NSX Fiesta 1998 Special report No.1

NSX Fiesta, my perspective…Finally

(By Alexander A. Vizcarra, NSXCA – Southwest Region)

Sensory overload. This is what I would describe the whole week I was in Japan. Or rather, this is what I ended up having. Too many new things and places to see, and numerous new faces to meet. It was one of the very best NSX related weekend I have ever had.

I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and upon arriving at my brother-in-law’s apartment where I will be staying while in Tokyo, we immediately began planning the next few days. Website were checked out, and translated, as most of the neat Japanese websites that directed us to places worth checking out were in, well, Japanese.

DAY ONE – Wednesday 14 Oct. 1998

The first person I met up with was Skip, who had been in Tokyo since Friday the week before. He’s been going around, so he knew the subway system quite well.

You see, in Japan, most people do not speak English comfortably. I say this because I can tell that a lot of them understand some English, but are not comfortable enough to speak the language. But really, we didn’t mind, as most of them knew more English than we did Japanese. Anyway, my brother in law proved very indispensable when it came to making contact with these various NSX vendors. We got a hold of Mr. Mamoru Ogose, K&N distributor in Japan. Why him, you ask? What does he have to do with the NSX? Well, he also owns an outfit called “Gruppe M” that happens to be a manufacturer of NSX aftermarket parts. Among these parts is a supercharger kit, which I will tell you more about later. He also owns two NSXs, one supercharged, and one that is a Type-R. He is also the official RUF Porsche dealer in Japan. The guy is loaded. And an extremely nice person as well.

He offers to take us around that afternoon. He picks us up at the subway station near his office, and gives us a tour that has left both Skip and I breathless.

First, we go to an aftermarket shop that specializes in modifying NSXs, a place called “PHASE.” We see our very first Type-R parked outside. Inside their showroom, they have two NSXs, and the new Civic Type-R. One NSX appears stock, while the other was extremely modified. It had their version of a body kit, which was very interesting to look at… quite nice actually. Wide fender flares, huge wing, huge duct on the front hood, exposed headlamps, etc. The engine appeared modified as well, and an interesting thing to note was that on the driver’s compartment, there was a four way switch that enabled the driver to choose from four different computer programs. Intriguing. There were lots of parts around, from brembo brakes to carbon fiber body parts.

Then we moved on to another place called “MAC’S” which was an NSX reseller. And this particular branch we went to was the biggest in Japan, according to our tour guide, Mr. Ogose. It seemed to be, as they had in excess of 30 used NSXs on display. They were selling various NSX parts as well, but harder-to-get parts like NSX-R seats, gearshift knob, steering wheel, etc., and an “Acura” trim kit (badges, taillights, etc.). I don’t like this kit.

By now, my head was already spinning in delight. I am also running low on film. But the best has yet to come. We now proceed to a place called “MUGEN.” Yes, THE Mugen. Awesome facility. They were pretty tight on security as well. At first, we weren’t allowed to take pictures, but after a conversation between Mr. Ogose and what seemed to be like a Mugen engineer, we were allowed to take photos inside their showroom. They had a lot of cool stuff on display. They had an NSX as their centerpiece, which had the whole Mugen NSX catalogue on it. It had their radical body kit, complete with wide fenders, lexan rear engine hatch, exposed headlamps, and a rear panel that looked really wild. They also had most of their racing engines on display, from Formula One engines, to Formula 3 to an NSX engine apparently modified for the Japanese Touring Car Championship. They also had the Honda IndyCar engines on display, of which I understand they also supply a lot of parts for.

