Subjecting to Severe Tests at Nurburgring

The world’s first mass-production car to offer an all-aluminum, monocoque body.

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<< 7. NSX: A Constant Evolution

The team spent an entire month at the Suzuka Circuit in the early stages of D-development, where they conducted numerous evaluations using their test car. Then in February 1989, the team had an opportunity to ask famed F-1 driver, the late Ayrton Senna—who had come to Japan in order to test a McLaren F-1 machine–to drive their car.

“I’m not sure I can really give you appropriate advice on a mass-production car, but I feel it’s a little fragile,” said Senna, referring to the car’s apparent lack of rigidity. And even though the car was designed for a level of rigidity equaling that of a Porsche or Ferrari, Senna was able to sense slight differences that would have been well beyond range of the typical driver. But based on that comment, the team raised its objectives for rigidity in April, turning again to the test car in order to ensure their target was met.

The chosen test site was to be West Germany’s famed Nurburgring high-speed race course. It was a memorable location for Honda, the site of the company’s F-1 debut. The circuit had an overall length of 20.8 km, over 200 blind corners, and a 300-meter change in elevation. It was an extremely difficult circuit for cars and drivers alike, for whom extreme skills were needed to maneuver through steep ascending and descending sections of track lined with dense plantings of trees. So, it was believed that the course would reveal problems they couldn’t see in Japan. To them there was no better environment in which to test what they hoped would become the world’s finest sportscar.

Thanks to the assistance of Honda R&D Europe (HRE), the team was able to secure an office and garage in Müllenbach, a town located just two kilometers from the circuit. With their new workshop set up, it was to be the first time a Japanese automaker would conduct long-term testing at an overseas location.

The course offered an immediate venue for the series of tests the team had devised in order to increase their car’s rigidity. They knew that on an extremely difficult course such as Nurburgring even a slight delay in the vehicle’s response to input would obliterate the marriage of interaction between car and driver, and thus rob the latter of the ability to accelerate appropriately. And what they learned was that the body’s poor rigidity had everything to do with the failure of that relationship.

It was an iron-clad rule for any overseas test that in the event of an issue that couldn’t be fully conveyed to the staff in Japan, the team on-site must tackle the issue independently. So, in West Germany the design engineers in charge of the vehicle’s various components took turns sitting in the front passenger seat, evaluating the car’s performance along with the test driver. If any problem was found, a solution would be devised on the spot. It was a distinct departure from the norm, but the team knew it was the only way to build the world’s best car.

The test data taken on site was immediately sent back to the R&D Center in Japan, where the numbers were fed into a computer for analysis. It was in this stage that the optimal shape was determined in order to maximize rigidity and minimize weight.

Accordingly, the car’s rigidity was increased by 50 percent as compared to the figure in place immediately before the West German tests. And so, after eight long months of effort, they had at last achieved the levels of dynamic performance and comfort demanded for a world-class sportscar. The team had arrived at the consummate integration between man and machine.

The 81st Chicago Auto Show held in February 1989 saw throngs of media and consumers surrounding a bright-red sportscar--Honda’s new NS-X (Note: the NS-X was actually introduced as an “Acura” brand car, the upscale sales channel in the U.S.). The development code name, NS-X represented “new,” “sportscar” and “unknown world,” X being the mathematical symbol for an unknown value. It was the prototype for a new offering that Honda believed would captivate driving enthusiasts around the world.
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