We were pretty harsh on old supercars in our video about the NSX. We called the unreliable, impractical, and even slow.
Was that really warranted?
After all, these were the cars people had posters of. The cars that the “Wolves” of Wallstreet drove, and the cars that movies and TV shows used to show that someone is better than the rest of us plebeians.
To find out, today we have this handy list of iconic 80s supercars, and we will be comparing them directly to the legendary Honda. We will let you come to your own conclusions.
First, we need to establish a baseline.
That’s not really amazing, frankly. A new crossover is faster and costs a quarter of that. Does that mean that a Rav 4 Prime is better than every supercar made before 1991? It might, but that’s not where we are going today.
Today we are going to look at a little Honda that dared take on the giants and stunned the world.
You don’t have to take our word for it either. This article in Car and Driver, written when the NSX was unknown, said that it was revolutionary. They said it was the best sports car you could buy.
So… What was out there to revolutionize?
Lotus Esprit Turbo
0-60: NSX -0.7s
Ponies: NSX +10
Price: NSX + $20,000
First up on the chopping block is the Lotus Esprit Turbo, which was ancient by the time the NSX came out. In 1991, it was pushing 10 years old and was largely unchanged. It’s no surprise that James Bond was fond of it; they both are old and lack firepower.
Why would we say something so cruel? Well, to be honest, the Walther PPK and the Lotus Esprit have a lot in common. They are both British. They both look stunning. And they both fall short of the firepower their rivals bring. For the Walther, that means a 38 in a 45’s world. For the Esprit, that means a four-banger in the V12 world.
Still, a turbo four is nothing to be ashamed of. It did make a hair more power than the NSX at the top and could be motivated to sixty miles per hour in a half-second quicker.
Or at least it would if it ran. The electronics that controlled the boost had a habit of failing. The transmission liked to self-destruct. The build quality is atrocious.
Numerous reviews of the era mention that the doors feel like they are about to fall off, and the windshield is difficult to see out of. They liked to use the word “homemade.” We had the opportunity to drive one around, and think they are being very, very generous. 80s GM is a step up.
When you compare that to what is basically a Honda Accord with the engine in the wrong spot, well, it’s easy to see why the Esprit graced the bottom of most lists while the NSX sat on top.
Still, at least you wouldn’t have paid 200 grand for the experience.
To do that, you’d simply need a Ferrari.
0-60: NSX +0.7
Hold on a second, we know what you are thinking. Why the 308? Why not the Testorosa or the 288? Why would we compare the NSX to a car that had already been replaced twice?
Well, three reasons. First, it was the same price, and very similar in performance. Which sounds insane, especially in today’s market. But when they were new, they were 26 grand. With inflation accounted for, that means in 1990 they were $60,000. The same as the plucky Honda.
Second, it has the best chance of standing up to the NSX in terms of livability. It’s known as one of the most reliable Ferraris, and one of the cheapest to maintain. Sites like Evo.co.uk even sing its praises, saying, “It’s a simple car by modern Ferrari standards; generally reliable, relatively easy to work on, and good value.” Right before telling you about all the very expensive things that will break.
Well, what do you want from the most reliable Ferrari? That’s sort of like saying you found the warmest place in Antarctica. You are still going to freeze to death, as Tavarish found out on CarTrek.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for a comparison of exotic cars, the 308 is instantly recognizable. For a lot of people, it’s THE Ferrari. It’s the one from the TV, after all.
In fact, if you asked people what the most recognizable supercar ever was, anyone born before 1990 would say that the Ferrari 308 was a good second. The most recognizable supercar, of course, is the one that every auto shop had a poster of.
0-60: NSX – 0.1s
Ponies: NSX +181
Let’s end strong today with one of the most iconic cars from the 80s or any era. The Lamborghini Countach. It’s got six more cylinders than the NSX and nearly 200 more horsepower.
Is it fast? Hell. Yes. And it looks damn good. For twice the price, it had better.
It’s also wildly uncomfortable and nearly impossible to work on.
Even a glowing review from Car and Driver in 1983 takes time to note that driving in traffic is akin to spending an hour in the gym.
“If driving it requires earplugs and the strength of two legs on the clutch, well, nobody ever said being a bad boy was all fun.”
The seat doesn’t recline, there’s no legroom, and you can’t see out of it. As for reliability? Just ask Hoovie.
That’s a far cry from the NSX, which the same publication said could fit everyone and be so easy to drive it was almost boring.
We know which one we’d want.
What Even Is “Better?”
And that’s the problem in the end. The NSX is reliable, comfortable, and “better” than a lot of its contemporaries. It’s cheaper, is easy to drive, and frankly, looks better than the “supercars” of the vaporwave era.
It checks every box. But just like when a robot tries to paint a picture, it lacks something. You aren’t sure what it is, and you only notice it when it’s gone. The Lamborghini has it. The Carrera GT we talked about had it.
And we will always be in pursuit of it.
Thanks for reading.
If you like these kinds of car stories, make sure to check us out on YouTube. We have a new series called Overdrive, and it’s right up your ally.
Or, if you are in the market for something far more practical, check out this article on SUVs that will last half a million miles or more.