets and a significant number of open-wheel race cars.
Another major design feature of the NS-X was the long tail design which helped to improve high speed directional stability.
Help from Some Motorsport Icons
As the NS-X was largely designed to showcase many of Honda’s automotive technologies that had been derived from their Formula One program, the Japanese company enlisted the help of two F1 drivers. The first of these was respected Japanese driver Satoru Nakajima, while the other was F1 legend Ayrton Senna from Brazil.
These two highly skilled drivers played a massive part in the development of the NS-X with both performing extensive endurance and chassis related tests. Senna is largely considered to be the one who convinced Honda to further stiffen the NS-X’s chassis after initial testing at the Suzuka GP circuit in Japan.
Both Senna and Nakajima would test the new sports car at various other circuits such as the infamous Nürburgring. The chassis design was painstakingly refined by sending the drivers out for a test and then hand welding the chassis in areas they believed that would fix and stiffen the problem that the drivers explained. They would then send out the drivers again and repeat the process over and over again.
Honda’s team continuously sent back the information they had discovered and received from the drivers and tests back to the company’s headquarters. This information was then fed into a Cray supercomputer that helped refine the aluminium monocoque design for the final production model. By the time development had finished, the NS-X’s chassis stiffness was increased by over 50% with only a marginal increase in weight.
The Final Chassis
Part of the reason for Honda’s extensive test program was the fact that the NS-X featured the world’s first all-aluminium semi-monocoque fitted to a production car. The aluminium monocoque incorporated a revolutionary extruded aluminium alloy frame and suspension components.
Aluminium allowed Honda to save nearly 200 kg (441 lb) of weight over a standard steel design, and the aluminium suspension arms saved a further 20 kg (44 lb).
The NS-X Hits the Road
By the end of the eighties Honda was ready to show the world their creation. The car would make its first appearance at the Chicago Auto Show in February and at the Tokyo Motor Show in October of the same year.
With an enormous amount of positive press, Honda started sales the following year. However, they changed the car’s name from the NS-X to the NSX, and North American buyers and those from Hong Kong received Acura badged models, Honda’s luxury division those regions.
Approximately 200 of Honda’s best and brightest employees were tasked with building the NSX production cars and they needed a minimum of ten years of experience to work there. All assembly was carried out at Honda’s purpose-built Takanezawa R&D plant in Tochigi from the start of production until early 2004. Honda would then move assembly to their Suzuka Plant until November 2005 when production was ceased completely.
Honda NSX-R NA1 – (1992 – 1995)
During the development of the NSX, Honda’s engineers had to make some compromises to the design of the car to make it more palatable as an everyday driving experience. This came at the detriment of performance, so in 1992 they decided to develop a more hardcore version of the NSX that would give up some creature comforts in the name of speed. Honda named this more extreme car the NSX Type R (or NSX-R), and it would be the first in a long line of more hardcore Honda cars.
The first step to creating the NSX-R was to get rid of all unnecessary weight. They ripped out the sound deadening, sound system, air conditioning, the traction control and various other unneeded electrical equipment.
Lightweight carbon-kevlar racing seats specially made by Honda replaced the original weighty power leather ones. The stock alloy wheels were also gone and in their place were lighter forged aluminium rims from Enkei. Honda’s engineers even replaced the leather shift knob with a titanium one in the name of weight saving. By the end of their weight saving campaign, the team working on the NSX-R managed to shed an impressive 120 kg from the car, making the final weight around 1,240 kg.
With the NSX’s mid-engine layout and rear-end link travel, many drivers found that the car would suddenly oversteer in certain situations. This problem was hardly ever an issue for regular street driving, but on racetracks where the speeds were much higher it was a far more common occurrence.
The main issue was that the standard NSX came with a slightly rearward bias setup in its spring and bar rates, with the rear being quite a bit stiffer than the front. This made the NSX quite lively and easy to rotate at low speeds, but when speeds climbed higher, the effect became more apparent making the car more difficult to drive.
Honda decided to fix the issue on the NSX-R by adding one aluminium bracket under the front battery tray and another one at the front of the front radiator to improve chassis rigidity. They then replaced the entire suspension setup with stiffer suspension bushings, stiffer dampers and coil springs (more so at the front), and a stiffer front sway bar.
The suspension and chassis weren’t the only areas to receive attention. Honda’s engineers improved the car’s acceleration by increasing the final drive ratio to 4.235:1 instead of the 4.06:1 ratio that the standard NSX featured. However, this change resulted in a slightly lower top speed. Another change was the addition of a higher (percentage) locking limited-slip differential.
A blueprinting and balancing process for the crankshaft assembly that was usually reserved for Honda’s race cars was utilised. These processes were extremely labour intensive and were only carried out by Honda’s most skilled technicians. Interestingly, power was kept the same as the standard car.
A total of 483 NSX-Rs were produced when the last one rolled off the factory line in September 1995. Optional extras included air conditioning, a Bose stereo system, a Carbon fiber trim center console with Carbon fiber door trim and from 1994 Championship White painted larger wheels (16″ front wheels and 17″ rear wheels).
Honda NSX-T & Other Changes – (1995)
By the mid nineties it was time for another addition to the NSX lineup. This car would come in the form of the NSX-T and it was offered with a removable black Targa top roof. Japanese buyers could order this model as a special option and once the car launched in North America in March 1995 it became the de-facto standard model.
The only North American NSX models that did not feature a Targa roof after 1994 included the Zanardi Special Edition, and a handful of special order post-1997/pre-2002 3.2-litre coupes. European buyers were offered the option of either the hard-top or the Targa.
In the process of removing the roof, Honda’s engineers had to add around 45 kg (100 lbs) of structural reinforcements to compensate for the reduced chassis rigidity. They included significantly thicker frame sidesill rocker panels, bulkheads, roof pillars, and the addition of extra cross members.
From 1995 the majority of hardtop NSXs were finished in a single body colour, instead of the two-tone black roof with a different colour option for the body. Japanese buyers could still purchase the two-tone option if they wanted to.
When it came to the mechanicals of the 1995 model year car, a lighter version of the variable-ratio, electric-assisted power steering rack was fitted as standard to manual cars (this was previously only found on automatic cars).
Other changes for the year included a lowering of the 5-speed manual transmission’s second gear ratio by 5% to improve driveability, and the addition of an optional F1 inspired Sport Shift system on automatic cars. Manual cars also received an improved Torque Reactive limited-slip differential and a new Throttle-By-Wire system.
The last major changes included a new lighter exhaust and muffler system for greater efficiency and lower emissions, an improved Traction Control System, new fuel injectors and OBD-II onboard diagnostics.
Big Updates for 1997
In 1997, Honda introduced the biggest performance upgrade for the first generation NSX. The car was given an updated version of the C30A known as the C32B. This new power unit featured an increase in displacement from 3.0-litres to 3.2-litres through the use of 93 mm (3.66 inch) pistons.
To accommodate the larger pistons, engineers used an advanced metallurgical technique on the cylinders known as Fibre Reinforced Metal (FRM). The process involved casting an ultra lightweight alumina-carbon fibre into a traditional aluminium alloy for enhanced rigidity. Honda’s engineers could then make the cylinder walls thinner, while allowing for acceptable cooling characteristics.
The result of the increased flow was an increase in power to 290 horsepower (216 kW) and a bump in torque to 305 Nm (225 lb-ft) for cars equipped with a manual transmission. This bump in performance increased the power to weight ratio of the NSX by 7%.
