American designer injecting Acura NSX with red, white and blue blood
Don’t look now, but America’s next great supercar might actually be Japanese.
Or is it the other way around?
Over a 15-year stretch that ended a decade ago, the Acura NSX was developed and manufactured exclusively in Japan. A response to supercars from around the world, it delivered competitive performance at a much lower price. Only about 18,000 of the elegant coupes were sold, but as a halo product, it made a huge impact on Acura’s image.
Later this year, Acura will finally get around to producing an entirely new NSX – only this time it will be at its Marysville, Ohio, facility, making it arguably more American than the 2017 Ford GT, which will be built by a contractor in Canada.
The talent behind the body of the second-generation NSX is a very fortunate designer named Michelle Christensen, a 10-year veteran of Acura and a consummate sports car enthusiast who previously worked on four-doors like the ZDX and RDX.
"To get to work on a supercar is pretty cool," she said. "I was assigned to it, luckily."
For the 34-year-old, a graduate of California’s Art Center College of Design, the chance to take on on a high-performance project like the NSX is a lifelong dream.
"I love muscle cars. I grew up at hot rod shows. My parents would take me to drag races all the time. I definitely have an affinity for older cars, older American cars in particular."
She joined the project after one of the first next-generation NSX concepts was shown in 2012. Her task was to turn the show car into a real one, to channel the essence of an exotic car and adapt it to Acura. And it was no small task. There were some major changes to the layout of the mid-engine car that influenced its final design.
"After we took on the project, we had a big powertrain overhaul halfway through the development," Christensen said. "Originally, the concept had a transverse-mounted, naturally-aspirated V6. Then the team decided, ‘It’s the NSX – that’s not good enough.’"
The plan evolved into a hybrid powertrain with a twin-turbocharged, longitudinally-mounted V6, and Christensen’s team restyled accordingly. The change required additional air intakes and a focus on functionality over style.
"We came to these crossroads of making it more exotic and dramatic," she said, noting the revised look.
To the casual observer, the production-bound NSX resembles the several rounds of concepts that were shown at auto shows around the world. A closer, side-by-side inspection reveals the updates, though there’s no questioning their heritage.
"We tried to keep the purity of the original NSX," Christensen said.
That explains the 2016 NSX’s black roof and wraparound taillights, which pay homage to the iconic first-generation NSX. But in most other respects, the new NSX is a full departure.
"I’m hoping it will be just as timeless, but appropriate for the modern supercar customer," she said.
Call it an opportunity for Christensen to put her stamp on some American-made muscle of her own. She doesn’t yet have a collection of them, although she’s amassed plenty of scale models, and despite her Acura ties, someday, she dreams of owning a Chevelle SS.
Badge, nameplate, and brand aside, the all-important question for anyone claiming to have American sports car car cred is: red, white or blue?
"I think it looks pretty hot in the red we showed," Christensen said. "Red is such a sports car color."