Resurrecting a Totaled Acura NSX Into a Dream Track Car


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photos by scott r. lear unless otherwise credited

When Honda’s U.S. luxury division debuted the NS-X concept in Chicago in 1989, it raised plenty of questions. Could Japan build a supercar to compete with the likes of Ferrari, Lotus and Porsche? Was Honda inspired or foolish to use aluminum throughout the car? And were Honda reliability and sports car soul mutually exclusive?

Honda had already demonstrated ample racing spirit in high-profile motorsports, most notably with the Formula 1 engines that carried the legendary Ayrton Senna to his three World Driver’s Championship titles. Wisely, they used Senna’s input in developing the NSX, granting the car an instant dose of sporting credibility with racing fans. Automotive journalists of the time were duly impressed by the final result, which successfully married daily drivability with exotic looks and performance.

Here was a supercar you could use everyday without becoming best friends with the tow truck driver. The use of five different aluminum alloys shed a reported 440 pounds from the final product without sacrificing stiffness–in fact, the car was apparently made more rigid in the final development stages based on Senna’s driving input. The high-revving, 270-horsepower VTEC V6 wasn’t the most powerful engine in its class, but the electrifying zing of revs just inches behind the driver’s seat only added to the experience behind the wheel. It’s been argued that the NSX heralded a new age of mechanical reliability in low-volume exotic sports cars, as the rest of the world had to compete at this new level.

The original NSX was sold on our shores for 15 long years, with a significant performance bump to 3.2 liters and 290 horsepower in 1997, and a facelift in 2002 that traded the pop-up lights for fixed xenon HIDs. Given the popularity of Honda and Acura cars in the tuner and amateur motorsports scenes during those years, many enthusiasts spent their formative years holding the NSX in high regard. It was a halo car, a someday-I’d-love-to-own-one dream.

Origin of a Dream

Ravi Tomerlin is now in his early 30s, but when he moved to the U.S. back in 2003 he undertook that classic 18-year-old rite of passage, turning his meager available funds into something to drive around his new hometown near Phoenix, Arizona. “I had $3000 to buy a car,” Ravi remembers. “It was a 1997 Acura Integra LS. The car blew a head gasket in the first two weeks of owning it. I had to go buy a shop manual, I didn’t have any money, and I had to fix it on the side of the road on I-17 by myself. It took three days.”

Suddenly armed with a car that once again ran, plus the firsthand knowledge that he could work on it successfully, Ravi was soon wrenching on his Integra in search of more performance. He had randomly picked as his first car one of the most popular chassis in the day’s import scene.

He started hanging out with other tuners in the area, and once the switch had flipped, he never turned back. “By 2005 I had turbocharged my engine as well,” he explains. “That one did blow up as expected, but by 2006 I had done a bunch more research and became more literate in the field. I was building engines with 400 horsepower reliably, and I started to track them.”

Ravi met up with Jason Boles of Club Racing Arizona–which later became part of the NASA family–and he volunteered his time as a corner worker to bank credit for eventual track day use. When Tage Evanson took over for NASA-AZ, Ravi kept on volunteering and rose through the ranks to serve as an instructor and HPDE group leader. “NASA-AZ has been absolutely awesome. I think I’ve missed two track days with NASA since 2009,” he says. “Once [was] after a car accident, the other I was out of town.”

The Integra served Ravi well for years, but eventually he sought something faster. He experimented with an R33 Nissan Skyline GTS-T Nismo, but he never clicked with the heavier car. “I got an FD RX-7 after that, extensively modified it: twin turbo, suspension, tires, brakes, I really enjoyed that car,” he says. Unfortunately, the Mazda was totaled on the street en route to a track event around Thanksgiving of 2009.

“I was hospitalized, completely out. Somehow the next day I ended up at the race track anyway, high on valium and morphine–a buddy took me to the track. I changed the timing belt on Tony Lisa’s Honda while high on painkillers,” he laughs.

Facing an empty spot in his garage, Ravi decided to give an Acura NSX a try in the winter of 2009. He found a white example with 85,000 miles. “I told myself I was not going to track this vehicle, and I’d keep it in mint condition,” he recalls.

How’d that work out? “In seven days that car was on a race track with tires and brake pads,” he confesses.

Ravi ran the NSX for three years, but as the paint chips continued to pile up and the odometer crept toward 120,000 miles, he made the decision to find an NSX that he’d be more comfortable abusing at the limit.

Chasing the Dream (to Ohio and Back)

In 2013 Ravi spotted an ad for a totaled NSX shell at a shop in Ohio. It had already been completely disassembled down to the bare tub so that it could be parted out, but the owner was willing to sell the car and its pile of components as a package deal.