Along with updating the engine, Honda also introduced a new 6-speed manual transmission with closer gear ratios. The 5-speed transmission also received some attention with the addition of a dual-mass low-inertia single disc clutch system that was more capable of dealing with the higher engine output and torque figures. The 4-speed automatic transmission remained much the same and cars fitted with the engine retained the 3.0-litre engine. Cars fitted with the 3.2-litre engine were given the codename NA2, while NA1 continued to be used on automatic cars, just like the previous 3.0-litre versions of the car.
With more power on tap, Honda gave the NSX larger brake rotors with them now sitting at 298 mm (11.732 inches) up from 282 mm (11.1 inches) at the front and 303 mm (11.3 inches) from 282 mm at the rear. However, the addition of these brake rotors and the new 6-speed transmission led to an increase in weight. To counteract this, key body parts were made with a new aluminium alloy that was up to 50% stronger, allowing for thinner panels.
The added power and updates to the transmissions lead to an increase in acceleration over the older version of the NSX. Depending on the model and who tested the car, 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) times were anywhere from 4.8 seconds to around 5.0 seconds.
NSX-S and NSX-S Zero – (1997)
In addition to the major mechanical updates for the 1997 model year, Honda also released two special edition cars exclusively for the Japanese market. The NSX Type S weighed in at 1,320 kg while the NSX Type S-Zero came in at about 1,270 kg.
Both cars came equipped with Recaro carbon-kevlar bucket seats finished in Alcantara/leather, a titanium shift knob, MOMO steering wheel, lightweight BBS aluminium alloy wheels, a mess engine cover like the Type R, a coloured roof, and stiffer suspension than the standard model.
The S-Zero was intended to be a more track-oriented version of the car for those who wanted to buy the now discontinued NSX-R. The car featured the NSX-R’s stiffer suspension setup, but retained the Type S’s larger 19.1 mm rear sway bar.
Another change for the S-Zero was the removal of the dual mass flywheel clutch for the lighter, more direct dual-disc clutch from the original 5-speed transmission. Much like the NSX-R, the S-Zero went without any unnecessary features with the sound system, airbags, power steering, traction & cruise control, power locks, fog lights, much of the sound deadening and navigation system all removed in the name of weight saving and performance. The air conditioning could still be retained, however, it was now an option.
With these changes and the more powerful engine from the 1997 update, the S-Zero could lap the Suzuka circuit 1.5 seconds quicker than the mighty NSX-R.
Between 1997 and 2001, Honda produced a total of 209 NSX Type S models and 30 S-Zeros, making the latter the second rarest version of the first generation NSX.
NSX Alex Zanardi edition – (1999)
In 1999 Honda released the Alex Zanardi version of the NSX to commemorate the driver’s two back-to-back CART Champ Car championship wins for the Honda/Acura team in 1997 and 1998. The special edition car was produced exclusively for the United States with only 50 being built and finished in a Formula Red colour.
Overall, the Alex Zanardi edition was much the same as the Japanese spec Type S, with the main differences being a left-hand drive setup, black leather and suede seats with red stitching and Acura badging.
Compared to the standard Targa model in North America, the Zanardi was around 68 kg (149 lbs) lighter in weight due to the use of a fixed roof, single pane rear glass, a lighter rear spoiler, lightweight BBS alloy wheels, a lighter battery, and a manual rack-and-pinion steering system instead of the usual electric power steering setup.
The NSX Gets a Facelift – (2002)
With growing competition in the NSX’s segment, it was time for a redesign. The styling of the car hadn’t changed in 10 years and Honda wanted to bring the car more up to date with what was on the road at the time.
The younger looking NSX was introduced in December 2001 with fixed xenon HID headlamps in place of the old pop-up ones from the earlier model. Honda also slightly altered the body design to be more modern and the rear tyres were widened to complement a revised suspension setup.
At the back, the taillight housings were revised along with the rear spoiler, which now included a small flap on the deck lid. The rear air dam was also wrapped around the car and new side skirts were included that combined together gave the impression of a lower ride height.
When it came to the suspension, engineers at Honda increased the front spring rates from 3.2 kg/m to 3.5 kg/m, while the rear rates were increased to 4.0 kg/m from 3.8 kg/m. The diameter of the rear stabiliser bar was also increased by 1.6 mm to 19.1 mm.
Honda stopped offering the hardtop version of the car in North America from 2002 onwards, but it could still be purchased in other markets. The Type S continued to be produced, however, Honda dropped the S-Zero as they reintroduced the NSX-R. The last major update was the addition of a 4-speed automatic transmission with manual shift.
NSX-R Reintroduced – (2002)
With the NSX-R and other Type R versions of Honda’s cars being a massive hit, the company decided to reintroduce the spec level for the NA2 NSX. Once again, the NSX-R was available exclusively for the Japanese market and it was intended to be the most hardcore version of the car.
The chassis was based on the hard-top version of the NSX and carbon fibre was used extensively throughout the body to save as much weight as possible. Honda’s engineers also carried out many of the same weight saving techniques as with the earlier car. They removed the air conditioning, audio system, sound deadening, and more to save roughly 100 (220 lbs) in weight.
Along with removing anything unnecessary and adding lightweight components, Honda also gave the 3.2-litre DOHC V6 engine some attention. Like the first version of the NSX-R, each engine was hand assembled by a team of Honda’s best technicians and the same blueprinting and balancing techniques were used to create the ultimate power unit.
These changes allowed for a more free-revving engine with much greater throttle response. Once again, despite the changes power was still stated to be the same as the standard model, however, many motoring journalists believed that the NSX-R produced more.
Although the NSX-R was based on a 15-year-old design, the changes made meant that it could still challenge the latest sports cars available at the time. For example, Japanese race and test driver Motoharu Kurosawa drove a 2002 NSX-R around the Nurburgring road course in 7:56, a time equal to a Ferrari F360 Challenge Stradale. The NSX-R managed to do this despite being out-powered by the Ferrari by over 100hp.
Honda NSX-R GT – (2005)
With production coming to a close, Honda decided to create one last extreme version of the NSX that they could use for Japanese Super GT homologation requirements. Only five NSX-R GTs were produced and the exact differences between them and the normal NSX-R are not fully known.
The biggest visual difference is the addition of a non-functioning snorkel attached to the roof of the NSX-R GT. While this snorkel does not function on the road going cars, it was fully functional on race spec machines and was used to feed outside air to an individual throttle body intake plenum.
Other notable changes included lowered suspension, a wider body with a more aggressive aerodynamic package and even more extensive weight savings. It is not known if there were any changes to the 3.2-litre V6 engine.
NSX Mugen RR concept – (2008)
Honda unveiled the NSX Mugen RR concept at the 2008 Tokyo Auto Salon. This included 255/35R18 and 335/30R18 tires, widened front, multi-grooved rear diffuser and an adjustable rear wing. The car was powered by a modified 3.2L V6, and has had its mounting changed from transverse to longitudinal. Mugen changed the mounting position as it allowed for greater power transfer to the rear wheels and better exhaust flow.
