Twenty five years deep, Honda’s luxury label has seen its share of ups and downs, though a refreshing nod to the past could send them speeding into a new age of dominance.
Natural Born Hustler
The year was 1986, long before Yeezy ever went Bapeshit for the latest in Far East fashion. On a level tenfold of kicks or selvedge denim, Honda – already established as an international player in the car game – had luxury buyers turning Japanese. Under the newly coined marque of Acura, the company previously known for its econoboxes, had made it clear that brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz were ambitiously in their crosshairs. Sporting the tagline “Acura. Precision Crafted Performance.” it was clear the cookie-cutter image garnered by the parental unit wouldn’t fly in this division of sales. Initially introduced to US and Canadian markets, both offerings – the Legend and Integra – were instant hood classics.
Not to downplay the brand’s success in more affluent zip codes, but Acura’s urban embrace – especially with the roomier, four-door Legend – came with little surprise. In what was also the inaugural era of the yuppie douchebag, Bimmers were the ride of choice in the Members Only set. Benzes still went heavy in the streets, but they had old money connotations. The Acura was something new from a far off land. Its clean, high-end styling was a subtle step to the Europeans by the Japanese; like “Yeah son, we can ball too.” Meld that with a plush cabin and relative quickness when pushed, and you had a dream car for doing dirty. Just like your neighborhood hustler, the “Ac” – as it came to be known – was reliable as the night was long. Street economists quickly saw its worth, and like in so many other instances, Hip-hop soon followed suit.
A young Jim Jones had the ’97 coupe when he didn’t know how to act. Prodigy kept a MAC in the engine bay of his – which he may have used to send shots through your Vigor. Speaking of Vigors – a later offering from the brand – Jadakiss’s was just broke, so sippin’ malt liquor behind the wheel apparently held little consequence in his mind. Big Pun was also packinamac, but his was in back. And even Biggie’s moms pimped one with her minks. From a lyrical standpoint, Acura’s stamp on rap music is deep and unfading. Cast your hate and blame it on the seemingly endless rhyme options, but numbers don’t lie. In only its second year of production, the fledgling hustler in its own right was already pulling numbers close to its aforementioned European competitors. Toyota’s new Lexus line would soon be introduced to try to steal way some thunder, but in a time where rap arguably connected more with its listeners, Acura was riding high; going from kingpin coach to certified status symbol in just a few short years.
With the unprecedented success, Honda set sights for its better dressed half on global domination. In the first decade alone, dealerships sprang up in Mexico, Hong Kong and China. But the triumphs allowed for something more than just new real estate. A strong reinvestment in design, research and development would soon have them ponying-up to a whole new class of automotive rivals. Something truly wicked was in the works.
The Halo Effect
All you OFWGKTA riders, step off. That sleek, vintage whip in the Frank Ocean video was cool long before he was, and will probably remain a star long after he’s cashed his last crooning check. For those that slept, the car in reference is of course the Acura NSX; a lightweight, mid-engine rear wheel drive beast commissioned as the brand’s original halo car. As the first production automobile to sport an all-aluminum monocoque body, the NSX (New Sportscar eXperimental) emerged from Honda’s design studios with high expectations and lofty goals. The project’s original performance target was the Ferrari 328. Race luminaries like Bobby Rahal and the late Ayrton Senna played rolls in its development and tuning.
First hitting showrooms in 1990, the NSX was now Acura taking it to the face of Ferrari and Porsche. Adorned with an all new corporate emblem – a stylized pair of calipers that in turn form the silhouette of an ‘A’ – the low slung exotic delivered all the elements of a supercar, with none of the suck. Its 3.0L, VTEC (Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control) V6 pushed out 270 horses at 210 lb-ft torque, which were quite respectable numbers for its time. On top of tight handling and of course the good looks, the NSX quickly earned the reputation of being an extremely reliable ride – something its pricier competitors had never really been able to brag about. The car’s $60K starting sticker also had many a collector wondering why they were shelling out double and triple for models that spent more time in the shop than on the road. Sold relatively unchanged for 15 years, the NSX ended production in 2005 with more than a cult following of loyal fans. Even Vanilla Ice owning one couldn’t make it lame.
R, You Ready?
Whether you hail from the 305 or the 402, it’s happened to you. You’re at a red light, when a busted hatchback rolls up on you, sounding like a swarm of angry bees. Strapped in what looks to be an adult-size baby seat, the driver – with his ridiculously bad taper haircut – turns down his reggeton or Skrillex enough to let you hear him rev the piss out of his engine, before taking off with a “pop pop wheeeee”. As he fades into your laughter, the last thing you see is a colossal red R.
Believe it or not, all of said buffoonery is a devout – albeit misguided – form of flattery that can originally be traced back to one single car, the Integra Type-R. Sold only between the years of 1995 and 2000, the race-prepped, strategically refined trim level of Acura’s immensely popular 3-door quickly became the Louis V. bag of the asphalt. Around the same time when The Fast and the Furious glamorized the world of underground drag racing, the Type-R was the car to be seen in, and like the bag, most of them were knock-offs. Though the lower trim level GS-R was a solid racer in its own right – with a ton of mod potential – the Type-R became highly coveted for not just its exclusivity, but extremely aggressive tinkering in almost every aspect of its build. While its said that the car’s precision tuning caused Acura to lose money on every single unit sold, its image alone spawned a multi-million dollar aftermarket, focused on duplicating its look and feel. Want one of the quickest, most fool proof ways to spot a fake? Count the wheel lugs. True Type-Rs had five, as opposed to four on the rest of the model line – that’s a pricey conversion to pull off.
Return of the Ac’
Not many an auto-eroticist would argue that Acura’s contemporary image hasn’t slipped into a place of complacency. With modern day models sporting alpha-numeric names that have robbed a bit of the brand’s character, Honda’s luxury arm has been moving many decent cars, but none that have really wowed the public, until now. Recently unveiled on the auto show circuit and showcased in a star-studded Super Bowl ad, the rumors are no more. Acura will indeed release a second generation NSX, a hybrid drivetrain sculpted wedge, with final assembly in the far-off land of – Ohio? Yes, purists may scoff at the domestic build strategy, but the brand claims its plans are rooted by a strong faith in their American workers, and a commitment to build cars within the market they typically sell. If you’re going to argue that one, you might as well burn a flag while you’re doing so.
Assigned a model year of 2015, the latest concept now has the NSX looking a bit more Lamborghini than Ferrari, yet decisively Eastern in aesthetic. Three years borderlines on an ?eternity in the automotive world, but Acura’s marketing has already shifted into overdrive to build hype. By now you’ve probably peeped the commercial, a sophomoric bit that has devout Porsche pusher Jerry Seinfeld, battling Jay Leno – who’s scrapped his Denim Dan look for a jetpack – for the rights to the first NSX off the assembly line. Not Hollywood enough for you? The concept will also be playing a predominant role in the upcoming Avengers flic, reportedly as Tony Stark’s preferred form of transportation.
Will it be the stuff Legends are made of (pun intended)? Regardless of all the surrounding star power, few suspect that Acura won’t come correct on what’s without a doubt the most exciting thing to hit their lineup in over a decade. Besides, with three years until the drop, it would be an epic fail if the new NSX wasn’t one of the most invigorating automobiles of 2015. Expect the next 36 months to be filled with power debate, production teaser shots and of course the inevitable MSRP speculation.
Something tells us that whole ‘affordable supercar’ legacy of yore may take a back seat this time around. But if that’s what needs to happen for some of the style and panache of a superhero-grade halo car to trickle down onto the masses, then by all means Acura, go hustle them one-percent rack stackers. We salute you!