VTEC was nearly left out of the original Acura NSX

Technology was only added at a relatively last-minute suggestion

The original Acura NSX has obtained a legendary status among enthusiasts, but it almost went to production without its famed variable valve timing and lift electronic control. Yes, VTEC.

Acura celebrated 30 years since the original NS-X concept debuted at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show on Wednesday and shared some inside knowledge about the development process, including the fact engineers never intended to fit the engine with Honda’s banner VTEC system.

The NS-X concept featured a running engine, but it was a far cry from what we think of today. Mounted in the middle of the car was a SOHC V6 shared with an Acura Legend sedan. Ahead of the press conference to debut the flagship supercar, Honda Motor Company President Tadashi Kume decided to fire up the NS-X. Although he caused a stir among the crowds wondering what Acura had hiding, Kume wasn’t entirely sold.

The original Acura NSX almost came without VTEC. | Screenshot

The original Acura NSX almost came without VTEC. | Screenshot

He turned to the engineering team and asked why the NS-X wasn’t designed with the new VTEC system that research and development departments had put the finishing touches on. The engineers told him VTEC was only developed for 4-cylinder engines, but Kume didn’t buy it. He pushed the team to include VTEC in the V6 engine design.

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After Kume’s calls for VTEC, engineers placed top auto journalists behind the wheel of the NS-X prototype following the car’s debut. Each of them agreed the car performed superbly, though it seemed down on power.

At that point, the decision was final. VTEC kicked in.

The prototype (top) and production models are shown. | Acura photo

The prototype (top) and production model are shown. | Acura photo

The inclusion of the technology created a bespoke V6 engine for Acura’s banner supercar, though it led to some other design changes. As seen in the photo above, the NS-X was originally meant to have a shorter footprint and slimmer front and rear overhangs.

The V6 engine, now with VTEC included, had a wider cylinder head, which forced designers to stretch the car slightly longer. According to Acura, the changes all occurred quickly before production.

The last call for VTEC likely helped cement the original NSX as a true world beater. It successfully carried out Honda and Acura’s mission to show the world supercars didn’t have to compromise ergonomics and comfort in the name of performance. It’s an ethos Acura says it still carries with the current NSX.

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