First Generation Honda NSX Specifications
|Model||Honda NSX NA1||Honda NSX NA1|
|Year of production||1990 – 2005|| |
1997 – 2005
|Layout||Transverse mid-engine, rear wheel drive||Transverse mid-engine, rear wheel drive|
|Engine/Engines||3.0-litre C30A VTEC V6||3.2-litre C32B VTEC V6|
|Power||270 bhp (201 kW) at 7,300 rpm (until 1997 on manual cars)|
252 bhp (188 kW) automatic models
|290 bhp (216 kW) at 7300 rpm|
|Torque||284 Nm (210 lb-ft) torque at 5,500 rpm||304 Nm (224 lb-ft) torque at 5,500 rpm|
|Gearbox||5-speed manual (until 1997)|
|Suspension Front||Independent. Double Wishbones. coil springs. anti-roll bar||Independent. Double Wishbones. coil springs. anti-roll bar|
|Suspension Rear||Independent. Double Wishbones. anti-roll bar||Independent. Double Wishbones. anti-roll bar|
|Brakes Front||282 mm (11.1 inches)||298 mm (11.73 inches)|
|Brakes Rear||282 mm (11.1 inches)||303 mm (11.3 inches)|
|Weight||1,230 – 1,425 kg (2,712 – 3,142 lb)||1,270 – 1,435 kg (2,799 – 3,164 lb)|
|Top speed||270 km/h (168 mph)||270 km/h (168 mph)|
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||5.3 – 5.9 seconds||4.8 – 5.0 seconds|
First Generation Honda NSX Buyer’s Guide
With the history and specifications finally out of the way, let’s take a look at what you really came here for, the buyer’s guide. The original NSX is a fairly robust and reliable machine, especially if maintained well, but they can be extremely expensive to fix if problems occur. Make sure the one you buy is in good condition and by doing so you should have a classic Japanese sportscar that will last you plenty of years and miles of motoring pleasure.
Setting Up an Inspection of a First Gen NSX
One of the most important steps in the car buying process is to set up an inspection correctly. Below we have listed some tips to help you out:
- Check out the NSX in person or get a reliable third party to inspect the car for you – Buying any car sight unseen is usually a recipe for disaster. If you can’t view the car yourself get a reliable third party to do so for you. If you are looking to import an NSX, try to find a knowledgeably importer who can check out the car for you. You can read more about how to import a car here.
- If possible, try to view the NSX at the seller’s house or place of business – This is always a good idea as it will let you get a rough idea of how and where the Honda NSX you are interested in has been stored. Additionally, you can see what sort of roads the car is regularly driven on. If the roads look particularly nasty or bumpy the suspension components may have taken a battering.
- View the car earlier in the morning – While this is largely going to depend on you and the seller’s schedule, it is a good idea to go inspect a used vehicle in the morning. The main reason for this is that there is less chance the seller will have pre-warmed the vehicle and it also gives them less time to clean up any issues such as a big oil leak.
- Take somebody with you – We always like to go with somebody to a car inspection if possible as they can give you their thoughts on the vehicle and they may be able to spot something you missed.
- Avoid inspecting a Honda NSX in the rain – Water on the bodywork can hide a multitude of sins, so if you do happen to inspect a first gen NSX in the rain, try to go back for a second viewing before making a purchase.
- Watch out for cars that have been freshly washed – this is largely for the same reason as above, but if it looks like the engine bay and underside of the NSX you are looking at has been freshly washed it may be because the seller is trying to hide something.
How Much is a First Gen Honda NSX Worth?
The first generation Honda NSX was never a cheap car and the same can be said today. Answering the question of “how much is a first gen Honda NSX worth?” is a difficult question as the price of a car depends on numerous factors from its specifications to its condition and where it is being sold. According to bringatrailer.com, prices of the first generation NSX usually go for anywhere between US$50,000 and $150,000, but one in 2020 sold for nearly $300,000.
With such a large variation in sales prices, we recommend that you hop on your local auction/classifieds website or dealers’ websites to look for any NSX’s for sale. Check the prices for a condition level and model you want and that should give you a rough idea of what you need to spend. If you want something like an NSX-R you are of course going to need to front up more cash than something like an early model automatic NSX that has done a few more miles.
Is the First Gen Honda NSX a Classic or Future Classic?
You could definitely argue that the first generation Honda NSX is already a classic. As we mentioned above, some of the prices of these cars have reached some pretty insane figures and the NSX is definitely one of the most loved Japanese cars of all time. Prices have risen considerably over the last decade or so, but there is no guarantee that this will always be the case.
Is a Honda NSX Expensive to Maintain?
Maintenance costs are really going to depend on who you take the car to and how much work you are willing to do yourself. Even then, the first gen NSX wasn’t a cheap car at launch, so don’t expect to run it for the same cost as a bog standard Civic. However, the first generation NSX is cheaper to run than pretty much all of its competition from the era.
If you are concerned about running costs it is always a good idea to go to a competent mechanic or specialist who is knowledgeable about the first generation NSX, rather than going to a dealer.
We also recommend that you keep around US$5,000 in the bank spare when you purchase a Honda NSX as there are almost always extra maintenance costs after buying a used car. This is why it is a good idea to purchase a used NSX in as good condition as possible, to bring down the potential of unexpected maintenance bills.
Where is a Good Place to Buy a Honda NSX?
The best place to purchase a used first gen NSX (or any specialist car for that matter) is an owner’s club or website. The people in these groups are usually more enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their cars, and they will probably have looked after them better. Below we have listed some good Honda/Acura NSX clubs and websites you should check out:
NSX Prime – the biggest NSX website – used by people from around the world with the majority of people being from North America
NSX Club Britain – UK based club that is smaller than the above, but is worth checking out if you are in that region.
Alternatively, specialist auction sites that curate cars such as bringatrailer.com are another great option. You then have normal auction/classifieds sites and dealers. Dealers are probably going to be the most expensive option, but you can sometimes get more protection with them.
Should I Get a Mechanic to Inspect an NSX Prior to Purchase?
If you are asking this question you probably should get a competent mechanic who is experienced with the first generation NSX to inspect the car for you. However, doing this with every car could be a time consuming and expensive process if you pay them each time.
For those less mechanically inclined, we recommend that you use the information in this guide to weed out less promising examples and then take the ones that do have a bit of potential to a mechanic for a final inspection before purchase. Even if you are quite familiar with the NSX it is still a good idea to get a potential purchased checked out before handing over the money.
Checking the VIN
Over the course of production Honda sold 18,685 NSX cars, with nearly 9,000 of those going to the USA, with Japan being in second with a little under 7,500 sales. The rarest models are the NSX-R GT, the Alex Zanardi, and the S-Zero, with the NSX-R versions, the Type S and then the standard car coming in after these ones.
When these cars rolled off the production line in Tochigi or Suzuka they were given a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), just like other production cars on the road. The VIN is a series of characters and numbers that contains quite a lot of information about a vehicle.
For instance, the code JH4NA1132MTXXXXXX indicates that the NSX you are looking at is a 1991 NA1 model with a manual transmission. We recommend that you check out this link for a full explanation on a first gen NSX’s VIN (note: this is for US models). You should also check out this VIN decoder that was created by NSXPrime user Ojas.
The VIN can also be entered on other checkup websites such as CarFax and Autocheck that may be able to tell you if the NSX you are looking at has been written off or has had some other sort of work done. These websites are usually region limited, so keep that in mind.
Where Can I Find the VIN on a Honda NSX?
The Vehicle Identification Number for a Honda/Acura NSX can be found in a several different places:
- Door sills
- Front bulkhead in the engine bay
- Plate at the front
At the heart of an NSX there will either be a 3.0-litre C30A or 3.2-litre C32B V6 engine. The 3.0-litre engine was fitted to earlier models and all automatic cars while the larger power unit was fitted to manual NA2 cars manufactured from 1997 onwards.
When you open up the engine cover make sure you have a good general look at the engine bay. If it looks completely spotless it is probably a sign of a good owner and car, however, remember what we talked about above with owners cleaning their car to hide a problem? If the first generation NSX you are looking at has some sort of leak the seller may have washed the car prior to your arrival, so keep this in mind.
