Home Commentary Honda’s CEO redlined the NS-X onstage before its debut in 1989

Honda’s CEO redlined the NS-X onstage before its debut in 1989

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NSX Debut
Acura NSX at Chicago Auto Show, February 1989.

Before Honda could unveil its sleek new sports car, Honda’s CEO decided to peg the throttle on-stage just because.

If it wasn’t for Honda’s public relations people waving their arms and shouting at Tadashi Kume, Honda’s then CEO, to shut off the NS-X, Honda might’ve postponed the launch of its NS-X by a couple of days thanks to Kume driving off the stage.

Acura NSX Prototype World Debut Press Conference in Chicago, February 1989.

It was February 9, 1989 and in a little ballroom at the Drake Hotel just four miles away from McCormick place, the location of the 81st Chicago Auto Show, several car manufacturers assembled in various ballrooms had their latest offerings for the year. Mazda brought their Miata, Nissan unveiled their twin turbo 300XZ a day earlier, Ford was introducing an all-new Lincoln Town Car and Honda was about to wow the world with their latest offering, a two-door rear wheel drive sports car.

By that time, the NS-X had already gone through five years of research and development with very few people actually seeing the finished prototype in the flesh. This was a big deal for Honda seeing as their bread and butter products were front engine front wheel drive cars. Not even then American Honda Public Relations vice president Kurt Antonius (who still works at Honda by the way) had laid eyes on it.

It was Kurt who seems to remember the most detail and recounts the story of the Acura NS-X’s almost disastrous entrance into the world. In Honda’s 50th Anniversary book, Kurt remembers,

“Kume wanted to inspect the car, so he took off the cover . . . and checked the paint quality, and looked at the fit and
finish of the vehicle.”

“Then he hopped inside and before we knew it, he started the engine. Keep in mind, right next door there was a Ford press conference going on. And we ran over to him. ‘Stop! Stop! Please stop!’ And he’s going ‘Vrooom! Vrooom! Vroooom!’These weren’t polite revs. He pegged the throttle. By the time we had our press conference, word had spread that we had a super sports car and the room was packed, wall to wall.”

Acura NSX Prototype World Debut Press Conference in Chicago, February 1989.

Reporter James R. Healey of USA Today recounted the event from his point of view a few days later. It should be noted that in his account of the unplanned spectacle Healey assumed the engine underneath the rear engine cover was a turbocharged V6 whereas it’s common knowledge today that Honda chose to keep it naturally aspirated. I’ve kept his quote unchanged, naturally, as it adds a certain authenticity of reporting in the late 80s.

Honda Motor Co. President Tadashi Kume climbed into the gleaming red prototype being readied for a news conference at the Drake Hotel here Thursday and fired up the 250-plus horsepower, turbocharged V-6 engine. The Thunder brought horrified public relations executives out of the woodwork in the small press room, frantically waving at Kume to kill the engine.

They figured that either the car would go roaring off the stage and smack into the Lincoln Town Car that Ford Motor Co. was showing off next door, or –the racket would at least bring enraged Ford minions screaming for quiet.

As an aside, Healy still writes for USA Today.

I’m pretty sure Kume knew what he was doing and just got a little excited, making sure his baby could wow journalists with its 8K redlining VTEC V6. I’ve linked a video of what the stock NA1 NSX sounds like at somewhere between 1,000-4,000 RPM. Can you imagine what it sounded like at its 8,000 RPM redline in a little ballroom?

From that moment on, the rest was history. Photographers rushed the press conference to snap a couple of shots and reporters hammered out their articles to hit the presses a few hours later.

Acura NSX at Chicago Auto Show, February 1989.

Acura officially launched Japan’s first supercar at the Chicago Auto Show to the public a few days later.

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