“Cars are easy to love,” says Allen Gharapetian, Clarion’s Vice President of Marketing and Product Development. “We put together the Clarion Builds program because we wanted to give our audience – car enthusiasts – something they would appreciate.” After the highly positive reception the company received from their debut build, a 1974 BMW 2002, the car audio company wanted to take their follow-up project to the next level.
But as car guys, they say the selection process proved more difficult than anticipated. “It’s kind of a curse when you love cars – we ended up with dozens of different models we wanted to do,” jokes Gharapetian. After nearly settling on a Ford Capri – a 1970s favorite of performance enthusiasts in Europe – they decided to go in a different direction. “We started wondering what might be more iconic than a 2002,” explains Michael Farino, New Era Communications, who partnered with Clarion for the build. “That helped us narrow down the field.”
“When the original NSX was brought up, it was like a light bulb lit up over everyone’s head,” recalls Gharapetian. And so it was settled.
Still, the NSX is a particularly sacred cow among sports car aficionados, making it somewhat treacherous territory since the build would be judged by many who hold Acura’s everyday supercar in such high acclaim. But with Clarion also designing the new, second-generation NSX’s OEM entertainment system, it also made perfect sense. So, in the spring of 2015, the team started searching for a build candidate.
Restoring A Sports Car Icon
“We wanted to start off with something relatively stock and original,” says Gharapetian. At the same time, knowing they’d be taking some liberties with the design during the restoration project, they didn’t want to put a pristine, low-mileage example under the knife.
“The NSX was meant to be driven – an everyday supercar,” says Farino. “The car we found, which was pretty worn but still running surprisingly well at 228,000 miles, was an excellent example of that concept.”
Purchased in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in May of 2015, the car was transported back to the west coast where Gharapetian, who was uninitiated to the virtues of the NSX at the time, was somewhat nonplussed when the car was unloaded from the trailer.
“I thought it sounded like an Accord, and I started to wonder if we’d made a mistake,” he recalled. “But then after the transport guy left, I decided to take it on a short loop before parking it in the warehouse. A mile and a half later, I was in love.”
“…A mile and a half later, I was in love.” -Allen Gharapetian, Clarion Builds
Taking cues from the JDM-only NSX-R, the bodywork saw attention from Downforce USA, who supplied the NSX-R hood, rear spoiler, front and rear bumpers, and the slightly widened front fenders. Blu Caleum metallic two-stage paint by Glasurit was applied to give the NSX its eye-catching hue, while Rays Engineering VOLK ZE40 wheels (18-inch up front, 19-inch in the rear) wrapped in Michelin high performance rubber would provide more contact patch and give the car a modernized, purposeful look.
To bolster the car’s handling KW Suspensions supplied their Variant 3 coilovers, while CT sway bars help to curtail body roll and an Okuyama Carbing rear shock tower brace enhances the car’s structural rigidity. StopTech also pitched in as well, supplying the build team with a big brake kit that included 328mm discs and four-piston calipers at all four corners.
And while the NSX’s original 270 horsepower 3.0-liter V6 and five-speed manual gearbox offered enough performance capability to keep things lively in 1991, Clarion sought to elevate the powertrain to the same level as the rest of the car.
“We could have done a K-20 swap or something like that,” says Farino. “But our engine builder, AutoWave, who specializes in Honda and Acura builds, had a 3.2-liter V6 from a 2004 NSX available, and we knew that would bolt right up with no chassis modifications.” But with only a 20hp difference between the new mill and the old one, Clarion knew they’d need to breathe on it a bit more. “We added a CT Engineering supercharger, a larger crank pulley, and fuel system upgrades to get the maximum benefit from the blower and allow us to switch from 91 octane to E85 fuel on the fly.”
AEM would play a major role in the engine upgrade as well. Not only did AEM provide an Infinity ECU, which would allow the builders to fine-tune the power delivery, but also a fully fabricated exhaust and intake system. The intake creation was actually a first-ever method for the company by 3D printing a prototype mold and laying carbon fiber over that mold, the latter of which dissolves during the curing process.
To channel that new shove to the rear wheels, they also swapped out the original five-speed manual transmission for a six-speed unit from a newer NSX. When all was said and done, the team put the car on the dyno at AutoWave and saw 403 horsepower at the wheels – nearly double that of the original motor.
Behind The Wheel
At the helm of the Clarion Builds NSX, the upgrades are noticeable in every aspect of the car, but they also don’t betray the attributes that made the original model so revered. Although there’s a lot more power on tap due to the addition of forced induction, the engine is still happy to pull all the way to its soaring 8,000 rpm redline. The linear power delivery, as well as the roaring song provided by the custom AEM dual exhaust system, encourage the driver to put the soundtrack on repeat.
It’s a similar story for the gearbox, which retains shifter action and clutch effort similar to stock while remaining highly gratifying to operate. It also feels up to the task of handling the power this 3.2-liter mill now generates.
Of course adding a bunch of horsepower to a car isn’t worth a whole lot if you’re not confident that you can bring it back down from speed in similar haste, so the new StopTech brake system is a welcome upgrade as well. Like so many of the upgrades involved in this build, it retains a factory-like feel that makes it largely effortless to zero in on the pedal effort required to scrub off the right amount of speed for a given corner.
While the KW coilovers and aftermarket sway bars do make for a stiffer ride than a stock NSX of the same vintage but it’s by no means objectionable, and the tuning provides a better balance with the performance capability available elsewhere in the car that the factory components couldn’t have offered even during their heyday. And it’s also worth noting that these coilovers provide ride height adjustability for those who’d prefer a little more ground clearance.
The steering remains gloriously unassisted, communicating a wealth of information through the wheel at speed, and the weighty steering effort is a welcome change from the commonly over-boosted racks found on many modern performance vehicles. Some folks may be less enthused about it during parking maneuvers and three-point turns, though.
On the whole, Clarion’s attention to detail with their NSX build has paid off in spades here. While this car differs substantially from its original configuration, it benefits from the project’s efforts in nearly every measurable way while retaining the easy-going “everyday supercar” mantra that made the NSX such a sensation in the first place.
Going Once, Going Twice…
Like what you see? Well if you act fast this NSX could be yours to keep, and you’d be helping a great cause in the process. Clarion has decided to auction off the car at Barret-Jackson’s Las Vegas auction at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Friday, October 20th, and 100% of the proceeds go to the American Red Cross.
“All along the way we had a plan that we were going to have fun building the car, have fun showing it around, and have some fun auctioning it off,” says Gharapetian.
“This was part of the program from the get-go,” explains Farino. “It’s also partially why everyone was so excited to get on board with the build process. And ultimately, with the work that the American Red Cross has done over the years as well as during the recent natural disasters that have affected various parts of the country – helping people rebuild their lives – we couldn’t think of a better cause to contribute to.”