Honda NSX celebrates 30 years since its concept debut (Chris Bruce)

Enjoy a treasure trove of images showing the NSX's early history, including design sketches and the original concept's reveal.

The Acura NSX celebrates a major part of the famous sports car's history at this year's Chicago Auto Show because this is 30 years after the original NS-X Concept's debut there in 1989. To mark the milestone, Honda's luxury division in the U.S., Acura, has released a nostalgic video and a treasure trove of photos revealing the original design sketches, the show car's unveiling, and the first media drive at Laguna Seca. 

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“Before NSX, it was always assumed that supercar performance came at the price of a comfortable interior and everyday drivability,” said Jon Ikeda, Vice President and General Manager of Acura, said in the automaker's trip down memory lane. “NSX shattered those notions, and raised the bar on every other exotic and supercar maker, with the effects still felt today."

1989 Chicago Auto Show Acura NS-X Concept

The NS-X Concept made its world debut at Chicago's Drake Hotel on February 9, 1989. However, the roots of the project began in January 1984 when the company started working on a new front-engine, front-wheel drive sports car. The work happened to coincide with the early stages of the Acura brand, which eventually arrived in America in 1986. The development of the performance machine eventually shifted to creating a mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive model as a halo car for Honda and its new premium brand. The earliest test mules for working out this drivetrain layout used a sliced up example of the company's tiny City. By the fall of 1985, sports car development began in earnest.

1989 Acura NS-X Concept
1989 Acura NS-X Concept
1989 Acura NS-X Concept

While the NS-X Concept looks quite a bit like the production car, it's actually shorter, both overall and in its wheelbase. This was mostly because the show car had a single-overhead-cam layout but eventually switched to a dual-overhead-cam setup with VTEC in the final version, which necessitated more space.

Iconic Formula One driver Ayrton Senna also drove an NS-X prototype in February 1989 and said that it felt "a little fragile." That statement from such an important person caused the engineers to put an emphasis on adding rigidity to the sports car. The effort, including testing at the Nürburgring, yielded a chassis that was 50 percent stiffer.

Original Acura NSX Launch

Honda's American team selected the NSX name, and it stood for "New Sports eXperimental." The engineers developed it as the NS-X to meaning "New Sportscar" and "X" represented the common mathematic symbol for an unknown value. The reaction to the concept was so positive that the company decided to retain the three-letter moniker.

Acura will hold a panel discussion on February 7 at this year's Chicago Auto Show that will include Ikeda and Csaba Csere, former editor-in-chief of Car and Driver magazine. They'll discuss the NSX's history, including its origins and impact on the supercar scene.