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Clarion Builds Resurrects and Improves a 1991 Acura NSX

Clarion Builds, the marketing division of Clarion USA, is getting a reputation for building and restoring tasteful examples of iconic classics. The way their plan works is driven partly by their love of the automobile and their desire to breathe new life into cars that left mental impressions on enthusiasts everywhere.

“We decided to do ClarionBuilds as a unique marketing exercise that gets creative from the perspective of how you really want to talk to your audience,” said Clarion’s Vice President of Marketing and Product Planning, Allen Gharapetian. “Sure, anyone can do a traditional magazine advertisement for a company, show the boss a copy of it and say, ‘here’s what we did,’ and hopefully, he will respond with 'good, good!' We wanted to be different.” Their first go-round resulted in the successful restoration and subsequent charity auctioning of a 1974 BMW 2002 coupe. Using social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram as a means for getting their message and progress out, Clarion Builds claims the project was good for nearly a billion media impressions. Those are serious numbers.

Go east, young man

This time, the brand moved away from the Old Continent and zeroed in on the Pacific Rim for inspiration. They selected a 1991 Acura (Honda) NSX, aka the supercar for the masses, as their latest restoration project. They located a driver, in this case, an NSX with approximately 240,000 miles on the odometer, to serve as the canvas for this latest effort. Finally, they contacted Honda and Acura specialists AutoWave of Huntington Beach, California, to do the work.

Everything old is new again

AutoWave’s Mike LaPier is a second-generation owner who, along with his father, founded the company in 1985. They have worked on nearly 730 copies of the 8,700+ NSX models sold in North America. “This NSX came to us with 240,000 on the odometer. We ended up replacing the tired ’91 V6 with a low-mileage (6,000-miles) 3.2-liter model from a wrecked 2002 version, so we felt as though we were starting with what was basically a new engine. It was a JDM version that we think might have made its way from an NSX-R. We did a complete overhaul of it, adding new seals, cams, plugs, VTEC valves, a new timing belt, water pump, and all the maintenance that the engine needed. The original mill was good for roughly 202 horsepower. We added a CT Engineering supercharger ($11,000), a Honda six-speed manual transmission and a StopTech four piston big brake kit all the way around.”

To help it breathe easier, AEM supplied a custom intake, air filter and exhaust which sounded as good as it looked. Fiberglas experts Downforce Parts supplied two-inch wider front and rear fenders to protect the Rays Engineering Volk ZE40 wheels and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires that are part of the package.

We were curious what would be a starting point at recreating this car similar to the way ClarionBuilds has done? “First, you have to find a car that hasn’t been crashed. These cars are aluminum, and are frail as a result. You want to inspect all the body panels, to make sure they haven’t been replaced, as the result of a shunt.”

We recommend finding out the history of the car through services like Vehiclehistory.com, which can tell you whether this car, which LaPier says “was actually one of the best-engineered cars to come from Japan,” is fully sound. “The best thing to do is to take their newly found car to an NSX specialist near where they live. These specialists know the cars from front to back and know what to look for in the way of wear and tear.” To which we might add, with the introduction of the new 2017 Acura NSX, buyers should hurry because prices on the very-collectible first generation cars are climbing as quickly as a Space-X rocket.

“The only things we replace on these vehicles are the rubber seals, rubber O-rings and so on. The engines are great, and so are the suspensions. We tend to look for bad window regulators, which get slower, and the audio systems that tend to go bad over time.”

“Other than that, the car stays solid. Truly, not to insult the NSX, but what we are looking at is a supercar with Honda Civic reliability. We see many high mileage NSX models in our shop. There is a customer who has been religiously servicing with us for 300,000 miles. His NSX is nearly 480,000 miles from new. Nothing really goes bad on these cars. They’re not going to be rusting out or having a suspension that goes bad. The contemporary NSX is Japanese engineering at its best,” says LaPier.

Interior design

The NSX’s interior received a thorough going over that had it looking as good as any of its contemporary competitors, such as Ferrari or Audi may have. Reupholstered by LeatherSeats.com, it had a tan look and feel that improved on the tired hides it replaced.

The ClarionBuilds NSX wouldn’t be worth a damn had the company not supplied an over-the-top audio system. Once again, they did not disappoint. The NSX’s original system was replaced with a custom fiberglass housing by Downforce to serve as a mounting point for the Clarion NX706 32 band EQ-equipped system with seven-inch touch screen.

Dubbed the Clarion FDS System, for the Full Digital Sound that arrives at the speakers, it is comparable to a 1400-watt system, which uses five times less energy than a conventional system. A Clarion Z3 Processor with Tweeters and rotary controller ($999), a set of Z7 mid-range speakers ($799) and a passenger side footwell-mounted Z25W subwoofer ($749) round out the system. While it doesn’t exist as a complete turnkey solution, you could piece it together for a cool $3,550, including housing.

Drive we said

As with the BMW 2002, Clarion Builds partnered with two-time Formula Drift champion Chris Forsberg for vehicle shakedowns and demonstration rides at Willow Springs Raceway in the Mojave Desert region of California. He gave go-fast, tail-swinging rides to invited guests, just because he could, but the reality is this car is not really set up to go sideways like his Nissan 370Z drift cars. As the number of guests dwindled, and so sure of the cars ability and robustness, we were offered the chance to get behind the wheel to put the NSX through its paces ourselves.

It had been a while since we were last in a stock NSX, but what a difference a rebuild-and a blower make. Instant on, as in “instant on” radar, the NSX’s V6 announced its presence with authority, and thanks to the Michelin Super Pilots with loads of grip. Steering was stiff in a manual sort of way but easy to control, nonetheless. The OEM six-speed gearbox clicked its way home in each gear for sure-footed forward momentum.

Acceleration was smooth and linear and just kept going as though there were no end to what was on tap. That was until reality had us squeezing the StopTech binders to negotiate a hairpin on Willow’s Horse Thief Mile road course. Tuck the nose in, feed a little throttle, then mash it again for another neck-snapping go-round. Thank you sir, may I have another.

We asked AutoWave’s LaPier about the power on hand in this “new” old NSX. “We have dyno-tested it to 380 horses at the crankshaft and 344 hp at the wheels. It manages 380 lb-ft of torque and should do 0-60 in 4.3-seconds, with a quarter mile run estimated to be 13-seconds at 115 mph. It is a nice street-driven car that weighs 3,200-pounds and should top out at 200 mph. You can drive this car to Vegas and back. The A/C blows cold. You can also use it and not embarrass yourself at the track,” he said.

“I like how the media talks about it and help to share the vision of what the people in the program are doing with these cars,” says Gharapetian. “We hear a lot about Clarion, which of course is our purpose but we are really doing this out of our love for cars and our love for bringing something back. Our first project was, eventually, headed for the junkyard. Ethically, this gives us a drive, like there is a higher purpose. And at the end of it all, this car, like the BMW 2002 before it, will again be auctioned off for charity.”
Read more on AutoEvolution.