Welcome to another installment of Cars Of Future Past, a series here at Jalopnik where we flip through the pages of history to explore long-forgotten concepts and how they had a hand in shaping the cars we know today.
One of motorsport’s often celebrated virtues is that it serves as a crucible for technologies that inform the next generation of road cars. What makes the 2007 Acura Advanced Sports Car concept so strange is that it flipped this notion on its head in a very roundabout way.
The 2001 Volvo Safety Car Concept discussed last week touted safety features that eventually became commonplace in consumer vehicles about a decade and a half later. Acura’s ASC was a preview of a race car based on a road car that has never seen the light of day.
The Acura Advanced Sports Car appeared as a non-functioning “hard model” at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, not even two years after the company ceased production of the NSX. Naturally, the sporty ASC was pegged as a sneak peek at the NSX’s successor. There was just one change that clearly riled up the masses: Unlike the NSX, the ASC wasn’t mid-engined.
The vast hood and short rear overhang left no ambiguity the ASC was a front-engined grand tourer. And it was a large one too: Consider that the concept’s 108.8-inch wheelbase was nearly an inch longer than that of the Aston Martin DB9, and you can begin to hear the phantom cries of heresy from the NSX faithful.
Acura never produced a running ASC, so the specs were more suggestive than definite. The concept was publicized with a V10 up front driving all four wheels via the automaker’s SH-AWD system, two more key differences from its predecessor. Displacement was pegged between 4.5 and 5.5 liters, with about 500 horsepower or more on tap.
Then lead designer, now Acura brand chief Jon Ikeda told Road & Track in 2007 that while the ASC was a truly fresh design study, the team behind it did attempt to imbue the concept with references to the company’s first sports car. Unfortunately, it seems those hallmarks were overshadowed by the ASC’s vast dissimilarity to the core NSX formula:
This vehicle serves as the basic foundation of a future Acura sports car, but it is purely a design study now. We purposely injected some of the NSX’s styling cues into the ASC, such as the black canopy top and the taillight treatment, to make sure that there is some resemblance to the NSX. The front also reminds of the original NSX that had pop-up headlights. But other than that, this is a sports car that we started from scratch.
The ASC was kind of a monolith, with a chunky body defined by flat surfacing — something seen often during the latter half of the aughts. There was no central grille and the headlights were nothing more than LED slits, which ironically makes the whole thing look more similar to a modern electric car than the current NSX. The three-dimensional light bar was another prescient cue of current design trends, though the sparse rear bumper and expanse of sheet metal below the window certainly wouldn’t have passed muster for production.
The ASC isn’t remembered fondly — or at all — by many these days, and frankly it’s not difficult to understand why. Everything about this car was divisive, from its looks to its sheer nature. I dug up Jalopnik’s original post upon the ASC’s reveal and among the 17 total comments, I counted one wholly positive one. The rest were merely different variations of these sentiments:
Nevertheless, Acura was fully committed to the idea. In 2008 a prototype of a front-engined Honda sports car was seen testing camouflaged at the Nürburgring. Japan’s Best Motoring got footage of it, looking tighter and more purposeful than the ungainly ASC while producing a sonorous tone you don’t hear often anymore.
Although the wrap makes it hard to identify the lines of the car, the silhouette clearly conveys shorter, more conventional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (FR) sports car proportions. Acura design was decidedly not in it prime at this time, the new-for-2009 TL touching off a spate of cars for Honda’s luxury marque with those big silver chevron grilles nobody liked. This prototype seemingly dodged that questionable toothy maw and looked better for it.
Like it or not, the world seemed destined for a front-engined NSX at this point. And then the recession hit.
What started as the ASC and became that unnamed Honda sports car screaming around the Nordschleife never hit the market. Honda officially canceled the project in December of 2008, with then-CEO Takeo Fukui stating a need to focus on hybrids and efficient technologies instead. In fact, Honda was even planning to introduce Acura in Japan in 2010, but also scrapped that goal as a consequence of the global financial crisis.
Spy footage, like the video seen above, is therefore all we ever saw of the production version of that initial NSX successor. And here’s where this story takes an interesting turn.
Until the end of 2009, Honda continued fielding the NSX in Super GT, the Japanese motorsport series where top domestic brands like Nissan, Toyota and Subaru campaign silhouette racer versions of their flagship production cars. A rule change introduced for 2010 stipulated that all manufacturers must use an FR layout for the top-tier GT500 class. This was a problem for Honda, because the NSX stashed its engine behind the driver and the company’s proposed front-engined NSX replacement was no longer in the cards. What was the automaker to do?
Honda ultimately worked out an agreement that allowed it to submit a racing version of the canceled front-engined NSX in the GT500 class, dubbed the HSV-010 GT. While the HSV-010 wasn’t technically based on a production vehicle, it was based on a production ready one, as the car was quite far along in development before it was cancelled.
The HSV-010 enjoyed a competitive four years in Super GT from 2010 to 2013, but only claimed the teams and drivers championships in its debut season. In 2014 the HSV-010 was replaced with a GT500 car based on the new mid-engined NSX we all know today, which is ironic in light of the rule that forced the original NSX out of eligibility. Honda was supposedly granted an exemption to run that car in exchange for a weight penalty. In 2019, it finally replaced that NSX with a front-engined one built exclusively for GT500 contention, and that car is still competing to this day. Super GT is weird and amazing.
At this point we’ve strayed quite far from the original inspiration for this piece, the Acura ASC. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the ASC was never drivable in any games.
The HSV-010 GT, on the other hand, very much was. You can find it in Gran Turismo 5 and 6 (in multiple liveries from its racing tenure, no less), Grid Autosport and the free-to-play PC game Simraceway. I thought Simraceway was long dead, but apparently it’s still available for download!
Personally, I’d love to have the HSV-010 return in GT7, because the only thing cooler than a Super GT race car is one based on a secretive alternate-reality NSX. I sincerely hope we get to see its production counterpart in the flesh one day — you just know it’s hiding deep within Honda’s facilities somewhere.