Another thing to do is to make sure that there are not any obviously damaged, worn or missing components. If there is a clear major problem right away you should probably move onto another first generation NSX.
Check the Fluid Levels and Conditions
Once you have had a general look at the engine bay, move onto checking the fluid levels and the condition of the fluids themselves (oil, coolant, etc.). If the fluid levels are not correct or the fluids have foreign particles in them/look particularly dirty, it is usually a sign of poor maintenance and excess wear or component damage may have occurred as a result.
Remember to ask the owner what oil they use in their NSX. Honda recommends using 10W-30 for most driving conditions with a 5W-30 weight oil being better for really cold climates (-18.8 degrees Celsius/-2 degrees Fahrenheit). Some owners will may even use something like a 5W-40 or 10W-40 weight oil, but most will use a 10W-30.
Another important thing to check is that the oil and oil filter have been changed regularly. According to Honda, oil changes should be every 12,000 km (7,500 miles) or every 12 months under “normal driving conditions”. However, many NSX owners stick to the more frequent “severe conditions” recommendation of every 6,000 km (3,750 miles) or every 6 months. Modern synthetics will last longer, with non-synthetic oils (dino) needing more frequent changes.
Check the service history to see what oil filter is used in the car. The Honda/Acura oil filter with the part number 15400-PL2-004 (Toyo Roki) is the most recommended. Another good option if you can’t find one of the OEM filters is the Denso’s 150-1013 oil filter. Be cautious if the first gen NSX you are looking at is fitted with a Fram filter as they have been known to cause issues and it suggests the owner has probably cheaped out on maintenance. The oil filter should have been changed with every oil change, so check that as well.
Checking for Oil Leaks
Oil leaks are a fairly rare occurrence on these cars, but if they do happen, they can be expensive to fix. The main areas to watch out for are around the rear camshaft joins, the valve cover gaskets, the VTEC solenoids, the pan gasket and the oil filter (if an incorrect one is fitted).
If the cause of the leak is the VTEC solenoid, you may be able to get away with only replacing the gaskets rather than the whole assembly, making the repair job much cheaper. However, the labour on pretty much all leaks will be quite expensive, so keep that in mind.
It is a good idea to check for oil leaks both before and after a test drive as you may find that spotless engine bay may not look so spotless after a drive. Remember to also check for any leaks under the car and any puddles of oil on the ground. If the NSX you are looking at has a major leaking issue it is better to walk away.
Timing Belt and Big Service
Don’t forget to check that the timing belt/cambelt has been replaced at or before the recommended service interval of 145,000 km (90,000 miles) or every 6 years for NA1 models and 168,000 km (105,000 miles) or every 7 years for NA2 cars. The vast majority of owners will get the timing belt changed at the 6 year mark as they don’t do massive mileages in their first gen NSXs.
As these cars are generally pretty well looked after and babied, they probably could go longer between timing belt changes. However, it is not worth the risk as if the belt does break you could be looking at a very expensive repair bill.
You should also check to make sure that the following were replaced along with the timing belt:
- Water pump
- Alternator and compressor belts as they have to be removed anyway
- Timing adjusters
The timing belt and other components should have been replaced by a competent NSX specialist or mechanic. While home mechanics can replace the timing belt themselves, it us a labour-intensive task with a lot of steps and a lot of things that can go wrong. A good number of home mechanics have more ambition than skill, so if you come across an owner who has changed the belt themselves be very cautious.
It is important to make sure that the cooling system is functioning correctly as a failure here could lead to catastrophic damage. There was a recall for some 1991 cars with a serial number of or under 002406 for an issue with the coolant hoses and water pump (only on some cars). This recall should have definitely been actioned upon by now, but it is worth double checking to make sure.
If for some reason the work hasn’t been done, contact Honda/Acura before purchase to make sure they can still do it. The bigger problem is that if the owner hasn’t taken the car in it suggests maintenance has probably been less than adequate.
For all models, make sure you have a good look at as many of the coolant hoses as possible (there are a lot of them). Check for any leaks and make sure the hoses are in good condition. If there is a leak it may be something as simple as an incorrectly fitted clamp, or, alternatively a hose may have some damage. Pay particular attention to the ends of the hoses and look for any hardened coolant crust. Another thing to check is the coolant clamps – are they all the same? Or do some look like they have been replaced?
Remember to check there are no leaks from the coolant tank as it is not uncommon to find a leak here (especially around the seams and cap). Replacing the tank is one of the least expensive and easiest things to do on these cars, so it is not a major problem. However, if the leak is not fixed it could lead to an excessive loss of coolant, which may lead to engine damage, head gasket failure, etc.
A more permanent solution to this problem is to replace the OEM tank with a metal one, although, they can still fail as well. If you do decide to purchase an NSX, we recommend that you regularly check the cooling system to make sure the tank and other cooling components are not leaking.
Don’t forget to check that the coolant has been replaced every 72,000 km (45,000 miles) or every 4 – 5 years. The coolant used should be Honda’s Type II coolant that is dark blue in colour. If the coolant is brown or muddy it suggests that it has not been replaced regularly and is a sign of poor maintenance.
Remember to check the radiator’s front side to make sure it is in good condition and has not wasted away from rocks and debris hitting it over the years.
Signs of Cooling Problems, Overheating & Head Gasket Failure
Below we have listed some signs that the suggest there is a problem with the cooling system in the first generation NSX you are looking at or that the head gasket has failed.
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- Oil that is white and milky
- Fouled spark plugs (if you can get to see them)
- Low cooling system integrity
- Engine oil that smells of coolant
- Sweet exhaust smell
- Leaking coolant
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
- High temperatures
Some of these issues are more serious than others, but if you notice multiple of them you should probably move onto another NSX. If the head gasket has gone you are probably going to be spending much of that extra $5K spare cash we recommended keeping on hand. For this reason we suggest that you avoid any NSX with this problem unless you can get a very hefty discount, the rest of the car is in excellent shape, and you can find a good specialist to do the work and get their advice prior to purchase.
We suggest that you look in the service history to see if the engine has every been rebuilt due to a head gasket failure (or any major issue for that matter). Some owners will replace the blown engine with a used one from another NSX as this is often cheaper than doing a full rebuild. However, you then know less about the history of the new engine inside the car.
Thermostat fails are not uncommon, so if the NSX you are looking at doesn’t appear to warm up properly or takes longer than around 10 minutes to warm up there is probably an issue. The car will take longer to warm up while it is idling, so keep this in mind.
The most common issue with the thermostat is that the rubber seal around the plunger mushrooms out. This part is fairly inexpensive to replace and it will probably only take you around 2 to 3 hours to do the job. Still, it is worth using this as a bargaining point to get a discount if the first NSX you are looking at has a bad thermostat.
Another reason for overheating issues is that there may simply be air in the system. There is a specific way to fill the cooling system in a first generation Honda/Acura NSX and if you don’t do it correctly, air pockets may form. If this is the case the car will probably be perfectly fine in normal driving conditions, but it may overheat when pushed. A bleed or two of the cooling system by somebody who knows what they are doing should fix the issue.
Inspecting the Exhaust
To properly inspect the exhaust system you are going to have to lift the car up, which we do suggest you do prior to purchase (It is probably best to get a mechanic to do this). However, during a general inspection get on the ground and have a look at as much of the exhaust system as possible. You can use a torch/flashlight to get a better look and having an extendable mirror on hand is always a good idea.