We now move on to our final destination of our tour, Mr. Ogose’s office. It was the K&N headquarters, actually, as I think his Gruppe M business office was quite far away. Anyway, this was where he had most of his parts in stock. He entertained us with some tea, and showed us pictures of his NSXs, and the parts he installs, as well as the Porsches he modifies and sells at his dealership. He brings us downstairs to his store room, and showed us various NSX goodies. What struck me the most was how he enjoys tweaking the NSX, and as a result, he has produced a few really trick parts for the car. Among which is a really neat boost gauge, which replaces the battery meter in our instrument panel. It is designed to match the rest of the instrumentation perfectly, so it looks completely factory. So those of you who have forced induction on their NSXs, THIS is the boost gauge to get. He also has a 300 KPH speedometer conversion kit, as in Japan, the speedos are limited to about 120 KPH. There is also a speed limiter in Japanese NSXs, so he has software that eliminates this. He also had a used NSX-R engine cover he wanted to get rid of, so he sold it to one of us for a song…

At this point, we had to head back, as we were to meet Doug, Dagmar, and my brother-in-law, Kervin, and his date, for dinner that evening. But Mr. Ogose insists that he give us a ride in his supercharged NSX, which he will have to pick up sometime after 7 PM. So he insists to meet us after dinner. We agreed, of course.

Towards the end of a very pleasant Japanese dinner somewhere in Tokyo, Mr. Ogose calls me on my cell phone. He says he is a couple of blocks from the restaurant, waiting for us. So, Doug, Skip and myself scooted over there, finding a black beast of an NSX, parked on a no-parking zone with the flashers on. I’ve seen this car before, in one of those Japanese magazines, but is even more impressive in person. It had yet another version of a body kit, of his own design, which actually looked quite good. It was laden with stickers, so it LOOKED fast. Racing seats, 17-18″ wheels, and brakes that looked like those of Motor Mail’s, but had a different logo on it. He says that he gets the brake calipers from a certain supplier in Italy, but not Motor Mail. (This really leaves some unanswered questions in my mind.) And yes, that supercharger sitting atop the engine. It is designed around an Eaton unit, with fittings that were mostly casted and was professionally finished, so the whole set up looks factory.

He takes me out first. He does a burnout as we left. Awesome sounding exhaust, and as he revved the sound of his car reverberated against the highrises, the exhaust note sounded like a Grand Prix motorcycle. And yes, the power is definitely there, and felt like a hundred more horses. He claims an “honest” 370 bhp at the flywheel. (Apparently, he’s on the NSX list as well.

We were careening through the very narrow streets of Tokyo in excess of 90 MPH, and I swear he had something going with the Police Department, as we passed at least a couple of cops, and both looked the other way. I was hanging on for dear life, not so much afraid of his driving, but am fearful for any pedestrian that might step on the road at the wrong time. Awesome ride, definitely worth the price of admission. Definitely worth staying up late for. But not really recommended especially right after dinner.

This car, along with other modified NSXs, is featured in the latest issue of the “HOT VERSION,” a well known Japanese automobile video magazine.

DAY TWO – Thursday 15 Oct. 1998

Phew! And that was just Wednesday. Thursday proved to be quite sedate, however, when compared to the previous day. Nothing much happened NSX-related during the day, as I spent most of the day roaming around Akihabara, the electronics district of Tokyo.

You’ll be overwhelmed with electronics as soon as you step out of the subway station at Akihabara. If you like gadgets, you’ll feel like you’re in heaven. But soon that feeling goes away as soon as you look deeper into the stuff available, as you will find that most of the equipment are for the Japanese market, and is not practical for use here in the States, though not impossible. The Yen had also strengthened significantly, so bargain hunting was more difficult.

Met up with Skip again later that afternoon, and we took the “Shinkansen” or the Bullet Train to Utsunomiya, our first stop of the weekend for the Fiesta. We first checked into our hotel, then we had a nice extended dinner at one of the better Japanese restaurants in the area. As we were walking back to the hotel, we see a couple of NSXs parked in the hotel lot. A yellow Type-R and a red coupe. We check out the R, and soon afterwards, we see the rest of the American stragglers walking toward us. They had all just flown in that afternoon, so they all looked quite tired (if I may say so 😉 With them were Mr. Nakamura of Honda, Mr. Tomiyoshi of the NSX Club of Japan, and Mr. Kase, the Type-R owner. Spirited conversation ensued, each trying out (sitting in, that is) Mr. Kase’s NSX-R. We broke up around midnight, to get barely enough sleep for the next day.

