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You can thank the original Acura NSX for a lot of things: It put Acura on the map in the U.S.; it forced Ferrari to clean up its act with the F355; it started the "VTEC just kicked in, yo" thing, and the list goes on. The NSX also apparently had a profound effect on one Gordon Murray, the mastermind behind the McLaren F1. If you're a fan of the F1–and if you're reading this website, you are–you should probably thank the NSX.
Acura is celebrating its thirtieth birthday this week–its first U.S. dealers opened March 27, 1986–so, now's a great time to reflect on its most important car. While much has been written about the NSX (especially now that there's a new one), its influence on the F1 isn't quite as well known. Gordon Murray first professed his love for the NSX in an article posted to Honda's Japanese website, that's been translated to English.
Honda was developing the NSX at the same time it supplied engines for McLaren's F1 team, giving Murray an opportunity to check out early versions of the Ayrton Senna-developed car. Before the NSX, Murray said the closest car to what he wanted to build was the Porsche 911, but he wasn't too keen on its rear engine layout. The 911 was daily driveable, but the engine mounted aft of the rear axle gave it "a weakness in its handling stability." The NSX combined the 911s usability with a superior mid-engined layout.
"The moment I drove the 'little' NSX, all the benchmark cars–Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini–I had been using as references in the development of my car vanished from my mind," said Murray. "Of course the car we would create, the McLaren F1, needed to be faster than the NSX, but the NSX's ride quality and handling would become our new design target."
Engineering documents shown in the BBC documentary How to Go Faster and Influence People: The Gordon Murray F1 Story (seen at 47:00) reveal that the Ferrari F40, Lamborghini Countach, BMW M1, Porsche 959, and the Bugatti EB110 among others were benchmarked for the F1. That the NSX stood head and shoulders above the others is high praise for the Honda.
Murray said the NSX's aluminum suspension and drive-by-wire throttle were especially great, the latter of which he copied for the F1. He also had great things to say about the driving position and hilariously, the NSX's air conditioning. Murray says he owned an NSX for a number of years, but like many, he wishes it had more power.
"[T]he NSX's very rigid chassis is excellent and would easily be capable of handling more power," Murray said.
While their performance levels are considerably different, there are striking similarities between the NSX and the F1. Both were intended from the outset to be used as daily drivers–one just happens to have 357 horsepower more than the other. Murray actually wanted Honda to build the engine for the NSX, but the company didn't want to make the investment. Instead, he turned to Paul Rosche over at BMW Motorsport who designed a brilliant 627 horsepower V12.
Even with a BMW engine, there's still a lot of NSX in the McLaren F1. The F1 did everything the NSX did, only with way more performance.