Below we have listed some things to watch out for when it comes to the exhaust system on a first generation Honda NSX (or any car for that matter):
- Black sooty stains – Typically a sign of a leak and depending on the severity of the problem a simple reweld may be all that is needed to fix the issue.
- Cracks or accident damage – These cars are quite low to the ground, so keep an eye out for any damage to the exhaust. The odd scrap and scratch is to be expected, but any big dents, cracks or very large scraps is going to be a problem.
- Bad repairs – Look out for any bodge jobs that have been done on the cheap.
Remember to check that all of the exhaust brackets and hangers are in good order and don’t forget to check around the manifold/headers.
Aftermarket exhausts are quite common as you can squeeze a bit more power out of the engine in an NSX with them (around 5 – 15 horsepower). Additionally, an aftermarket exhaust can also change the exhaust note (probably the main reason why owners fit them) and they can shave a tiny bit of weight over the stock system. Some owners will also swap the original exhaust with an aftermarket one if there is a problem with it that needs major repair or replacement.
There are louds of different brands who offer aftermarket systems from HKS, Comptech, DC Sports, RM Racing and more. Some owners will also go for a completely custom option. If you are looking at a first generation NSX with an aftermarket exhaust, find out what brand it is or who made it and then check reviews to make sure it is a good one.
Check the Battery
The power terminal is on the driver side (Acura models), while the ground terminal is on the right. If these are not orientated correctly, the hold-down bracket can become dangerously close to both terminals. Also check when the battery was last replaced and if it is suitable for the car (note down the model number and check online). If you suspect the battery needs to be replaced it is not a major problem, but you should use it to get a slight discount on the first gen NSX.
If you have a helper with you, lightly apply the throttle while they are watching the engine (with the engine cover open of course). There should be some play, but if it seems excessive or you hear any knocking it is a sign that the engine is moving too much. Replacing the aluminium engine mounts is expensive, so factor this into the final cost if the NSX you are looking at has this problem.
Starting the Honda NSX Up for the First Time
It is always a good idea to get the owner or seller to start the vehicle for you for the first time. We recommend that you do this for a couple of reasons:
- To see what comes out the back of the exhaust
- To see if they rev their NSX hard when it is cold. If the owner does this it is probably better to move onto another car as they probably haven’t treated it well.
What Should the Idle Speed of a First Generation Honda NSX Be?
The idle speed should be roughly 800 rpm plus or minus 50 rpm under no load conditions (headlights, AC, etc. off). Expect the idle speed to be a bit higher when the engine is first started and when the electronics, air conditioning and other systems are turned on.
Poor idle could be caused by anything from a dirty/bad throttle body (probably the most likely cause), a dirty intake system, worn spark plugs, idle control solenoid (kicks up the idle when the AC turns on) and more.
It will probably be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of bad idle during a short inspection. Keep in mind that if the problem was an easy fix the seller probably would have got it sorted before putting the car on the market.
Rough idle around the 1,500 rpm mark is a fairly common occurrence, but it should disappear once the NSX’s engine warms up and the idle drops to the 850 mark. There is no need to worry about this problem, but some owners have got it fixed by replacing the O2 sensor and adjusting the base idle.
If you notice that the engine sputters a bit it may be down to coil corrosion. This will happen intermittently and usually manifests itself in a way that feels like fuel starvation. The problem is usually most apparent during hard acceleration.
This is not a major problem as the corrosion can be wiped off fairly easily. If the car has this problem it is also worth checking the spark plugs as well. Speaking of the spark plugs, remember to check that they have been replaced at or before the recommended service interval of 96,000 km (60,000 miles) or every 4 years. The recommended spark plugs for the different model years are as follows (the OEM plugs are NGK Laser Platinum):
- 1991 – 1994– NGK PFR6G-11
- 1995 – 1996– NGK PFR6N-11
- 1997 – 2005– NGK PFR6L-11
Check to make sure these plugs have been used, however, some other plugs such as the Denso PK20PR-L 11 will work as well so keep that in mind.
If you notice that the engine hesitates during acceleration it may be caused by a whole range of different factors from dodgy injectors to the fuel pump resister, the fuel pump itself, problems with the TCS and more. If the first generation NSX you are looking at is suffering from this problem be very cautious, as you probably won’t be able to find the exact cause of the issue during a short test drive (this is why it is a good idea to take the car to a skilled NSX specialist).
TCS issues can be checked by turning it off at start up. If the hesitation issues don’t return it is probably something to do with the TCS.
Checking What Comes Out the Back of a First Gen NSX
As we mentioned above, you want to see what comes out the back of the exhaust when the car is started for the first time. You can hold up a white piece of paper or paper towel in front of the exhaust to see how much soot gets on it. A little bit is fine, but if you notice lots of oil or if it gets really dirty there is a problem.
A small amount of exhaust vapour on engine startup is perfectly fine, especially if it is a cold day. This is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust system and should dissipate after a short while. If the vapour doesn’t dissipate and/or is very thick there is probably a problem. If you notice lots of smoke walk away from the first generation NSX you are looking at. Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke usually indicate:
White smoke – If you notice lots of white smoke from the first gen NSX you are looking at, it is usually caused by water in the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Smell the exhaust and if it seems sweet, it is probably coolant.
Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things from worn piston rings, valve seals. If you see this colour smoke on startup it may be a sign of a bit of an oil burning issue or that the vehicle has been thrashed. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are in the NSX. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back.
Black smoke – Don’t be too alarmed if you see a bit of black smoke at full throttle as the first generation NSX runs quite rich at wide open throttle. If you notice this sort of smoke at park throttle it is a sign of trouble and usually indicates that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like a bad O2 or MAP sensor, injector issues, a dirty filter and more.
What About Rebuilt or Replaced Engines in a First Gen NSX?
We have touched on this a bit already, but we thought we would go into a bit more detail here. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a rebuilt or replaced engine as long as the work was carried out by a knowledgeable Honda/Acura NSX specialist and in the case of a replacement, the new engine was/is in good order.
We would probably avoid any first generation NSX that has just had a complete fresh rebuild or replacement as it is a bit more of an unknown than something that has a few more miles on it. For example, a rebuild or replacement with 5,000 plus km (3,000 miles) is going to be a much safer bet than something with only a couple of hundred kilometres on it.
Should I Get a Leak Down or Compression Test Done Before Purchase?
If you are taking the car to a competent NSX mechanic or specialist for final inspection before purchase, we recommend that you get them to do a compression or a leak down test for you. A leak down test usually takes more time to perform, but it will give you a more accurate and detailed picture of the engine’s overall health and condition.
Some owners will get a compression or leak down test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. If they have done that, find out who did the test and check any reviews to see if they are trustworthy.
During the course of its life, the first generation Honda/Acura NSX was fitted with three different transmission options, a four-speed automatic, five-speed manual and a six-speed manual that was introduced with the 3.2-litre engine. To start with we will look at the manual options.
The main thing to watch out for here is if the NSX you are looking at is a 1991 or 1992 model. Models with the transmission numbers J4A4-1003542 through to J4A4-1005978 experienced snap ring failures. You can not get the information you need from the VIN, so you must check the transmission number. To do this look straight down the right side of the airbox onto the trans-axle housing. You should notice a sticker with the number on it on the top of the transmission housing (a flashlight/torch will come in handy here).
If you notice that the number starts with S48M rather than J4A4, the transmission may have been replaced by Honda at some point due to the snap ring issue. This is a pretty rare occurrence, and there is not that much information about S48M labelled transmissions.