“It’s mind-boggling how much room a car takes up when it’s fully disassembled,” notes Ravi. With the help of his buddies Aaron Hiar and Clayton Saffel, Ravi got off work at 4 p.m. on Friday in Arizona, drove the trailer to Ohio, loaded everything into the empty NSX shell and their tow vehicle, and made it back home before the start of the work day on Monday. The trip was 28 hours each way. The first winter storm of the year added to their adventure, inspiring them to seal up the windowless NSX with Saran Wrap in an effort to keep out the elements.

Ravi returned to Arizona to find he’d acquired one of only nine Acura NSXs that came painted Sebring Silver with an ivory interior, a color combo that was only available in 1991. The transmission and 3.0-liter V6 that had already been removed from the chassis were numbers-matching components, too.

“It was a shame to see it had turned into a pile of parts,” he says. Other than the engine and transmission, the only parts known to be original are the suspension components plus the hood and trunk lid.

“It had been totaled at VIR or Watkins Glen at one time, which resulted in a bunch of panels on one side being replaced,” Ravi adds. “It had a hard life.”

By January 2014 the NSX was running and sporting license plates. “The engine bearings were at the point where they were no longer supplying oil pressure,” he explains. “We had to replace the crankshaft. At some point it was boosted.

“Replacing the crankshaft on a 3-liter is very difficult,” he continues. “Jim Cozzolino and Science of Speed helped us find parts. We replaced the pistons with custom pieces from Tony Szirka of UMS Tuning and had the bores re-honed.”

Ravi wanted to keep the car naturally aspirated, so he moved the individual throttle bodies from his street car to the track machine. This high-compression 12.5:1 engine setup, despite the stock bore and stroke, makes 323 horsepower on pump gas, quite a bump from the 1991 NSX’s stock 244-wheel-horsepower figure.

“A lot of folks have a misconception that the NSX is really light,” says Ravi, “but it’s kinda heavy out of the box–3100 pounds.” The NSX’s advantage, he says, is the 60/40 rear-weight bias. “They turn in a very surreal manner,” he explains. “The NSX sometimes feels like a front-wheel-drive car in terms of how you attack a corner, late and hard with trail braking. The one big difference, with the rear bias you have to get the back end set–once it’s set you don’t want to get it upset.”

Shedding weight was a priority for the track, and starting with a completely bare tub meant that the busy work had already been done. “The biggest chunks of weight were the creature comforts,” he says. “The a/c system is fairly old and robust–everything’s oversized: the stereo, Bose with amplifiers, dual electric seats, sound insulation, windows, regulators, door bars.”

The track prep helped shed more pounds. His race headers and exhaust weigh less than the factory parts.

“We added Lexan instead of glass,” he continues. “With individual throttle bodies, there’s no heavy stock intake manifold or bracketry. The bumper beams are gone, replaced with crash bars. We even took 17 pounds out of the electrical harness: all the extra wiring for the ABS, computers, airbags, various little brains. We went through the car, unplugged stuff until it wouldn’t run, then plugged it back in.”

Various bits and brackets were also tossed. “We trimmed all the plastic from the back of the dash except for the skin,” he says. “That was like 30 pounds.”

Including driver and fuel, the NSX now nudges the scales at just 2380 pounds. “It’s like a big, fast Miata,” he says. “But with big grip and a lotta aero. If it ever feels like it’s gonna let go, you gotta remain calm and commit to the plan. If you become indecisive, it doesn’t reward you.”

Dreaming Bigger

Ravi’s debut with his lightweight NSX went well, as the pair captured their local NASA ST2 championship in 2015. The next year Ravi took home the Global Time Attack Pro Am Limited RWD championship; he made the cross-country trip to Virginia International Raceway for our Tire Rack Ultimate Track Car Championship in 2017.

His 2:10.254 lap around VIR was good but not great, placing him 31st in the 50-car field. “We need more power for the level of competition we’re doing,” he notes. “We’ll skip 2018. We’re most likely going to do the Science of Speed turbo kit.”

The full plan includes a bottom-end rebuild back to the stock 10:1 compression, sleeved block and forged internals. The NSX’s stock titanium rods will be retained. “We want as much meat on the sleeves as possible, so still 3 liters,” he adds.

While the turbocharger and cooling setup will surely add a few pounds to the Acura, Ravi thinks the power gains will help him hang with the more modern high-horsepower hardware. “Our goal is fairly low,” he admits. “We only need about 450 horsepower for the competition we’re looking for, but it should be able to handle 700 if we need room to grow.”

A 700-horsepower, sub-2500 pound NSX track monster sounds like a dream come true to us.

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Comments
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te72
te72 Reader
5/23/18 12:42 a.m.

Fixing a head gasket on the side of I-17? As a former resident of the Phoenix valley, I gotta give Ravi some credit for that, hardcore man! Very cool NSX too... shame they've caught the attention of collectors, right about the same time I was putting all the savings into having a house built too. Priorities, I guess. Would love a chance to drive an NSX someday. =)

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