DAY THREE – Friday 16 Oct. 1998

Ah, yes. The first day of the real NSX festivities, though not yet an official part of the NSX Fiesta. We get picked up by a bus chartered by Honda, and brings us to our first destination, the Honda facilities at Takanezawa.

First, we were given a tour of the Honda R&D facility, which apparently was a high security area. They requested for us to leave our cameras in the bus, and they did not really give us a real tour of the facility. Instead, they presented us with a nice video about the development of the NSX, and about Honda’s philosophy in building cars. They also introduced Mr. Shigeru Uehara, Honda Executive Chief Engineer, and the “Father of the NSX.” Needless to say, we were awed by his presence. Two other engineers were also present, one of which is the NSX engine designer. Their names escape me at the moment, though.

A question and answer session follows, so the most obvious and pressing questions were asked, of course. What will the next NSX be like? Will we be getting a V-10? Etc., etc. And true to Honda tradition, they answered in the most non-committal way, promising us with positive changes and definite improvements in the future. Like I didn’t know that.

Next, we were given a bus tour of the Honda Testing and Proving Grounds. Very impressive facility, which is very similar to the Transportation Research Center in Ohio, including a large (very) high speed oval. We were particularly impressed when they took us on the big oval, not in a slow, Sunday type of a drive, but in a fast, spirited fashion. I could have sworn our bus driver had a part time job driving for the Honda JTCC team. But impressed as we were, we were completely blown away when we saw three NSXs, approaching us at full speed from behind.

Picture this. Three NSXs with their headlights on, on a high banked oval approaching you at full speed. As they come off the banks, they sequentially straighten out and swooshes by you. Then they do this three or four times, catching us at different parts of the track. Truly an experience that will give you the goosebumps.

Finally, they bring us to the birthplace of the NSX, the Tochigi Factory. Upon arrival, we find about three dozen or so NSXs parked in formation outside the facility. Apparently, these are all privately owned NSXs, whose owners are also taking the factory tour as we were. Of course, we check out their cars, and we find an interesting collection of stock and modified NSXs.

We were first brought into something like a conference room, but had various displays on the walls that allowed the NSX buyer to choose his options, from body color, to wheel color, to upholstery, and stitching colors, to the various woodgrain finishes available. A feature that we definitely miss in the US. A welcome speech was made by one of the engineers, and soon after, we were brought to the manufacturing facility itself.

The factory was pretty amazing. It was in stark contrast to the Honda factories in Ohio, in that it had much less automation. Aluminum bodies were indeed pushed around on dollies, vs. robots and conveyor belts in the Marysville, Ohio plant. The aluminum bodies were also handfiled to get the smoothest finish, a painstaking process as we had discovered. We also caught our first glimpse of the new S2000, which was apparently being built on the same production line as the NSX. They also had a near completed body of the S2000. Hmmm… very nice, and if the performance figures are what Honda says them to be, they might have a future buyer in their hands. (Just don’t let my wife read this 😉 There was a mint green Type-S on the floor, as well as a US-spec right hand drive Acura NSX.

We then head out to Motegi, which was a good hour away from the factory. It was a single lane road leading in and out of the track, a nightmare as I would imagine, when traffic has to get to and from the track on major race weekends.

Once you get there though, I am sure you will forget about the traffic. The track looks awesome. The Hotel Twin Ring was equally awesome; a brand new facility owned by Honda, with lots of high tech touches. The view from our hotel room was awesome. It had a GREAT view of the track.

We invade the gift shop soon after checking in, as it was FULL of Honda goodies. It was a good thing I didn’t buy anything at Akihabara, as I ended up with an extra luggage full of Honda and NSX collectibles. I think our group had just accounted for most the yearly sales of that little gift shop.