For those looking at transmissions between the ranges stated above, it is important to note that the snap ring problem does not exist in all transmissions in this range. It only makes the chance of failure much more likely.
So, What’s the Problem With the Snap Rings?
The snap ring is a very thin metal ring which holds the countershaft from moving in the transmission case. It sits in a groove in both the bearing and the transmission case. The problem is not actually with the snap ring itself, but the groove that it sits in. Some of the grooves in the transmission case were cut too wide, which can lead to the snap ring moving backwards and forwards. This leads to excessive stress and eventual failure.
What Are the Symptoms of the Problem?
The biggest sign of this problem is if the shifter moves forward or back in first or second gear during deceleration or braking from low speeds. If you happen to be driving the car when it does fail, you may hear a loud crunch or mechanical grinding noise. Do not drive the car any further if this occurs as if you do, shattered pieces of metal from the snap ring can make their way through the transmission of the car. The problem can occur at any mileage, but if you are looking at a really high mileage example and it has not experienced this problem you are probably fairly safe.
How Much Does It Cost to Repair and Should I Buy an NSX with the Problem?
The cost of repair is largely going to depend on where you are located in the world and who you can get to do the job. In the United States, Acura will charge well north of $5,000 to fix the problem as they will want to replace the whole transmission. If you take it to a very experienced NSX technician they should be able to do it at a significantly lower price. Unfortunately, there are very few people out there who can do this work, so the majority of people are stuck with a full on replacement.
We recommend to check if the snap ring issue has been repaired at any point if the NSX you are looking at falls in this range. Some cars manufactured in different years have experienced this failure, but it seems to be extremely rare.
General Manual Gearbox Issues
With the Snap Ring issue out of the way, let’s take a look at more general problems you should watch out for when it comes to either the 5-speed or 6-speed manual transmissions.
Make sure you go through all the gears at both low and high engine speeds to make sure the transmission feels good all throughout the rev range. Also check to see how the transmission feels while the car is stationary. You may notice that the shifts are a bit stiff when the transmission is cold, but it should loosen up as the vehicle warms.
If you have real trouble getting the car into gear when it is cold it may be down to the fact that the clutch disk does not want to slide on the transmission main shaft to pull away from the flywheel. To fix this issue, the transmission may need to be removed and the main shaft splines cleaned.
Remember to keep an ear out for any graunching, grinding or whining sounds, especially if you are looking at one of those 1991 or 1992 cars affected by the snap ring issue. Synchro wear can occur, especially with repeated hard changes. However, sometimes this issue can be fixed by replacing the transmission fluid or by switching the fluid to a cocktail of the following in (it is worth talking to an NSX specialist before switching to the cocktail below):
0.95 litres (1 quart) – GM synchromesh fluid – #89021808
1.9 litres (1 quart) – GM Friction Modified – #12377916
For normal transmission fluid changes, Honda MTF is the standard and most recommend and what came with the car. Alternatively, some owners like to use Redline MT-90 or MTL, with MTL being better for cooler climates. Have a look in the service history to see what the owner uses as if they have cheaped out it could cause problems. Honda recommends changing the fluid every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or every 24 months, so make sure this has been done. If you are looking to change the transmission yourself when you purchase an NSX, here’s a guide on how to do it.
Clutch Engagement – The first thing we recommend that you do is to see how the clutch engages. If it engages high up in the pedal travel there could be a problem. Alternatively, if the clutch feels soft or stays on the floor there is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Clutch Slippage – The best way to test for this problem is to shift into a gear that is too high for the speed you are going. You should notice that the engine bogs down a bit (don’t do this on a regular basis). The next thing to do is to accelerate. If you notice that the tachometer goes up out of relation to the speedometer and/or you notice jerkiness it suggests that the clutch is slipping.
Clutch Drag – Find a nice flat surface and press the clutch pedal to the floor with the car in first. Keep your foot of the brake and rev the car. If the car moves it suggests that the clutch is not disengaging when you shift, leading to premature wear.
Clutch Shudder – This is usually noticeable when you accelerate from a stop. A small amount is perfectly normal, but an excessive amount is a sign that the release bearings need to be lubricated. Not a major problem, but it will probably set you back at least a couple of hundred dollars.
Depending on how the car is treated and driven, a first generation NSX’s clutch may last anywhere from 48,000 km (30,000 miles) at the low end to significantly more. If the NSX you are looking at needs a new clutch you could be looking at least a couple of thousand dollars for a replacement (you may be able to get it done cheaper, but this ultimately depends on who is going to do the work and what needs to be replaced).
As the clutch is quite expensive to replace, we recommend that you check the service history to see when it was last replaced. If the car has travelled a fair few miles since the last replacement, budget for a new one in the near future.
If you are looking specifically for an automatic car you are in luck because they tend to be a bit more difficult to sell and as such, they usually command a lower price. Automatic NSXs are a bit slower due to the reduced power, however, there are some mods you can do to bring the output of the engine more in line with manual cars (head mod for example).
There aren’t any specific issues with the automatic transmission fitted to first generation NSX, however, it is important to keep an ear out for any grinding, whirring or whining noises. Make sure you take the transmission through all of its positions when stationary, and if you notice any big shunts or jolts there may be a problem. Also watch out for the same when driving the car (remember to test the transmission at both low and high speeds).
The transmission fluid should have been replaced at some point (at around 48,000 km/30,000 miles or every 24 months) with Honda DW-1 fluid. If the fluid has not been changed at the recommended service interval it suggests poor maintenance.
Steering & Suspension
When you drive a first generation Honda/Acura NSX the steering should be nice and tight and responsive. The vehicle should not pull to one side and should track straight. NSXs without power steering will feel a bit heavy at slow speeds or when stopped, but once the car picks up speed the steering should feel great.
Steering should feel very solid at all speeds, including high speeds, so if it feels floaty, vague or nervous there is a problem. The most likely cause of these sorts of issues is incorrect alignment, however, it could be something much more serious. If you have doubts about the condition of the suspension and steering components do not purchase the vehicle until you can get it checked out and know what the problem is.
Excessive vibration through the steering wheel could be an out of balance wheel, a damaged tyre or even a bent wheel. An out of balance wheel is a cheap fix, but the other two will be more expensive to put right (especially a bent wheel). Apart from that, keep an eye out for the following signs that may indicate the suspension and/or steering components are in a less than adequate shape:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping during cornering
- High speed instability
- Delayed or longer stopping distances
- Uneven tyre wear
- Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
- Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
- Sagging or uneven suspension
- Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive (this may be caused by something else, but bad suspension and steering componentry is a common issue)
- Rattles – drive over some bumps – there should be no noise from the suspension components (however, you may hear some rattles from something in the cabin).
- Clicking sounds – could be caused by a damaged axle boot or a bad wheel bearing
Make sure you visually inspect as many of the suspension and steering parts as possible. Use a torch/flashlight and a mirror to get a good view of hard to see areas. If any of the components look damaged or misplaced it may be a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident.
The shocks and springs will probably need to be replaced anywhere from 110,000 km (70,000 miles) to 160,000 km (100,000 miles), but this does depend on how and where the car has been driven.
Making sure the wheel alignment is good will not only make the driving experience feel better, but it will also greatly improve the life of the car’s tyres. To test the wheel alignment, find a nice straight, flat section of road and see if the NSX you are test driving tracks straight with no or minimal driver inputs. If it doesn’t, it suggests that the wheel alignment is out. Additionally, remember to check the tyres as uneven wear here is another sign of alignment issues (use a mirror to see the inside edge). We will talk a bit more about the tyres in the section below.
