A first-gen Acura NSX gets a new everything

Gallery Clarion Builds NSX Photo 1

The Clarion Builds program builds another build

All companies have marketing plans. Some are more interesting than others. One marketing plan we recently learned about has 348 hp and corners at over one g.

It’s actually the second generation of this particular plan. Two years ago, the Clarion car audio guys wanted to get people saying the word, “Clarion” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on the rare occasions when people actually spoke to each other. So the company found a 1974 BMW 2002 and rebuilt it with modern parts throughout, from wheels and tires to engine and trans and, of course, a car stereo system. The process was dubbed Clarion Builds and interested fans could follow it on social media, mostly Facebook at the time.

Now they’ve done it again, this time with a 1991 Acura NSX. With the same goal. If you do it right, with a cool car that people want to see get rebuilt, it can be successful — viral, even.

“Our program is about having fun,” said Allen Gharapetian, vice president of marketing and product planning at Clarion and chief of the Clarion Builds program. “We start with a project that we really like.”

And who doesn’t like the original Acura NSX? Last May, Clarion found a 1991 NSX with 240,000 miles on the odometer and went to work on the second Clarion Builds project. They sent it to AutoWave, a shop in Huntington Beach, California, that has specialized in Hondas and Acuras since its founding in 1985. AutoWave has worked on 728 NSXs in that time, almost 10 percent of the NSXs sold in America, according to Mike LaPier, second-generation Honda/Acura specialist at AutoWave. LaPier says they’ve established such a reputation as NSX specialists that Honda sends NSXs to them now.

NSX engine

AutoWave went through the whole car. Dropping the original engine (it comes out from below), a 3.2 V6 from a wrecked 2002 NSX was installed. On top of the new mill is a bolt-on CT Engineering supercharger. AEM made a custom intake, air filter and exhaust. The radiator is an aluminum Koyorad made for the NSX. The engine is mated to an OEM Honda six-speed manual. The car rides on Rays Engineering Volk Racing ZE40 rims wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, 225/40ZR-18s front and 265/30ZR-19s rear. Brakes are Stop Tech’s Big Brake Kit with four pistons for each 328mm x 28mm disc. It sits on KW Variant 3 coilovers front and rear with CT sway bars. To fit all that under the body AutoWave swapped in DownForce factory fiberglass fenders 2 inches wider than stock. The paint is Blu Caelum two-stage.

“The same as Lamborghini,” said Gharapetian.

Inside, the upholstery was done by LeatherSeats.com. The steering wheel is modified by Euro Boutique and the center console is trimmed with Downforce fiberglass.

Then there’s the audio system, fairly important for a car representing Clarion. The head unit is a Clarion NX706 7-inch touchscreen, 32-band equalizer and a Clarion Full Digital Sound system.

“It’s very, very efficient,” said Gharapetian. “It was made for hybrids and electric cars where power consumption is important. It consumes five times less power than other systems but we found that it makes very good sound. Everything in it is digital until you get to the sound coming out of the speakers.”

There are two speakers, two tweeters and a single subwoofer. Gharapetian says it is the equivalent of a 1400-watt system, though it uses far less power than that.

Clarion NSX interior

And how does the car drive? It will remind you why you liked the original NSX so much when that car came out, but more. Our first laps were as a passenger with two-time Formula Drift champion Chris Forsberg behind the wheel.

“It’s not really set up for drifting,” Forsberg said before we got in. “It’s more for power and speed.”

And with that we were off, roaring around Willow Springs’ Horse Thief Mile faster than a stock original NSX had ever gone. The exhaust definitely doesn’t sound stock — it roars like a Trans-Am racer. AutoWave estimates this car will do 0-60 in 4.3 seconds, the quarter mile in 13 seconds at 115 mph with a top speed of 200 mph. With a curb weight of 3,200 pounds and 348 hp to push it, those numbers could be right.

The grip felt substantial from the passenger’s seat, and Forsberg was pushing it hard. Around one tight corner, he brought the tail out and gave it a smooth, smokeless drift, showing the technique that got him to the podium so many times in his career so far.

Then it was our turn. Climbing into the driver’s seat we immediately felt the familiar confines of the old NSX. If you haven’t bought one of these yet, buy one, they will be collectibles in our opinion.

We sat very low to the ground and the power seat and steering adjusted perfectly to our lanky proportions. The clutch felt good, too, engaging a little higher up in the travel than we remembered but easily enough that anyone could drive this car and have a blast. We loved the manual transmission — the gears slotted right into place without ambiguity, though the gate felt a little worn.

Clarion NSX drift

And the power, holy Soichiro! Screw-type superchargers add power all the way across the tach, so there was no waiting for anything to spool up — it was just instant thrust available instantly. While LaPier said 348 hp, a spec sheet from AutoWave lists 380 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. Either way, good.

The tires were warm from all of Forsberg’s laps so we didn’t need to worry about warming up the Pilot Sport Cup 2s — we could go as fast as we dared. Horse Thief Mile is maybe not the most enjoyable of Willow’s many tracks, and we kind of wished we were on the Streets or the big course for such a powerful, well-sorted supercar. Basically you go up a hill, make a U-turn, then go down a hill. Repeat until you’ve carved a W and then do it all again. You have to factor in all the added kenetic energy of the car at the bottom of the downhill section then subtract it at the tops. But you can still have fun. Grip from the tires was amazing, it was almost like a set of slicks. Turn the steering wheel and the car just holds on. Granted, this is a slow track suited more to shooting television commercials than racing, but even in the slow corners it held on impressively. Even without all the new parts, the NSX would have felt fast, and if you have to make an investment, you could probably do worse than one you can take to track days and drive the tires off of.

Then all too soon it was over and we were climbing out, vowing to scan the classifieds in Autoweek for bargain NSXs. If this is marketing, sign us up.

“I like people to talk about it,” said Gharapetian. “It helps people to have a feeling about why we’re doing this, we’re doing this out of a love for cars.”

And that’s an excellent reason to do anything, don’t you think?

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