The day ended with a very nice dinner with all our Japanese hosts. More and more NSX owners trickled into the hotel. And a bit of excitement ensued when we spotted Mr. Kurosawa, of “Best Motoring” video fame, and a very well respected motorsports figure in Japan. He joined us for a brief candid conversation. A few other famous Japanese drivers arrived as well.

DAY FOUR – Saturday 17 Oct. 1998

This is the first official day of the Fiesta. It was pouring rain, along with gusty winds. A typhoon had just struck Japan. The bus picks us up at the hotel, and heads toward the “Multi Course”, where we will be getting our “Side by Side” experience. At first, nobody knew what that was all about. We had thought that we had paid 100 bucks to have a professional driver take us around the track. But to our delight, the “Side by Side” was actually an open wheel formula car that derives its name from the manner in which the engine is positioned to the driver’s right side. It is a purposely built race car, with all the right parts. It is powered by a 750cc motorcycle engine, with chain driven rear wheels and a 5 speed sequential gearbox. It is built for the purpose of conducting driving schools, and only at the Twin Ring Motegi. It is said to be a 50,000 dollar machine. And we get to drive it (in pouring rain, though).

So I watch the first couple of groups driving around the tight slalom course, puttering around in the rain in first gear. This is no fun, I say, so when my turn came, I wanted to really get a feel of the car and so I went for it. I went through the gears, and tried staying just under the maximum level of available grip but with the torrential downpour, it was too slow to have any fun. So I practiced my rally driving skills and got it sideways, and around a few times. I knew there was nothing to hit, and that it was Tino who was with me in the same session, so I know he won’t run into me. But I’m sure it got the Japanese a little nervous.

We all then headed back to the paddock for the opening ceremonies, after which there was the biggest parade of NSXs I have ever seen! 200 plus NSXs all lined up in four rows on the front straight of the oval, then proceeded to make it’s way in the rain around the oval. What a sight!

At this point, I am particularly impressed by the enthusiasm of the Japanese for the NSX, and the Fiesta itself. In spite of the rain and very gloomy forecast, the numbers was still phenomenal. They had at least the same number, if not more, NSXs this year as they had last year. I was actually prepared to see a lot fewer NSXs for the weekend.

A delicious lunch was served at the Press Booths overlooking the front straightaway, which had a great view of practically the whole track. After that, we visited the Honda Museum. This was really an amazing place. It is a huge, three story building filled with almost every type of Honda product there is, from production cars, to Formula One cars, to mopeds, to Grand Prix motorcycles, to lawn mowers and generators. Honda is truly proud of all its products.

Then we move on to the Honda Fan Fun Lab, which is more of a hands on type of museum. They had various interactive displays, which included a motorcycle simulation. They also had the JGTC(All Japan Grand Touring car Championship) avex NSX on display, as well as a little structure where they were showing a video about the development on the NSX. An impressive presentation, which included a full, unpainted NSX body shell in all its shiny aluminum glory suspended in mid-air in the background.

Our bus is nowhere to be found, so we were given a bunch of electrically assisted bicycles, called the “Racoon,” so we can pedal our way back to the main track. It is an interesting device, and it gives a rather weird feeling when you pedal. It almost feels like power steering; the harder you pedal, the lighter it gets.

Dinner that evening was a huge gala event, which started with a picture taking session of all the NSX attendees. There was a live band, and lots of food. It was interesting to note that we were standing up all night, and that no chairs were provided. Interesting concept, and it did help to promote more interaction amongst the members. We met a few more Japanese dignitaries, including Japanese F1 driver Shinji Nakano.

We then a bunch of us, including some Japanese owners, decided to go to the hotel bar, where we can sit down. Soon afterwards, most of us left on the 9:00 bus that will take us to the Green Hill hotel, where we will be staying for that night. Twin Ring Hotel was fully booked with local NSX Fiesta attendees for Saturday night.

DAY FIVE – Sunday 17 Oct. 1998

We look out our bedroom window, and we still see dark clouds up above, but at the same time, we see more of the blue sky. Perhaps the weather will improve today, we hope. And it did.