Wheels & Tyres
Don’t forget to take a good look at the wheels and check for any damage, scratches, etc. Lots of curb damage is a sign of a careless owner, so make sure you check the rest of the car even more thoroughly than you would normally do. Getting the rims repaired or replaced is possible, but it can be expensive to do so. A small amount of damage/scratches is to be expected, unless the NSX has been garaged its whole life.
If the first generation Honda or Acura NSX you are looking at has not got the factory wheels, ask the seller if they have the originals. Having the originals will only add value to any NSX and if they don’t have them you can use that to try and get a discount. Additionally, aftermarket wheels can screw with the suspension and steering if they are the wrong offset/size. The offsets for the first generation NSX are as follows:
|1991 – 2001||55 mm||60 mm|
|2002+||55 mm||56 mm|
If you are unsure it is better to take the car to a knowledgeable wheel specialist or an NSX specialist. Sometimes the lug nuts can loosen. This is not a common issue, but if has happened you may feel a shaking through the steering and hear a slight ticking/rattling noise. The only way to properly check this is with a torque wrench.
While you are inspecting the rims take a good look at the tyres and check for the following:
- Amount of tread – Check how much tread is left on the tyres as if they need to be replaced soon you should try to get a discount on the NSX.
- Uneven wear – It is normal for the front tyres to wear faster on the inside edge, however, the wear should be even between the left and right tyres.
- Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
- Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.
Have a good look at the brake components while you are checking out the wheels and suspension components. If the rotors and pads look like they need to be changed soon factor that into the price and try to get a discount if you still want to purchase the NSX. The brake fluid should have been replaced every 24 months or every 48,000 km (30,000 miles), so make sure this has been done. Don’t forget to also have a look at the brake master cylinder
On a test drive make sure you try the brakes under both light and hard braking conditionings, with repeated high to low speed braking runs being a good idea. If the brakes feel weak or spongy there is a problem as the brakes on all versions of the first generation Honda NSX should be more than adequate for road use and some light track use as well.
Watch out for erratic braking that causes the car to pull to one sign as this may be a sign of a sticking/seized caliper. This can often happen if the vehicle has been left to sit for a while. Another sign of this issue is a loud thud when you pull away for the first time.
If you notice that the first generation NSX you are test driving shudders or shakes when the brakes are applied it may be a sign that the discs are warped. This problem occurs when the brakes are in use and usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking.
Problems with the ABS system can be extremely expensive to fix. Make sure that the light is not stuck on and activate the system a couple of times to make sure it works correctly. Also check to make sure the brake light on the dash comes on when the car is started as if it doesn’t it may suggest that it has been disconnected to hide a problem.
Watch out for leaks from the ABS reservoir. Sometimes the solenoids can become stuck and the ABS system can not pressurise. Exercising the ABS system by slapping on the brakes (on an empty road of course) may solve the issue. Alternatively, a flush of the ABS system may do the trick. If either of these don’t fix the issue it could be down to a whole range of things such as a bad pressure switch and more.
A slight “buzz” from the ABS system upon initial startup is perfectly fine, but if it continues or sounds somewhat strange there may be a problem.
Body & Exterior
Bodywork issues can be hideously expensive to fix so take your time here. It is best to inspect the bodywork outside in direct sunlight. Checking out a car in a dealer’s showroom or somebody’s garage is a bad idea. Additionally, as we mentioned earlier in this article, try to avoid inspecting a car in the rain or just after it has been washed and there is still water on the bodywork.
Does the Honda NSX Rust?
As the NSX is made from aluminium it will not rust. Yes, aluminium can corrode but there don’t appear to be any reports of this happening on the first generation NSX and it wouldn’t really be a problem anyway. However, there are some non-aluminium parts that some owners have reported that have had slight corrosion/rust issues. These are as follows:
- Headlight brackets
- Front tow hook
- Bumper beam/support – cars manufactured from
- Engine brackets, bolts, nuts, latches, etc.
If the first gen NSX you are looking at is located or has lived in countries/areas with salted roads, the parts above will more likely show signs of corrosion. Additionally, cars that have been stored outside or have lived by the sea are more likely to succumb to corrosion. Japanese imports also seem to be more likely to suffer from corrosion, but once again this is a minor issue on these cars and is more likely to be a problem on something like an R34 GT-R.
While the Honda NSX gets away very lightly on the rust front, the aluminium body panels and chassis can be extremely expensive to fix in the case of a cruncher. Additionally, the old magnet trick to see which areas of the car have been repaired won’t work here, so you are going to have to have a keen set of eyes to make sure everything is okay.
Accident damage is often much more serious than it first appears, and many owners will lie about the severity of an incident and the resultant repairs (or just flat out claim the car hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has. Hope for the best and assume the worst with crash damage!
Below we have put together a list of things that may indicate that the first generation Honda/Acura NSX you are looking at has been in an accident.
- Damage in the trunk/boot – Open the back and remove the push-clips so you can pull back the carpet. This will let you get a look at the rear of the chassis where you should be able to see the taillight assemblies and an aluminium sheet. The sheet metal should be in good condition and should have the factory-applied caulking. If it doesn’t, the NSX you are looking at may have been in an accident.
- Damage near the headlight assembly and around the hood/bonnet – If the bonnet/hood at the front of the car doesn’t appear to sit flush and looks like it is popped the car may have been in an accident.
- Bent, broken or scrapped parts underneath the car – It’s not uncommon to find the odd scrape or two due to light bottoming out, but it should be pretty obvious if somebody has sent it over a speed bump at high speed. Bent tie-down hooks at the front are a problem, but don’t worry too much if they are scrapped. Watch out for any other damaged parts or components that look like they have been replaced as it may be a sign of an accident.
- Paint runs or overspray – Overspray from the factory is quite common on the underside of a first generation NSX, especially on the undercoating on both sides below the rocker panels. If you notice overspray or paint run in other areas it may be a sign of repair work.
- Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check all of the body panels as if they are uneven or misaligned it is probably a sign that the first generation NSX you are looking at has been in an accident. The panel gaps and tolerances from the factory are excellent on these cars, so it should be a big concern if you do find any problems. Remember to check around the front headlights and the rear taillights as it can be hard to get these areas right after an accident.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – Make sure the doors don’t drop when you open them. Check the level of the doors and if they don’t open properly the NSX you are looking at may have been in an accident.
- Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage. This is extremely unlikely to be a factory issue. Try and get the car under bright fluorescent light as it will make inconsistencies easier to see.
- Check the Tow Hook – Remove the tow hook cover on the front of the vehicle and have a look at the tow hook. If it looks used the vehicle may have been in an accident. Alternatively, there may have been some other issue such as an engine failure. Whatever it is, drill the owner about it.
Remove the tow hook cover on the front of the car and look at the tow hook. Does it look like it’s ever been used? If so, find out why.
Accident damage shouldn’t necessarily be an instant dismissal of a vehicle, especially if it was fairly minor, has been repaired correctly and the owner is upfront about it. If the damage was severe you should move onto another first generation NSX, especially if there was any structural damage. One other important thing to keep in mind is any history of accident damage will lower the value of a car, so if you do decide to sell the NSX in the future you may have to settle for a lower sale price.
If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.
Expect to find some stone chips, especially if the NSX you are looking at is a higher mileage example. Many owners like to touch up stone chips with a little bit of paint, but this should be obvious with a closer inspection. If there are absolutely no signs of stone chips the car has probably been resprayed at some point, unless it has been garaged its whole life.
