Just one year after it was first spotted testing at the Nürburgring, Honda’s front-engined V10 replacement for the original NSX was dead in the water
Honda NSXs are like buses. If one’s just gone, you’re in for a long wait until the next. But the gap wasn’t meant to be the yawning 11 years between the demise of the original and the arrival of the hybrid version we know today.
When the first-generation car ceased production in 2005 Honda was making plans for a replacement, to debut in 2010. The first tantalising signs of this project came in 2007 when a curiously modified S2000 was spotted lapping the Nürburgring. Longer and wider than the donor car that had been spatchcocked to make it, this engineering mule featured re-angled screen pillars, a crudely applied fixed roof, stacked quad exhausts, and a set of British number plates that, according to the UK’s DVLA, identified it as a ‘Honda Unknown’.
The real giveaway, however, was in its stated engine capacity of 5000cc. In fact, gossip said the second-generation NSX was to be even more muscular than that, running a 5.5-litre V10 mounted at the front, breaking from its forebear’s mid-engined layout. Rumour had power at somewhere around 410kW, and this chunky amount of grunt was fed through a double-clutch gearbox and four-wheel drive. On the basis of the spec sheet, this had the potential to be Honda’s LFA, but with more grip and snappier shifts.
By 2008 the mutant S2000 had been superseded by visually representative prototypes, with styling based on that of the 2007 Acura Advanced Sports Car Concept (below). Dressed in zebra camouflage wrap, these became regular sights at the Ring, casually banging in GT-R-challenging sub-7min 40sec lap times.
Unfortunately, while the V10 prototypes kept thundering through the Grüne Hölle, the world’s economies were going through a hell of their own and, like all large corporations, Honda began to feel the pinch, posting an 81 per cent drop in profits. In no mood to press on with non-essential projects, Honda CEO Takeo Fukui used his year-end speech in 2008 to announce the V10 NSX would be culled, along with the company’s Formula 1 programme. A V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive large-car platform was also scrubbed from the product plan.
The death of the NSX V10 might sound like cause for regret, but Takanobu Ito, the man who replaced Fukui as CEO in 2009, was less rueful. Years after the project died he spoke openly about its demise, stating that an NSX should be ‘clever, with a focus on dynamic development’ as if to imply that the front-engined version had neither of these qualities. He also admitted that killing the car, which happened while he was senior managing director, caused such an angry reaction from engineers that in the aftermath of its cancellation he was ominously warned not to visit the R&D labs.
All was not completely lost from the V10 NSX project, however, since work completed on the racing version was recycled to make the HSV-010 (above left), an entrant for the Japanese Super GT series running a 3.4-litre V8 and rear-wheel drive, as demanded by the series’ regulations. Normally, racers in this championship had to be based on production cars, but Honda ducked this edict by claiming the HSV was derived from a production-ready design, thereby highlighting how close the V10-powered road car had been to going on sale. As it was, the world wouldn’t be able to buy a new NSX until 2016.