Our bus takes us today into the paddock area, where we got ready to ride with professional drivers who will take us around the oval at speed. Or as fast as the conditions will allow. The track was still damp, so the first few cars out did not seem to go very fast. But as the track dried out, so did the speeds, and by the time we got done with our rides, the track was completely dry. The race driver I rode with races with the Japan Touring Car Championship (JTCC) and drives the factory-supported AVEX NSX. I forget his name. But it was his first time on an oval, as is the case for most of the Japanese professional drivers out there. Motegi is really Japan’s first large Speedway, and aside from CART and NASCAR, I don’t think there is any large racing organization in Japan that holds races on this oval. Not yet anyway. (JMO, ICBW)

We head back to the Press Rooms, and at this point, there was nothing much else planned for us, and it pretty much depended on what we wanted to do. A few of us decide that they were ready to head back to Tokyo. Mr. Nakamura suggested to the rest of us that we can go to the go-kart track and drive either the Side-by-Sides, or the go-karts. So we decide that that’s what we want to do.

On the way to the kart track, Mr. Kase offered to let me drive his Type-R. Of course, I was delighted to do so. It took me just a short while to get used to the right hand driving configuration, and shifting with my left hand wasn’t too bad. What I didn’t realize was that the control pod behind the steering wheel was also reversed. So when I tried to flash my headlights, the windshield washer and wipers came on instead. Quite embarrassing. But did you know the ignition switch was still on the right hand side? Hmmm…

It actually took a bit more getting used to driving on the left hand side of the road. I always felt I was going into a head on collision with the approaching cars. Anyway, Mr. Kase’s Type-R felt very solid, and it was apparent that this is his baby and takes good care of it. The suspension is quite a bit firmer than US spec NSXs, and all in all, the car felt lighter and more agile. Nice.

Anyway, we get to the track, and we find out that they only have two Side-by-Sides available, and it will take some time bringing over more. But they had about 9 go-karts lined up and ready to go. These are single speed racing karts, with what looks like a custom motor built just for this kart and its purpose, and it is equipped with its own starter motor (traditional racing karts either have an outboard starter, or as in the case of the direct drives and the shifters, these will have to be push started). I tell this group that the karts are not a bad way to go, and that they will all be pleasantly surprised. And sure enough, most everyone had a blast. The track also had its timing system with each kart having a transponder, so you get timed automatically and your time gets posted on a large electronic scoreboard. I get second fastest in the first heat, only second to Kye, an Englishman who lives in Tokyo. But on the second heat, I get the best time, bettering Kye’s fast time by about a second. Ha-ha! Lots of fun!

We then got shuttled back to the Press Room, where we decided to grab lunch. The other NSXs are preparing to get on the road course for a final parade lap, but I has too exhausted to make the long walk back to the other side to join them. But those who did got quite lucky as they were not only able to snag a ride, but was able to drive themselves!

The Fiesta was finally over, and after we all bade Sayonaras to our great hosts and our newfound friends, we took cabs back to the train station where we took the Shinkansen back to Tokyo.

CONCLUSION AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

What a great time it was. I took tons of pictures and videos, as usual, and hope to get them posted on a website soon.

This was truly a fantastic event. It is definitely something I would never forget, and hope to do again sometime in the future. I hope more of you would take this chance as well, the next time around. Thank you very much to all our Japanese hosts: Mr. Nakamura, Mr. Nakanishi, Mr. Tomiyoshi, and Mr. Kase. Many, many thanks to Honda of Japan, for putting together a fantastic event, and a great program for us visitors. Thanks to all the wonderful NSX owners who accommodated us and forgave us for not speaking more Japanese. And thanks to Kendall Pond for making this all happen.

‘Till next time,
Alex
D R A L E X A N D E R A V I Z C A R R A
_____________________________________________
Family, Cosmetic, and Implant Dentistry
La Mirada, CA

(C)Copyright NSX CLUB of JAPAN. All rights reserved.

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