Glass Scratches & Chips
Take a look at all of the glass and check for any scratches or chips, especially around the front windshield. Excess glue around the edges of the windshield and rear window are a sign of a replacement. If the windshield looks in bad shape it will probably have to be replaced in the near future. Additionally, have a look at the windshield molding as it can shrink away from the edge, which will set you back at least a couple of hundred dollars when it needs to be replaced.
Check the Engine Cover & Boot/Trunk Struts
For all model years make sure you check that all the struts for the engine cover, trunk/boot, etc. work as intended. The struts are a common failure point and will usually last around 5 years before they give up the ghost. This is not a major problem and you can replace the struts yourself, however, it is still worth asking for a discount if the first generation NSX you are looking at has this problem.
Make Sure the Latches, Doors, etc. Work
Remember to check that the door handles and the latches for the boot/trunk, the engine cover, and the fuel filler door work correctly
The interior of a first generation Honda NSX is pretty hardwearing but with time and sunlight, you may come across some cracked interior parts. Note these parts down and check later to see how much it would cost to replace them as costs can add up quickly.
Have a good look at the seats and check for any wear, rips or stains. Getting the seats repaired or reupholstered definitely possible, but you will want to pay a bit more for a good job (don’t cheap out). If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is a major safety issue and it will be an MOT/WOF failure. Remember to make sure the power controls for the seats work.
Check for any leaks or dampness in the cabin, trunk, etc (check the carpets, around the windows, etc). Musty odours are also a sign of water ingress as well, so have a good sniff around the interior. One other thing to do is to look at the underside of the floor mats. If there is water residue it indicates that there has been a leak at some point.
If you notice excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage it may be an indicative of a car that has had a hard life or alternatively, the odometer may have been wound back.
Remember to have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the first generation Honda NSX you are looking at has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.
For all model years, inspect the sun visors. They are known to split at the seems when left in the sun for extended periods of time. Easily replaceable, but fairly pricey for a simply sun visor.
On mid-to-late model NSXs, remember to have a good look at the rear-view mirror. There was a manufacturing issue that led to the silver backing degrading. OEM replacements are available but will set you back at least around one hundred dollars.
If you are on the taller side, make sure you fit comfortably in the vehicle. This isn’t a major issue unless you are really tall and there are some fixes such as getting a thinner cushion for the driver’s seat.
The main thing with the electronics is to just get stuck in and fiddle with all of the buttons, dials and levers. Check that the windows go up and down properly, the lights turn on and that the sounds system works as intended.
If the windows don’t work correctly it may be down to the window switches or regulator assembly. The NSX’s window motors and regulator assemblies are sold as a single unit, and, because of this they are quite expensive to source. 1991 and 1992 cars also had a fault with the window regulators, so check to see if they have been replaced. If they haven’t they will probably fail (almost certainly have by now, so it shouldn’t be a big issue). Don’t worry too much if the windows are slow as this is perfectly normal on these cars.
The OEM speakers have a bit of a propensity for going bad overtime, so check the sound system works correctly. Honda custom-fit the sound system to the NSX, which made it more difficult for aftermarket installs. Remember to check that the antenna rises when the radio is turned on and if anything needs to be replaced try to get a good discount.
Make sure the factory alarm is not set off by unlocking either the driver’s or the passenger’s door with the key. This problem can be caused by a few different things from corrosion on the contacts of the anti-theft door switch, or a switch that is out of adjustment.
Some owners have also reported the same issue with the boot/trunk, so remember to try the key in that as well. If you need to disable the alarm unplug the hood switch (the two wire grey connector between the blue washer fill cap and red auxiliary hood release lever).
If the first generation NSX you are looking at has any extra accessories such as keyless entry make sure they work as intended.
Turn on the air conditioning and make sure it blows cold and check that the heater sends out hot air. Make sure the fan blows properly at each variable speed level and the digital display functions correctly. It is not uncommon to find that the A/C will only blow at the highest speed setting, which is expensive to get fixed. This is usually caused by a problem with the climate control circuit board.
Remember to ask the owner how often they use the air conditioning as if it is not used on a regular basis the seals car start to dry out, which can lead to a leak.
Don’t forget to check for any warning lights on the dashboard during both engine start-up and while the car is running. If you don’t notice any warning lights during start-up, they may have been disconnected to hide an issue. If you are really serious about getting a good NSX we recommend that you take along an OBD2 scanner or take the car to Acura/Honda to get the codes read.
General Car Buying Advice the For a Honda or Acura NSX First Gen
How to Get the Best Deal on One of these Cars
This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for a first generation NSX, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage late model NSX or are you happy with a car that has travelled far? Are modifications okay or do you want a stock model.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. The NSX is a fairly rare car, but there are still plenty out there in different conditions and trim levels.
- Go look at and test drive multiple NSXs – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad first generation NSX.
- Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for one of these cars and only go for promising looking cars, unless you are looking for a project NSX.
- Use any issues with the car to your advantage – Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
- Don’t trust the owner – While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple cars, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- Be prepared to walk away – If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.
Mileage vs Condition
Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.
Service History and Other Documentation
It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Honda or Acura specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work).
The service history will give you a good idea of how the first generation NSX you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.
If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.
Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.
Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner
- How often do you drive the car?
- When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
- How much oil does it use?
- What oil do you use in the car?
- What parts have been replaced?
- When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
- What’s the compression like?
- What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
- Has the vehicle overheated at any point?
- Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
- Is there any money owing on the car?
- Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
- Is the car tracked regularly or at all?
- When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
- Where do you store/park the car usually?
There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.
Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a First Gen NSX
Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.
- Overheating problems
- Significant Crash Damage
- Money owing on the car
- Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
- Excessive amounts of power
- Bad compression
- Bad resprays
- Significant rust problems
- Engine swaps with non-standard engines
- Significant track use
- Major engine or transmission issues
- Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)
Notes on the Owner
The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their first generation NSX (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.
- How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
- Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
- Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
- What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
- How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
- Do they know anything about the first generation NSX and the model they are selling? (For example, do they know it is an NA2 instead of an NA1?)
- What can they tell you about previous owners?
- Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
- What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
- What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
- How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
- How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?
If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another first generation Honda/Acura NSX.
Importing a Honda NSX from Japan
The section below is more of a general guide on how to import a Honda NSX from Japan to give you a rough idea of the process and what is involved.
Honda sold the most number of NSXs in the United States and Japan, so if you are struggling to find one in your location, importing an NSX from Japan may be a good idea. Exporting vehicles from Japan is a big business as it keeps the country’s motor industry moving and older vehicles become more expensive to run.
Japan also had access to some models such as the NSX-R that weren’t sold in other locations.
How to Import a First Gen Honda NSX from Japan
While importing an NSX from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually quite easy. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search “import Honda NSX”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for one of these cars based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.
Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.
Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:
JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.
Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.
Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.
Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!
Use a Private Importer
While the websites above are handy to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing a Honda NSX, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find the perfect NSX for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.
You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.
How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work?
The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles
They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.
Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.
While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.
Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.
Use the grade to reduce the number of NSXs you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you if possible (hence the recommendation for a private importer).
The Auction Check Sheet
Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a first gen NSX and where any problems are located.
Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.
What Does the Number Grade Mean?
- Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
- Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
- Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
- Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
- Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
- Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
- Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
- Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
- Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
- Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade
As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.
The Car Map
The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.
Our Guidelines for Importing a First Gen NSX from Japan
- Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
- If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
- Try to go through a private importer
- Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
- Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
- Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
- Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
- Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
- Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
- Avoid cars with unknown mileages
- Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
- Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents
Know Your Country’s Importation Laws
Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.